Cuphead: A Transgressin’ Question
Despite having just defeated the Devil, the guilt from his sin is still plaguing Cuphead’s mind. There’s one more question over the matter that he’s dying to have answered, but can he break his feelings to Mugman before the feelings break him?
How’d you like to blow your top
Dig yourself some fine ree-bop
Oh, the hi-de-ho man, that’s me!
Yes sir, there was nothing quite like a little “Hi De Ho Man” to bring life to any party in Inkwell Isle. This was especially true of this particular party, and its particular guests of honor: Cuphead and Mugman.
It was the highlight of the brothers’ victory party over the Devil. The two were enjoying every second they spent cutting a rug with their friends at Elder Kettle’s house. There was so much music and merriment in the atmosphere that you’d swear the little cottage was itself was swaying its hips to the beat. Even the guests that were too big to fit inside found a way to enjoy the party from outdoors.
The brothers had taken center-stage of the living room, swinging to the big band jazz to their young hearts’ content. Their friends had formed a crowd around them, cheering and clapping to the beat of the music. After a minute or so, Cuphead decided to finish the dance by twirling his brother a few times, and then, with a mischievous smile, release him across the room. This sent Mugman spinning like a top until he bumped into the snack table, causing the entire punch bowl to pour on his head. Everyone, including Cuphead, gasped in alarm,as though they worried the little mug was hurt. Fortunately, Mugman’s goofy grin returned, and he licked off his entire face with one slurp.
Everyone burst out laughing, with Cuphead giving a sigh of relief. It was nice to see that, despite having just gone to literal Hell and back, that Mugman was still the lovable goofball he always had been.
At that moment, as he watched Mugman giggling and dripping with punch, a new set of gears started turning in Cuphead’s mind. His expression slowly changed from a relaxed smile to a gape of terror. In the place of a fun party with their friends were a towering wall of flames, and imps dancing around Mugman’s shattered skull. The punch was also starting to turn a much brighter shade of red…
Mugman dried his face off with a white towel, then turned to face his brother. “Oh Cuphead, that was swell….Cuphead?”
The others had noticed Cuphead’s sudden change of demeanor as well. Cup quickly noticed everyone staring at him with concern, and he promptly rubbed his eyes, grinning sheepishly.
“Shucks, Mug, I’m fine. Nice to see you’re still bein’ a good sport.” Cuphead playfully nudged Mugman’s arm.
Mugman smirked. “Hey, somebody’s gotta be one b'tween the two of us.” He then nudged back before walking off to the kitchen. “I’ll go get us some more punch.”
Cuphead gave another nervous smile as his brother left. Normally, Cup was the most optimistic person he knew, finding the bright side of things even when there wasn’t one. He was now realizing that even a happy-go-lucky fellow like himself was capable of having chills sent down his spine. Whatever he just envisioned was enough to do just that, and then some…
The troubled cup made his way to the washroom, hoping a splash of cold water would wake him up a little. As he dried himself off, glancing at his reflection, he couldn’t help noticing that, if one didn’t know any better, it looked like his face was covered in tears, similar to when…
MUGMAN, PLEASE, GET UP!!!
I’M SO SORRY! PLEASE DON’T DIE!!!
GET AWAY FROM MY BROTHER!!!!
No matter how many times it happened, Cuphead never truly got used to seeing Mugman getting killed. It felt especially terrifying in the beginning, when the boys were still getting the hang of their powers, including how to resurrect each other. As if it wasn’t sickening enough seeing his little brother shatter to pieces, what made it feel worse was the fact that this was practically Cuphead’s own doing. He brought Mugman to the casino; he made the deal; he rolled the dice. He sold both himself and his little brother to the Devil, and it repeatedly cost the life of the person who least deserved it.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
Cuphead snapped out of his trance, rubbing his eyes to prevent a single tear from falling. “J-Just a minute!”
For the rest of the party, Cuphead made sure that everyone around him saw nothing but a cheerful, smiling little boy everywhere they went. His troubles certainly hadn’t ended, but the last thing any fellow wanted at a swinging party was a Grade-A Debbie Downer. He especially didn’t want to ruin the fun for his genuinely-happy little brother. He’d suffered enough at the hands of the Devil and his debtors; the very least the kid deserved was a fun night with no worries.
Now, for better or worse, Cuphead had a tendency to underestimate Mugman’s sense of insight. Something Mugman had noticed (that Cuphead hoped he hadn’t) was how full his brother’s head was getting throughout the night. At first, he dismissed it as just a quick drink of water, but it progressed by a few gallons as the party waned on. Unlike himself, Cuphead wasn’t fond of drinking from his head, so it seemed unusual that he’d carry around this much liquid without taking a single sip. It was also becoming more obvious how forced Cuphead’s smile really was, especially as he declined any more offers for a snack, drink, or even another dance as the party went on. There were even moments where it looked like the poor cup was feeling sick to his stomach, ocassionally seeming him trying to stifle a whimper or lump in his throat. Mugman had his suspicions, but it was also likely he was just tired from such a harrowing day. It seemed best not to bother his big brother about it. The rest of the party ended on a positive note, and Elder Kettle sent the boys off to bed while he stayed up to clean. With the Devil now gone, this was surely the happiest day in the history of Inkwell Isle. To its saviors, however, it seemed their troubles still weren’t finished yet.
Mugman’s face grimaced on reflex. He had been lying peacefully in his wooden bed until the slurred speech had broken the silence.
“No, no please…”
Mug’s face winced again as he put his pillow over his head. Who in the world could be talking at this hour? Suddenly, Mugman fully woke up when he realized that that wasn’t just someone’s slurred speech; it was sobbing.
“…N-No no, please don’t leave me….”
Mugman sat up, ready to tell his brother to keep it down, but what he saw behind him made his entire expression drop.
Cuphead was still in his bed across the room, but tossing and turning in it like a sweat-soaked jumping bean. As usual, his head sat rested on his nightstand, but it sat there wincing and sweating bullets in distress. A puffy, white thought bubble sat floating just above, playing as scene as though it were a movie screen.
The bubble projected a montage of flashbacks of the boys’ first few battles against the debtors. They mostly consisted of all the brutal ways Mugman had been killed. Cagney hitting him with an acorn bullet; Hilda smashing his plane with her laughter; Goopy’s tombstone slamming on top of him. With each brutal death scene, the dream version of Cuphead raced across the screen, trying in vain to race to his brother before he’d get hit. The harder he tried, the worse it got, and the more distraught the poor cup was in both his dream and reality. At one point, the montage cut to Mugman standing under a spotlight in the midst of pure darkness. Dream Cuphead smiled in relief, bounding toward his brother with his arms out wide. Just before the two could share a warm embrace, a giant clawed hand covered Mugman with its grasp. The hand moved up, and the darkness faded, revealing it to be that of a fifty-foot Devil, standing on a craps table the size of a football field. At this image, the real Cuphead started whimpering and shaking violently. Rivers of sweat ran down his body while the liquid in his head overflowed onto the floor.
With a malicious smile, the Devil rolled out his hands across the table. Where Mugman should’ve been sat a pair of “snake eyes.” The dream Cuphead dropped to his knees, burying his face in his hands. “OH NO! NO NO NO, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!!” The Devil bellowed a maniacal laugh that roared like thunder.
For the real Mugman, enough was enough. He rushed toward his brother’s bed, shaking him gently, but firmly. “Cuphead! Cuphead, wake up! Snap out of it! I-It’s just a dream! Wake up!” No reaction; this was a much deeper sleep than he’d thought. Mugman anxiously looked around the room, and then grabbed a stray top that was sitting near the toy box. He stuck it inside his straw with the pointy end facing out, resembling a makeshift spear, and used it to pop the dream bubble as though it were a balloon.
Cuphead jerked awake, gasping for breath while his body continued dripping with sweat. Mugman carefully placed his brother’s head back in its body, and gave him the warm, protectigve embrace he was about to receive in the dream. “It’s ok, Cuphead. I’m here. I saw the whole thing. No Devil or nobody’s gonna take me anywhere.”
Cuphead sat there with his eyes wide open, his mind still trying to process what had just happened. “Mug? How did you…? I-I thought you were…”
At that second, it dawned on him that he was no longer dreaming, and that his dear brother was very much alive and well. Overwhelmed and shaken, poor Cuphead buried his face in Mugman’s shoulder, revealing the contents in his head to be none other than a waterfall of tears. The pain that Cuphead had been repressing all night had manifested physically as well as emotionally. The relief of finally letting them both go was enough to make the poor little cup cry further.
Mugman didn’t pay any attention to how wet he was getting from his brother’s breakdown. He just kept holding Cuphead close, gently rocking him as if he were the younger brother. “Shhhh, there there. It’s ok. Just let it all out. I’m here for you.”
Cuphead nearly choked on his words. “Thank goodness…”
A few minutes later, once Cuphead felt he’d gotten everything off his chest, he sat back up, and looked at his brother straight in the eye. “Mugman, I-I gotta ask you something, and I need you to be completely honest with me, ok? D-Don’t try to lie to me just to make me feel better.”
An unusual request, but Mugman obliged. “Of course, Cuphead. What is it?”
“W-W-Well,” Cuphead swallowed hard, trying not to let voice break again. “Mugman….do…do you hate me for what I did to you?”
Mugman’s eyes and mouth went wide. “Cuphead, what…what kinda question is that? You’re my brother; of course I don’t hate you.”
“Well, even if I weren’t your brother…say I was some humdrum son of a gun who went and took your life for granted. Would you still find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Mugman paused for a second, making sure he was careful, yet earnest, in how he answered the troubled cup. “…If you still fought alongside me as if you were my brother, then yes. But you are my brother; I know you’d never forgive yourself if anything should happen to me. Is that why you were acting so strange back at the party?”
“Mm-hmm. I didn’t want ya t'worry.”
Mugman was a bit put off by this at first. Then he gave him a soft smile. “Actually, I was feelin’ the same way about you.”
For the first time in what felt like ages, a genuine smile returned to Cuphead’s face. Mug then gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “From now on, let’s not feel like we gottta hide anything from each other, ok? We’re brothers; we need each other, no matter what. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t come to me when you need help.”
“Same with you, Mug. I’m your big brother; what kind of fella would I be if I didn’t protect you?”
Mugman smirked again. “The kind of fella who’d get easily hoodwinked by the Devil’s cheap tricks?”
Cuphead smirked back. “Oh c'mon now, that’s below the belt.”
“You sure could use one with how much you keep pullin’ up your britches.”
The boys laughed, and Cuphead finished drying his eyes. “Thanks, Mugman. I really needed this.”
“No problem, Cup. It’s what I’m here for.”
“I just hope these visions and night terrors I’m havin’ don’t become a regular occurrence. They’ve been scaring me something awful all night.” He then fidgeted his hands in nervousness. “I-In fact, Mugs, this might sound strange comin’ from me, but d-do you…do you think maybe….a-at least for tonight, y-you could-?”
“Move my bed a little closer to yours?”
“Y-Yeah. It’ll be easier to go back to sleep knowing I’ve got somebody with me in case the night terrors come back.”
“No problem. Don’t think that just because I’m younger than you I can’t help you with things like bad dreams. Big brothers are allowed to be scared too, you know.”
“I know. I gotta stop being so afraid of looking weak in front of other people. I mean, who can call either of us weak after we just defeated the doggone Devil?”
“Well, Devil or no Devil, you’re still strong in my book, Cuphead.”
Cuphead and Mugman shared another warm hug. Before long, they were sound asleep in their makeshift queen bed, their heads resting on the adjacent nightstands. There was one large dream bubble floating over their heads, depicting the brothers enjoying another round of swinging to the "Hi De Ho Man” song.