being female IS a personality trait

being female IS a personality trait

Lately I’ve been going down a rabbithole of reading writing blogs, because as any writer can tell you, writers love to procrastinate and reading what other people have to say about writing is an excellent way to do just that while still pretending you’re working.

Writing blogs are usually written by people I’ve never heard of, most of whom have published a single e-Book or two (I’m not criticizing, it’s better than I’ve done, just saying they’re not exactly highly accomplished critical darlings) and who, on the whole, I vehemently disagree with.  Although I’ve found a few I really liked in the detritus (Writing With Color and Springhole.net are both worthy of your rabbithole time, my fellow inkstained scribblers) most of them have been quite forgettable.

One of the blog posts (a series, actually) I read without immediately striking from memory was all about writing female characters that aren’t offensive to women.  This series, written by Patricia Penn, is somehow associated with the “Men Writing Women” Twitter account, which if you’re a Twitterer, you should follow (of course in addition to following me, atomickristin) because it’s hilarious and insightful, and if you’re a writer, particularly a male one, you should follow because you don’t want to fall into the literal booby traps so many have fallen into before, describing your female characters as a pair of unusually shaped breasts with a tuft of striking haircolor attached to the top.

Penn’s series of essays is called, perhaps obviously, Guide to Writing Women for Men Who Don’t Want to Offend Them and there are many, many things to like about the series.  I do recommend reading it not only for men but women as well, particularly if you’re a woman who just feels alienated by modern literature and you can’t quite understand why.  Also check out my essay On Glorious Bastards which is a much more humorous crash course in the same subject.

But, and you knew there was a but coming didn’t you?

BUT.

There is this thing some feminists do, in which they make these very emphatic statements that seem true like this one:  “Femaleness is not a personality trait.”  The reason for this statement, which is very clear if you read Patricia Penn’s full essay which I strongly suggest you do, is that it sucks when a writer creates 10 dudes and then one lonely woman in a fictional work and the woman has NO OTHER defining qualities or characteristics other than sporting two XX chromosomes.

But like so many emphatic statements that seem true at first, upon further reflection “femaleness is not a personality trait” ends up not to be true when extrapolated generally.  While Penn is quite right, it certainly sucks when male writers reduce women to a pair of titties and a decent attitude to differentiate them in a crowd of otherwise assholish dudebros, I violently disagree that femaleness is not a personality trait.  Femaleness absolutely IS a personality trait.  Maleness is a personality trait as well.  We’re just more used to seeing maleness in fiction so we see more manifestations of what maleness looks like in a variety of people and situations.

Therein lies the rub.  Character traits are MALLEABLE.  You can have one wisecracking character be very different from another wisecracking humorous character – like Rosanne vs. David Addison from Moonlighting, for example – and yet they are still BOTH wisecracking humorous characters.  A straight man can be Dana Scully or Jerry Seinfeld or Giles from BuffyThe Simpsons once had a funny joke where someone showed up for a casting call to play an idiot and the casting director differentiated between the panicky idiot from The Poseidon Adventure vs. more of a duh-duh idiot.  You can have a male character and another male character who gives off a slightly different vibe and then some other male character with an unique energy on top of still more male characters each of them  different than the last, ad nauseum (see: The Expendables). Having lots of male characters does not mean that being male is not a character trait.  Maleness is a trait, it just manifests in a variety of different ways.

Character traits are like Pokemon abilities, you can have a Pokemon that has lots of different traits in differing amounts and combinations.  For example you could have a Pikachu that is high in agility, high in speed, low in attack.  Likewise, you can have a fictional character that is high in femaleness, high in badassery, low in bitchiness, and end up with Wonder Woman (who I am told is like, so super duperly feminist or whatever).

You CAN, absolutely CAN have a piece of fiction in which there is only one badass, there is only one wiseacre, there is only one straight man, and yes, indeedy-do, only one woman and not have it be weird or wrong in any way.  There are plenty of real-world situations where a woman finds herself alone among a group of men and it’s completely unremarkable and not even remotely sexist.

In fact I’d even say there are by far and away more scenarios both real and fictional (various workplaces, organizations, teams, bands both musical and of brothers, adventure squads, military units, wagon trains, schools for witchcraft and wizardry, etc) where one woman is dropped down smack dab into a right passel o men for some reason or another, than where there’s only one badass/wiseacre/straight man since most characters have some traits in any of those directions.  Yet no one complains when there’s only one “official badass” (Jayne, lookin at you here) even though most of the people on Firefly are pretty badass in their own unique ways.

Some women, and I count myself among them, actually prefer hanging with the gents and I have since I was a youngish-type person.  (Trust me, I was in the League of Ordinary Gentlemen for a brief time and it didn’t bother me in the slightest; indeed, I preferred it to the more anodyne Ordinary Times).  Men make sense to me in ways that women do not and thus I tend to gravitate towards them to such extent that I gave birth to 4 of the little jerks, dooming me forever to be a chick in a crowd of dude-liosity.

Contrary to what Penn claims in her essay, a situation in which there’s a woman among a group of men is unremarkable, and completely inoffensive UPON THE FACE OF IT provided there is a legitimate reason for her to be there, be it necessity or by choice.  Even if her femaleness is her defining feature, it still is not remarkable or necessarily offensive.  Sometimes a Seegar is a Seegar (that was an advanced placement pop culture reference, An Officer and a Gentlemen, if you were wondering.)

Although treating femaleness as a personality trait can be done badly/thoughtlessly/misogynalistically and certainly often is, it isn’t fundamentally offensive in and of itself.  And having one female character in amongst a bunch of dudes isn’t sexist any more than having only one dude at most working in an Old West whorehouse is.  An Old West whorehouse tended to be a predominantly female environment other than the clientele, of course, and while I can envision one or two dudes working there – a bouncer or maybe a lone homosexual prostitute – any more than that starts to strain belief (how much, you ask??  keep reading!)

An important part of writing IMVVVVVHO, is realism.  Some things are things, some things are not things, and a thing that is a Definite Thing is that there is way more likely to be a woman working with a bunch of men than a man working with a bunch of women (at least in the types of exciting life and death scenarios we all love to see in our fiction).  In some arenas, it’s just more realistic that there would be one lone woman than several women being present.  If we as writers want our readers to suspend their disbelief and come along with us on our magic carpet rides of imagination, we kinda have to take reality into consideration whether we want to or not.

To give an example, in the movie Predator,  a crack team of military tough guys, all male, stumbles onto a lone female guerilla fighter in the Central American jungle, which seems much more possible to me than them stumbling onto three female guerillas, a hot one, a smart one, and a funny fat one (is this really any less stereotypical when they do it this way just because there’s three gals instead of one of them, FFS???)  Come on, it’s true, we all know instinctively it’s true, there are going to be far less military tough guys and jungle-dwelling guerillas of the female persuasion than male ones, and it doesn’t matter that some people don’t like it because we all know instinctively that it’s true.  There are believable fictional scenarios and then there are unbelievable fictional scenarios and I prefer to eschew the latter in favor of the former.

To change that dynamic in Predator would be like a movie where people are shopping for wedding dresses and there’s a hurricane and they get stuck in the bridal store while the hurricane rages outside and IDK, maybe there’s a serial killer on the loose or something.  You know and I know there’s gonna be only one dude in there max, the poor schmo who got stuck holding his girlfriend’s purse, and of course the serial killer will be a dude because we don’t live on Fantasy Island.  In that scenario, PurseHolder Kevin being a male is just as much of a personality trait as Anna the Female Guerilla being a woman is in Predator.  This is not wrong or bad, it’s just fucking factual!

So now back to the “how much is this gonna strain belief” thing I mentioned earlier.

Penn follows this “we need more women in stuff cause being female is not a personality trait” logic so far as to call for there being female Hobbits in the The Hobbit and making Rocket Raccoon a woman in Guardians of the Galaxy.  In the NAME of femaleness not being a personality trait, she calls for male characters to be turned female – seemingly with no other changes to their persona.  Later in the essay she does that whole thing where she challenges male writers to write male characters and then just change their names to women’s names and change nothing else about the characterization.

But here’s the catch.  Genderbending characters makes NO SENSE, zero, none, nada if femaleness doesn’t mean something.  Something tangible, something that actually, actively affects human action, reaction, and interaction – aka a personality trait.  If femaleness is not a personality trait then why does it even matter if there’s a lack of representation of female characters??  We all should be able to relate to a boy just as much as a girl if there is nothing inherently different about femaleness, amirite?

Now, I would like, very much like, as in, you have no earthly idea how much I would like this to occur, to see more fiction written by women, for women, and about women, featuring women from a variety of walks of life other than “the hot chick” and “the computer whiz” but this is NOT THE WAY.  It is not the way to simply cram interchangeable characters some of which have boobs (or teats I suppose if we’re talking about Rocketina Raccoon) into a work of fiction and then feel we’ve struck a blow for feminist representation without changing anything fundamental about the character (and in Penn’s defense, this is not what she was intending to say at all, it’s simply me following the implications of  what she was saying to the furthest extent of the law because I’m an asshole that way).

This is STILL SEXISM!  If anything it’s grosser and wronger than regular plain old unremarkable sexism cause people put so much goddamn thought into it and still came up rolling the Snake Eyes of Sexism.

You know why it’s still sexism?  Because it’s negating the existence of femaleness as an Actual Thing That Exists and saying instead “People aren’t male, they aren’t female, they are just genderless entities some of whom crack wise and others of whom play by the rules and all these things manifest themselves exactly the same regardless of what is between their legs.”  If that’s the case, again I ask, in that situation what difference does it make at all if we have boy characters and girl characters if “boy” and “girl” are nothing other than hoo-hoos and cha-chas, KWIM?  What’s the fucking point of calling for more female representation at all if women are just betittified men?

And isn’t it just about the most unsurprising thing ever that this negation of gender in fiction is morphing into a universal character that is basically male by default?

Female characters in 2019 are expected to fuck like a dude, drink like a dude, act like a dude, think like a dude, feel like a dude, punch like a dude, scream at the sky like a dude, normalize the behavior of dude after dude after dude whilst simultaneously painting natural and normal female behavior as crazy, weird, and extreme.

It’s bullshit, yo.  Men and women, ON AVERAGE, act differently just like Rattata and a Ponyta do.  Whether it’s PC or not, gender IS something that affects human behavior and as writers, representatives of all that is real, we should be ready, willing, and able to take that on in all its glorious chaos.  It doesn’t mean that gender is the ONLY thing that matters, it doesn’t mean that there are not numerous exceptions to the gender “rules” (rules is such a hard word – how about trends? tendencies? possibilities?) that writers should try to encapsulate because, you know, it’s kinda in our job description to do that sort of thing, representing reality via art.

It’s what we do.

Thus, I hereby give you, the Dude Writers of the Universe, permission to ignore the undoubtedly lovely and certainly well-intentioned Patricia Penn.  Take those stories you were writing with your adorable intentions of not being misogynistic assholes, as if you ever could, stories in which you wrote male characters and then called them Charlotte, Scarlett, and Margaret, and had them fucking lots of dudes, smashing beer cans against their heads, and burping the alphabet, and turn them back into Chuck, Scooter, and Mongo, let them have their testicular adventures and send them on their merry and masculine way.   Regardless of what Patricia Penn will tell you, they aren’t women.  They ain’t never gonna be women no matter what you do.

Because femaleness IS a personality trait.

 

 

 

 

 

Women in Fridges: A Cold Day in Hell Part 3 – “Cold War”

Women in Fridges: A Cold Day in Hell Part 3 – “Cold War”

When the All Points Bulletin for Captain Obvious came out over the wire, the more fortunate criminals of Los Urbanos cashed in their chips and ran for the hills. The unlucky ones who lacked money or connections went into hiding or battened down the hatches, hoping to ride out the storm. A rogue supe was never a good thing, and somebody the caliber of Obvious meant it was a bad day to be a bad guy.

Captain Obvious didn’t have an archenemy. He wasn’t that kind of hero. He didn’t hold grudges, nor did he inspire them. He had never before launched a personal vendetta. But the villains he faced off against the most, his bread and butter vanquishings, were members of the League of Disposable Criminals. The League was a group of minor league superhumans coupled with a few ambitious non-supes in the mix, most of them sporting some kind of advanced tech they’d lifted from some corporation or another. 

People who needed some havoc wreaked could hire the League to smash some windows or some kneecaps, slash a few tires or a throat, torch a business while the owner was off having himself an alibi.  

The League of Disposable Criminals, although they’d never have described themselves as such, were minions for hire; unimpressive, unorganized, and underwhelming. Sanjay thought that the chances one of them had killed Zoe were virtually nil.

But they were good for one thing, and that was information, which he desperately needed. So he went strolling in through the front door of their clubhouse, which was in an old decrepit mansion that looked like something off of an old movie. Captain Obvious walked right in, past the three security guards shooting AR-15s at him. Bullets bounced off him and ricocheted into the floor and the walls and one of the security guards.  

It was annoying, so he thought about how would be so easy to sizzle the place right off the face of the earth, to burn their clubhouse to the ground and walk away with the flames raging in the background like in a Tarantino movie. He thought about how he had nothing left to lose and considered that destroying the League could just be a gateway drug.  He fantasized about getting hundreds of scumbags off the streets permanently before they sent the Flying Brick and Nuclear Option to Los Urbanos take him out.

His eyes watered just thinking about it.

The thing about being a superhero that Sanjay hated even though he was supremely excellent at it, was that it was mostly playacting. Theater. Melodrama. Most of it was about as real as professional wrestling, as kids playing cowboys and injuns. Sure, the occasional megalomaniac came along and the heroes would have to run their asses off to bring em in, but for the most part it was just a show for the entertainment of the masses. The good guys played their parts, the bad guys played their parts, everyone was in on it with a wink and a nudge to each other, and the people at home shoveled popcorn in their mouths and watched the footage on YouTube.

It didn’t have to be that way. But too many important people made money off of a perpetual state of crime and punishment – the capitalist pigs, the bureaucrats and bean counters, the poverty pimps, Hollywood, even the cops themselves – for the authorities to ever let the capes have free rein and wipe the bad guys out permanently. 

Being a superhero was like being a soldier in Vietnam, sitting on all this firepower while horrific things happened to the right of you and to the left of you and you couldn’t engage the enemy because of decisions old rich guys made a half a world away. Sitting on the ability to not just solve crimes but prevent them, unable to do a goddamn thing to end the Cold War because you’d end up destabilizing the geopolitical balance, or the ability of the rich to get richer, or catch the attention of the social justice warriors or something. 

The latter was particularly pissing him off right then. Waaah, muh human rights, waah, due process, waah, somebody had a bad childhood, well, who the fuck DIDN’T have a bad childhood? Try being a Desi kid growing up in Dotcomicon Valley with jets of flame coming out of your eyeballs.

What about Zoe’s human rights, anyway? What about people’s rights to live in their homes and walk down the streets without having to worry about monsters lurking among them?      

It all used to make sense to him. Chaos was the enemy of society, chaos and instability, and in order to prevent chaos, you had to have rules, you had to have a reliable structure that people could count on. It was better to have a stable and imperfect world where everyone knew what to expect, than to blow it all up chasing after utopia, which was an unattainable goal. Maybe some innocent people died, but it was fewer than would have died in a world where villains and capes were at constant war with each other.

Thus superheroes could not act with impunity, they couldn’t allow themselves to, the risks were too great. They weren’t above the law, they were in service of the law, and as such they were expected to put what was good for society above all else. With great power comes great responsibility, yadda yadda yadda. And what was good for society was maintaining the status quo. Giving people the illusion of a predictable and rational world when the reality was, it was anything but.

It used to make sense to him before Zoe died but now all he could think was that if they’d been killing bad guys instead of slapping them on the wrist and letting them go, the odds were they’dve killed the guy already and Zoe would be alive.  

Eventually the guards ran out of bullets and stopped firing and he could hear them shouting and running away, except for the one who had been shot of course who was just laying in a heap moaning.

It didn’t sound fatal, which seemed like a crying shame.

Captain Obvious let them go since they didn’t matter and continued onwards towards the stairs which led to the second floor, and then he flew up there without bothering to take them.

A few guys popped out at him from various closed doors and shot bullets that of course had no effect. Just for fun he caught one of them in midair and threw it back at the guy who fired it, hitting him in the knee. His kneecap exploded in a red haze that Obvious found immensely satisfying.

The guys kinda gave up shooting at him after that happened.

Before things progressed any further a door at the far end of the hall opened up and an oily man in an expensive sharkskin suit – a costume, really, just as much as the spandex and cape of Captain Obvious was a costume – came out with his hands held up in a placating manner. “All right, all right, all right, that’s about enough of that! You’re shooting up my house, here.”

“I’m just standing here, Mook. They’re the ones shooting.”

The Mook screwed up his face as if to say “pshaw” and waved his hand dismissively. The minions took their wounded and slunk away. “Yeah, you’re the very soul of innocence, aren’t you, Cap?”

“Back at ya.”

“What is it I’m meant to have done, pray tell?”

“I couldn’t tell you, but I am fairly certain you’ve done something illegal in the last 5 minutes. Maybe I’ll bust you first, and ask questions later.”

The Mook turned a large pinky ring around on his finger. “Flat Stanley.”

“What?”

“It was Flat Stanley, who iced your girl. I’m telling you this out of friendship, Obvious.”

“Yeah, we’re such notoriously great friends, Mook, I forgot.”

“Consider it a good faith offering then. Flat Stanley.”

Captain Obvious digested this news and it felt like swallowing a sea urchin, it hurt all the way right on down and then plopped into his stomach and sat there digging in. Flat Stanley was nobody, he was nothing. Nothing. A petty thug, not even slightly formidable. Captain Obvious could’ve killed Flat Stanley with the ease of tugging off a hangnail. “He’s in jail,” he protested. “I put him there myself.”

“He got time off…” The Mook busted out into laughter. “…for good behavior!” And he started laughing even harder so Obvious lit up his eyes and sent a narrow beam about a millimeter wide alongside The Mook’s cheek which set the wallpaper on fire. Even though the flame didn’t even touch the guy, it was enough to heat up the air considerably. The Mook took a step to the side and clapped a hand to his face. “Hey, now, that’s not necessary! I didn’t let him out of jail! That was your team, Champ, not mine.”

As a thug came rushing past him with an extinguisher to put out the fire he’d started, Captain Obvious thought back, wracked his brain, tried to recall if anyone had given him a heads up that Flat Stanley was back on the streets so he could’ve watched his back a little. But the truth was, he had been so spun around with Zoe, spending all his free time with her, thinking about her when he wasn’t with her, that he hadn’t been keeping up on his correspondence as diligently as he usually did. Or at all. Being a superhero was volunteer work, done for love not money, so it was sometimes all too easy to backburner the paperwork when real life got interesting.  

Sanjay realized his handlers from the United Bureau of Superheroes could have very easily been trying to warn him and he’d missed it. His inattention to detail – the one time he wasn’t dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, the ONE GODDAMN TIME – had got Zoe killed. He felt as if someone had doused him with a bucket of despair and it rolled down him like honey – heavy, sticky, and slow. “Where is he?”

The Mook thought this over and made a big show of checking his watch. “What’s in it for me?”

“I don’t kill you.”

“You’re no killer, Obvious, everyone knows it.  You’re no Batverine.”

“Try me,” he replied, and there must have been something in his face because The Mook got all red in the face and stammered for several seconds before he was able to choke out a reply. 

“The abandoned zoo.  He’s been staying there since he got out, I guess.  The guy’s half animal, he prolly feels at home behind bars.”

“Guess they should have kept him there.”

The Mook was dismayed to see pinpoints of orange flame flickering in Cap’s eyes. He gulped, fairly certain he was about to get burned to cinders by the fricking Teen Choice Award’s Choice Superdude. “Guess so,” he agreed, and tried to get right with God.

But a moment later Obvious was gone, straight up through the roof. A bunch of shingles and wood fell down through the hole with a crash and dust rose up before settling back again. The Mook looked around at his clubhouse riddled with bulletholes and scorch mark and the roof caving in.  

But then he thought of those twin embers glowing and figured he got off light. 

He wouldn’t want to be Flat Stanley right about now, that was for sure.

*****

The first place Zoe thought to look was of course at Sanjay’s apartment. There was crime tape up around it but no one seemed to be around, so she opened the unlocked door and stepped over the tape. Even though the apartment had been pitch dark, there was a tall, slim black guy, bald and wearing a leather jacket, sitting at the table and smoking a cigarette. That irritated her since she knew Sanjay would have hated anyone smoking in his house even though everything was covered with blood and ruined. That was my blood, her brain remembered. That was my blood. She felt a flare of outrage that petered out into memories of terror and violation and repressed a shudder.  

“Can I help you,” he asked calmly, but there was a threat in his voice. He sucked on his cigarette and the tip of it glowed for a moment before dimming again. Then he flicked off the ash on the end into an empty aluminum can.

“Maybe.” To her surprise, Zoe found herself feeling fairly confident in the situation, knowing that if she was dealing with a superhuman or even just a regular one, she’d be able to defend herself now. She envisioned sinking her claws into the guy’s throat, and was stunned to realize part of her actually wanted for him to try something so she could give them a whirl. “I’m Zoe Rose, and there’s been a terrible misunderstanding.” On Milo’s car radio she had heard an Emergency Broadcast System announcement that Captain Obvious had gone rogue and that meant the cops and the National Guard were probably already out hunting him down. She just hoped they hadn’t called in the other heroes yet, because that meant that the situation had gone to Defcon 5, or maybe Defcon 1, whichever was the highest Defcon.

The man in the dark laughed. “Ma’am, let’s be real here. I know you are NOT Zoe Rose.”

“I am though, I know it’s weird but just listen…”

He gave her an appraising look which she felt offended by. “I’ll admit there’s quite a resemblance, but I saw it with my own two eyes, Zoe Rose is dead.”

“Well, that’s the thing, I didn’t die.”

“You didn’t die, right, right, right.” He stubbed out his cigarette on the top of the can and put the butt down the keyhole opening. Then he stood up with a soft groan. “Come on, out of here. I don’t want Obvious to come back and see you, I can’t account for your safety if he does.”

Zoe realized the guy was there waiting in case Sanjay came home, ostensibly to talk to him, talk him down maybe, and she felt more kindly disposed to him. “No, really, I’m Zoe Rose, I’m his girlfriend, Captain Obvious-es, I mean. I’m on KAQT News, um, I was born in Tamarack Grove, Idaho, January 27, 1989…” Her babbling was falling on deaf ears though. The guy grabbed her by her shoulder roughly and started to steer her towards the door. Her body recoiled at the touch of his hand on her body; she never wanted to be touched by a stranger again. But it did made her think of a way to convince him. “Oh, I know what, um, earlier today someone shoved me into that fridge?” 

Detective Wallace stopped short. No one knew that. That little detail hadn’t been released to the media, in order to weed out all the crazies who called in with false confessions.  “How the hell do you know that?” he asked suspiciously. Maybe she was a crazy, and she killed Zoe Rose so she could take over her life. She did look so much like her, it was spooky. Or maybe she was obsessed with Captain Obvious, the capes attracted more than their fair share of stalkers.

The girl pulled out of his grasp before he could react and threw the fridge open. “I know what you’re thinking, but no. Someone put me in here. It was a man. And when I was in here, I was still alive,” she took a glance at the fridge and saw that several of the chemical bottles had indeed fallen over and spilled, and a couple of them were broken. “This stuff, whatever it is, it spilled on me and because I was all cut up it went right into my bloodstream, I guess? It did something to me. It did something to me and I didn’t die. I got mutated. I didn’t die! I’m not dead. You guys took me to the coroner and I screamed and Dr. Bonaventure helped me.”

The man gaped at her with his mouth wide open. “Dr. Bonaventure,” he muttered. How could she possibly know that, how could she possibly know? The rest he could wave away as the ramblings of a lunatic, but that?

“Yeah, call him, he’ll explain everything. But hurry up! We have to find Sssssss….Captain Obvious because he still thinks I’m dead.”

He stared at her and blinked his eyes several times. “You do look an awful lot like Zoe Rose,” he said warily.

“That’s because I AM Zoe Rose!  Would you make the freaking phone call already?”

As he talked on the phone she learned his name was Detective Wallace and he learned she was still alive. After he hung up he smiled in shocked disbelief. “Well, I got to say, this is on a short list of my weirdest cases ever.”

“It gets weirder, but we don’t have time for that right now,” Zoe replied, repressing an urge to toss a snowball at his face and show him just how weird things could get.  “Do you have ANY idea where Captain Obvious is, any idea at all?”

“If I did I’d be there talking him down, instead of sitting alone in the dark.” He thought for a moment and raised a finger. “I actually DO know where he is, I mean, not exactly, but in general. He’s out looking for the guy who killed….well, who tried to kill you.”  Wallace knew criminals had big mouths and gossiped like old women, so he was fairly sure Cap would have no trouble finding out who had done the deed. If they could beat him to the punch maybe they could save Obvious from himself.

“Does that help?” Zoe asked, wishing she watched more detective shows on TV.

“It might. You said it was a man who did this to you Zoe, you think you could recognize him from a mugshot?”

“Yeah, totally, he was the most bizarre-looking guy I ever saw in my life!”

“How so?” 

“His body was like, I don’t even know, Detective, he was like, really wide, and really thin.” She gestured with her hands to try to describe it. “He looked like he was made out of Legos or something?”

Wallace pressed his lips together in a triumphant expression. “Flat Stanley.”

“Oh my God, you know who it is?? Just from that?”

“I’d put money on it. Cap was the one who put him away. Just got out of prison a few weeks back. It passes the smell test.”

Zoe hurried towards the door and looked back at Wallace. “What are you waiting for??”

“You’re not going, girl, come on.  After everything you been through?”

“I have to, don’t you see? Because he’s never gonna believe it otherwise.” Zoe remembered that sound Sanjay had made and just knew in her gut he would have to see her alive and well before he would accept it as the truth. Otherwise he would just think the authorities were tricking him; they’d pulled similar tricks on other rogues in the past.

“I’ll make him believe it. I’m not gonna put you into jeopardy, Miss Ro…” Before Wallace could finish his thought, something hard and cold hit him in the face. It took him a good 30 seconds to realize it was a snowball. “What the actual eff…” he said as he wiped the snow from his face.

“Believe me when I tell you, Detective, I can take care of myself now.  

“I think it’s gonna take a little more than that, Princess Elsa.”

“I’ve got more,” she said, and sliced her wrist open with her diamond fingernails.

“Have you lost your goddamn mind?” the detective scolded, but then he shut his mouth with a snap as the wound healed up before his very eyes.

 “I’m fine, ok, I’m an unstoppable killing machine or whatever, so can we GO?”

Wallace shook his head and sighed, but he followed after her.  He’d been around enough supers to know when one of them promised they could fend for themselves, they usually could.

*****

The superhuman who called himself Desire preferred to live in the shadows.  In a world obsessed with celebrity, with fame, he was quite happy to have neither.

All he wanted to do was eat. Hunger dominated his life from the moment he woke up in the morning till he went to bed at night. He slept fitfully, dreaming of eating, dreaming of someday, finally, having a full belly like he remembered from when he was a child. He dreamed of Thanksgiving dinners, of massive ice cream sundaes, of sub sandwiches 10 miles long, of gorging himself on hamburgers and Reese’s cups and tacos, even just simple foods like buttered toast and tea.

But then he would wake up and remember he couldn’t eat any of it any more, it tasted like nothing and caused stabbing pains all through him before it was forcibly dispelled in one way or another. And so his hunger just grew and grew.

Desire was always looking for his next meal ticket, so when he heard the APB come in that a hero had gone rogue he hunted down Exquisite. She was sleeping off a bender with Canyonero at a drug house out in the suburbs.

It was funny how downtown Los Urbanos used to be where the broken people hung out, but now the city was all gentrified and expensive and full of hipsters and other assholes, so the addicts had moved to the suburbs and outlying areas. He tracked Exquisite to the basement of a split level house that had once been worth a couple hundred thou, probably, but now was worth nothing. The carpet was ripped up, there was graffiti on the walls, holes punched or blasted through doors, garbage strewn everywhere, shit and piss on the floors. Hollow-cheeked, sunken-eyed junkies lay wherever they’d collapsed or shuffled aimlessly in circles rambling about nonsense. But Desire didn’t hate them, not at all. He had a lot of sympathy, actually. He understood all too well what it was like to have an empty hole inside you that nothing could fill.

When Canyonero tried to stop him from taking the girl, Desire looked him in the eye and said the magic words. He drained the guy, not all the way, but enough. Canyonero fell back onto the filthy mattress he’d been laying on and started to snore.

Exquisite kicked like a wildcat, but she knew better. “What do you even want, Desire?” she asked in a whiny voice, as he dangled her in midair by the scruff of her neck.

“I gotta find Captain Obvious.”

“You’re looking for a cape??  On purpose? Are you NUTS?”

“He’s rogue.”

“OMG really? We gotta get out of town,” she said, and looked at Canyonero, his huge body sprawled out like a hibernating bear. His eyes twitched in REM sleep and drool oozed from a corner of his mouth. “How long did you put him down for?”

“You don’t need to leave town, Exquisite. You just need to tell me where Obvious is at.”

Exquisite pieced together the implications and laughed and laughed. “Remind me never to get on your bad side, Desire.”

“If I have to remind you of that, you’re dumber than you look, Exxy.  Where is he.”

The girl’s eyes went white and her face slackened. “He’s at the abandoned zoo,” she said, blinking her eyes clear. “Hunting for Flat Stanley.”

“Why?”

“Girlfriend in the fridge.”

“Really.  Heh.” Desire had realized a long time ago that when a supe went rogue and then went missing, the authorities figured they’d flown off somewhere to a distant planet or into a nuclear reactor to melt themselves or something. They didn’t look into the disappearance terribly much, assuming that the cape had shuffled off this mortal coil in some fashion. So the best time to have himself a good dinner was when there was a rogue. And a rogue the caliber of Captain Obvious was gonna be a very good dinner indeed.

Maybe he’d even feel satisfied for a while. It could happen.

Just because it hadn’t yet, didn’t mean it couldn’t. Up until now the strongest supes had eluded him so he’d never learned what it meant for him to consume one of the heavy hitters. “Thanks, kid,” he said to Exquisite and set her back down.

She pulled her tank top back down from where it had ridden up when he’d lifted her, revealing the shape of her breasts through the thin fabric. No bra. Exquisite was young and beautiful despite her gaunt frame and the ugly needle marks that marred her every available vein. Desire wished he could appreciate it, wished he still had that part of himself, but it was gone, devoured by that gnawing hunger that consumed him.

Please check out Part 4 here: https://atomicfeminist.com/2020/01/04/women-in-fridges-a-cold-day-in-hell-part-4-surprise/ 

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 2: “The Walking Dead”

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 2: “The Walking Dead”

Click here to read Part 1 –  Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Fridge

DeShawn Wallace had been a detective with the Los Urbanos PD for 12 years and during that time he’d worked with quite a few of the capes. Some of them were good people, some of them were assholes, just like everybody else.  

None of them he liked better than Captain Obvious. Obvious had a well-deserved reputation of being everyone’s favorite superhero to have a beer with. He was a chill guy, laid back and cool and funny, treated the fans good, quick with a selfie or a visit to a dying child. The authorities appreciated him since he followed the letter of the law like he was supposed to. And Detective Wallace, who had had a few beers along the way with the guy himself, even went so far as to consider the Captain a friend. And cops didn’t often befriend supes, so. 

He kept the crime scene locked down tight cause of the secret identity factor. He only sent up a few cops he trusted and told em not to get nosy and to forget the address when they were done, thinking to disrupt the Captain’s life as little as possible. But once he got a look at the inside of the apartment he knew the guy would be moving houses anyway, ain’t nobody could’ve got a good night’s sleep in that place again seeing all that even if it hadn’tve been someone he knew.

When Detective Wallace entered the apartment Captain Obvious was sitting at a table with his dark eyes molten and furious, flicking around like he was watching something pass by in the air around him. His jaw muscles spasmed as if he was grinding his molars to dust. He sat up suddenly and wrote something down on a notepad and when Wallace got close enough he could see it was a list of names. “Cap,” he prompted and the guy looked up, blowing air out of his nostrils like a mad bull and his mouth was all crunched up in the front. “You ready to talk?” 

Captain Obvious sat back sprawling with his knees jutted up like he was a gangly teenage boy, all full of attitude like the kind of punk-ass kids Wallace got in the interrogation room at times. There was something so incongruous about seeing a superhero sitting like that, especially a by-the-booker like Captain Obvious, Wallace found it mighty concerning.  

Obvious was wearing his full-on costume, even the cape, and Wallace wondered if the supes just lounged around around dressed like that, or if he’d felt like he had to go put it since a crime had been committed. He nodded just once and breathed a puff of air out of his lungs like he was clearing his throat. The detective slid into the seat across the table. As he did, Cap must have thought of another name, and wrote it down on the list he was making.

“Who’s the girl?” Wallace asked, even though he felt like he ought to offer condolences or something for the guy’s loss. Then again, for all Wallace knew, the Captain was the perp. He doubted it, but always tried to keep it in mind, the heroes could be just as guilty as anyone.

He swallowed a couple times before he spoke. “Zoe Rose.” And then he rocked in the seat a couple times like he was trying to keep his emotions under control.  

“The girl on TV? Damn.” Wallace felt mildly annoyed to hear it – Obvious and Zoe goddamn Rose. The capes could have anyone they wanted it seemed like; it didn’t seem quite fair to the regular schmoes like him. Then he wondered if it was an inappropriate thing to say, all things considered. Probably. He ran a hand over his shaved head and smothered a wince. He’d been on the job so long he sometimes forgot the niceties.

If it was inappropriate, Cap was too far gone to notice. He pulled at his ear absentmindedly and nodded. “Damn indeed.” Then he thought of another name and wrote it down. 

“What happened to your wall, there?” There was a huge scorch mark across the painted brick of the living room wall. Wallace recognized it as the result of Cap’s eye beams and wondered if it might have happened when he was fighting with the girl.  Although that wouldn’t have been much of a fight; super speed, super strength, impenetrable skin, and flamethrower eyeballs versus the ability to banter charmingly with one’s fellow co-anchors. 

“I was upset, when I…when I. I lost control.”

When he found her, Wallace filled in the blanks. Obvious had got so upset his eyeballs went off. “Jesus, bud, I didn’t even know that could happen.” Sometimes Wallace wondered how safe it was keeping these freaks around who could accidentally kill hundreds of people if they sneezed.

“It hasn’t, for a long time.” His brow furrowed and he wrote down another name.  His fingers were stained with spots of black ink.

“What you writing there?”

“Possibilities.” Wallace could see a flush of color rise in the Captain’s cheeks. His eyes glinted with anticipation and he swallowed. Not the guy, Wallace was suddenly sure.  Captain Obvious was not the guy.  

Which meant, of course, that he was gonna go after the guy at the first available opportunity. And that created a whole ‘nother set of problems for DeShawn Wallace. “You’re not thinking about anything stupid, now, are you, Cap?”

“Stupid?”  He licked his lips and wrote down another name.

“Stupid, like, maybe round some folks up and forget to bring them in for a trial by a jury of their peers?” It happened sometimes, one of the capes got fed up with the system or pissed off at the world and decided to go full vigilante. Detective Wallace did not want to have to bring in Captain Obvious, not only because he was one of the stronger capes and he’d undoubtedly put up a hell of a fight, but also because he flat out liked the guy.

Captain Obvious smiled, a big wide toothy smile that gave Wallace the creeps, and he had seen more than his fair share of creepy people over the years, just sayin. It was like watching a crocodile smile, or a wolf – the hungry smile of a predator. He shook a finger at Wallace a few times as if he’d told a really funny joke. Cap looked away and stared out into space for several seconds. But that smile, it never faded.  If anything it got wider.

Then Wallace felt a gust of wind and his ears detected a faint ripping sound.  

He was alone at the table.  

The noise he heard, he realized, was the sound of a piece of notebook paper being torn loose. Obvious had written up his kill list and took it with him wherever it was he was going.

Well, that ain’t good, Wallace thought, as he took out his phone and made a call.  “Yeah. DeShawn Wallace, LUPD? I think we got a rogue on our hands,” he said. The person on the other end of the line said something and Wallace replied, “Captain Obvious, believe it or not.” Then the person said something else and he said “Girlfriend in the ‘frigerator,” and hung up.  

He didn’t need to explain any more than that.  About the oldest story in the book, for superheroes.

*****

The weirdest part of being dead, Zoe decided, was how aware of everything she was. She hadn’t been quite dead when she’d been shoved into the fridge, but at some point she died, she knew she died because she felt her heart stop and thought welp, I’m dead now. But her awareness never faded. She just kept on knowing things and thinking things even though she was broken in two and sliced to ribbons. 

When Sanjay had found her he screamed and cried and threw up on the floor and she ached because he was in such anguish. She longed for him, longed to comfort and be comforted by him; even though she wasn’t feeling physical pain any more her non-beating heart still felt emotional pain as acutely as it ever had. She couldn’t believe how unfair it was that right when they found each other they were getting ripped apart forever but at least she was dead and didn’t have to deal with life and its cruel and unusual bullshit any more. Sanjay wasn’t so lucky.  

Zoe wanted to reassure him that she was ok now, not to worry, she didn’t hurt anymore but her voice wouldn’t work. She thought about how she had been so scared she couldn’t scream and she felt like such a moron, because maybe someone could have saved her if only she had screamed. Maybe Sanjay would have heard her if only she had screamed, even though he didn’t have super hearing.  

But she didn’t. She didn’t even scream.

After a while some people came and took her body out of the fridge and unfolded her and put her in a black plastic bag and zipped it. She went in a car and it occurred to her they were taking her to the coroner’s office and they’d probably be cutting her up to look inside her. Now that she knew people stayed aware after their deaths, autopsies seemed incredibly cruel. Even if it didn’t hurt at all, since nothing seemed to hurt her any more, getting cut up into pieces by scientists sounded intolerably awful. Then she started to worry that once they started chopping her into pieces this strange lingering sentience she seemed to possess would evaporate and she really would cease to exist forever.

People’s hands were on her again, lifting her, moving her. She felt herself being pushed into a building, down an elevator, into a chilly room. The cool air seeped through from the outside of the bag and felt delightful. That had been one nice thing about being in the fridge, at least it was cool in there. It was way too hot inside the body bag. Muggy and stifling.

The motion stopped and she knew she had arrived. She was in the morgue. They were going to chop her up, probably cut her into pieces and take parts of her out like her brain and heart. Dread swallowed her, followed by outrage.  

How could a person get sliced up two times in one day?  It was so unfair!

She tried to scream, even though it was a lost cause since she was dead; she tried to scream and scream and scream but nothing happened just like nothing had happened before, and then the bag was unzipped and some hands flopped her over onto a metal table. What kind of an idiot couldn’t even scream? 

She couldn’t see anything but she could hear, and she heard an old man’s voice say, “Gosh Milo, isn’t it cold in here?” It was, it was cold, frigid, even, but the colder it got, the better Zoe seemed to feel. The blissful refreshing coldness of the morgue made her feel almost like she was still alive, but of course that was ridiculous. “I’m gonna get my sweater. Can you begin?”   

There were footsteps and rustling and clanking metal and running water and Zoe knew that they were about to start doing the autopsy. To take her mind off her rising panic, Zoe considered the nature of screaming. She thought maybe she hadn’t been able to scream earlier that day because she was holding her breath out of fear, so when it came time to scream she had no air. And now, she couldn’t scream because she was dead, but then again she was thinking, and she was dead.

Didn’t that mean she was able to do some things she had done when she was alive? She wondered what might happen if she tried to take a breath, if she took that nice icy wonderful air into her lungs, so she did and much to her surprise she actually felt her chest rise with the effort. “Ho-lee hell,” said the younger man standing over her. She took another breath and he continued in a quavering voice. “Dr. Bonaventure? I think we got a live…”

Zoe screamed finally and the sound that came from her throat was so high pitched she could barely hear it, but Dr. Bonaventure and Milo grabbed their ears and writhed like they couldn’t stand the sound. That was how she realized her eyes were open, too, because she could see them doing it. Zoe sat up suddenly and kept screaming long past the point she should have run out of air. She kept screaming till Dr. Bonaventure struggled his way over to her and patted her on the arm gently. He had his head tilted against his shoulder trying to plug his ear with it, and he patted her soothingly with his free hand. He had a kindly face and gray hair and black-rimmed eyeglasses balanced precariously way down on the tip of his nose. He was wearing a ratty-looking Mr. Rogers cardigan sweater over his lab coat. He looked huggable, like somebody’s grandpa or something. He looked so sweet and dear and trustworthy that she stopped screaming and him and Milo, who was a plump nerdish guy with dark brown skin and a round Afro and a bow tie, unplugged their ears. “Am I a ghost?” she said once she caught her breath.

Dr. Bonaventure considered it and then shook his head. His assistant Milo stared at her with wide eyes through clear plastic safety glasses and she realized that if anything, he looked even kindlier than Dr. Bonaventure. She realized she was in good hands, whatever she was. “Are you…are you sure she’s not a ghost, Dr. Bonaventure?” Milo asked in a worried tone. “Or maybe a zombie?” he continued.

“Quite, Milo my boy, because ghosts aren’t real. And neither are zombies.”

“But I have to be a ghost though, or something, because I’m dead!” Zoe protested.

“Why are you so convinced you’re dead, Dear?”

“Because my heart stopped beating, and I died.”

Dr. Bonaventure looked her up and down and she suddenly realized she was naked.  Before she could get too shocked about that, she realized that her wounds had healed up considerably from what they had been, and surely healing wasn’t something that dead bodies did. “Can you get us a blanket, Milo?” the doctor said. “Or two?” Milo hurried to obey, going into another room attached to the morgue by a swinging Plexiglass door that kathunked noisily as he went through it. “Your heart may have stopped beating, but I don’t think you did die. I think, Miss Rose, that you’re still alive. Your heart stopped because it ran out of blood to pump, but you’re still very much in the land of the living.”

“How? How is that possible?” 

Milo, who was now wearing a parka for some reason which made no sense since Zoe thought it was the perfect temperature in the morgue even though she could see everyone’s breath except for her own, held out a blanket to her. Dr. Bonaventure took the other blanket and wrapped himself up in it. Zoe used the blanket to cover herself for modesty’s sake, but she wasn’t cold at all. If anything she was kind of too hot with the blanket on. Snow started falling and while in a corner of her mind she knew that wasn’t supposed to happen, for some reason snow felt like her best friend in the whole wide world and she was glad to see it. Dr. Bonaventure stared upwards at the snow falling out of thin air. “Miss Rose, does it often snow indoors, in your experience?”

“No, I suppose not,” Zoe admitted.

“Nor does a human being survive the kind of trauma you have just survived, not often. But occasionally, someone does. And do you know what we call those people? The people who can make it snow indoors and survive losing all the blood in their bodies?”

A superhuman. “But I’m, I’m not though?”

“Well, perhaps you weren’t, but I think you are now.”

“What? How??””

“If you would be so kind as to make it stop snowing in here, I’ll try to explain.” And even though Zoe was not at all convinced she was the one making it snow, she concentrated and it stopped. The temperature rose several degrees and it felt to Zoe like going into a sauna after having been out in the snow.  Dr. Bonaventure looked at her with an approving expression. “As I’m sure you’re already aware, 30% of all human beings have the genetic capability to become superheroes…”

“Or villains,” Zoe said emphatically.

“Or villains,” the doctor agreed. “…but only a very few ever do. That’s because the genes need some sort of catalyst to trigger a change. Have you by chance been exposed to any superhuman DNA recently? Bodily fluids, a blood transfusion, perhaps?”

“Well, yes,” she agreed, thinking of Sanjay and all the times they’d been together over the past several weeks. There were other things that she didn’t want to think about, that she would have preferred not to think about ever again, and she pushed those things away.  Stubbornly they refused to go, kept coming back again and again. Her stomach roiled and tears peppered her eyes, but her intense journalist’s curiosity kept her from breaking down. Breaking down would be something that simply had to wait for another time because for now she needed to get the story. She shoved the memories away with all her might, and this time, thankfully, they stayed gone. “…but Dr. Bonaventure, you can’t be saying that becoming a superhero is like catching an STD, can you?”

“No, no.  No no no. Not at all. If it was, we’d be swimming in superheroes by now. The superhumans, they tend to be…well.” Dr. Bonaventure realized he was going off a tangent and cleared his throat. “No. Exposure to hero DNA helps prime a human body to make the change, it’s like seeding a cloud, you might say, or perhaps giving your body a recipe to follow. But it takes something else to trigger the metamorphosis.  Hmm. It occurs to me, Miss Rose, that if you’ve been around superheroes…”

“Or villains,” she prompted.

“Or villains, you’ve been around superhero stuff. Radioactive waste, toxic chemicals, ion storms, electromagnetism, that kind of thing.  Think back, does anything jump out at you?”

Zoe wracked her brain trying to think of anything. Inside Sanjay’s fridge, she recalled, he had all sorts of chemicals stored that he used for catching bad guys in one way or another. There was a whole shelf in his fridge set aside for chemicals, like other people had ketchup and mustard and salad dressing. He had warned her to stay away from them the first time she’d stayed over, and she always had, but when she’d been violently stuffed into the fridge a lot of stuff had clinked around and fallen over, and she thought it very likely that some of it had spilled on her. And plus, fridges were pretty gross anyway, for all she knew Sanjay had left some rancid disgusting Tupperware in there or one of those million-year-old boxes of baking soda meant to absorb odors. “Maybe,” she admitted, but then she recalled that Sanjay was out there somewhere thinking she was dead. She tried to jump to her feet, but her knees buckled. Dr. Bonaventure steadied her.

“Not so fast.  You need blood, and lots of it.”  He looked her over again. “And we’ll need to stitch up the rest of these wounds as well.  It’s apparent your ability to heal has been dramatically accelerated, but it will work even faster if we assist your innate abilities.”

“Can I use a phone?” she asked, and Milo handed over his. She dialed Sanjay’s number and it just rang and rang. Then she called his other phone number and was dismayed when it went to voicemail.

He had changed his voicemail message. “You’ve reached the phone of Captain Obvious!” he said in a voice full of smarm and fake cheer that was utterly unlike him. “I can’t come to the phone right now because I’m committing suicide by cop. Please leave your message, and maybe somebody will find it eventually. Peace out.”

She left a message anyway explaining that she was possibly alive still somehow and texted both phones too, but she had the sinking feeling he had probably left them behind someplace and wouldn’t ever get her messages. She had to find him before he did anything irredeemably bad since he’d have to go to Hellgate Island if he did, which was where they put the crazy superhumans.

Dr. Bonaventure started an IV in her arm to give her some blood and Zoe didn’t feel it.  Well, she felt it, but it didn’t feel painful, just informative. The needle digging into her arm sent information to her brain, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It just, was. She explained this and Dr. Bonaventure poked and prodded at her with his medical instruments. They discovered she no longer felt pain, which seemed like a very handy ability to have especially given her recent very up close and personal experience with it.

They stitched her up without any anesthetic which she was glad of since it hurried the process along considerably. The more blood they put into her, the faster she healed, and by the time Dr. B put the last stitch into her, into a deep gash above her left eye which was ugly but not life-threatening, the first stitches in her abdomen where she’d been gutted were almost completely healed and so he and Milo pulled the stitches right back out again. By the end of it all she didn’t have a scratch on her.

Somewhere along the way her heart shuddered and then started beating again. She was alive, she was actually alive, after all. She finally started letting herself believe it.

While he sewed her up, Dr Bonaventure explained that when it came to developing powers, particularly when the change occurred in a life-threatening situation as hers had, the body seized on what it thought it needed to survive. So in her case, she needed to heal quickly, she needed to be able to survive in the cold of the refrigerator, and she needed to be able to call for help. So that’s what her body had given her – healing powers, cold powers, and the screaming – plus the ability to withstand pain as a kind of a perk.

They were good powers, if all rather defensive. She wished she had something more in-your-face. She wanted firepower. She longed for the ability to burn stuff with her eyeballs like Sanjay did; if she did she’d hunt down that brick wall guy and fry a hole right through him. What could she do now, throw snowballs?   Yell really loud? 

They found her a set of surgical scrubs to wear and Milo let her borrow his car which was nice of him since she was a total stranger and he seemed kind of scared of her. But it had all taken so long, so long, and Sanjay was out there doing God only knew what. She desperately wished she knew where to start searching.  

As she got into Milo’s car and adjusted the seat so she could reach the pedals, she looked down at her hands and realized her body had done something else for her,as well, something neither she nor Dr. Bonaventure had noticed in the harsh light of the morgue. Her fingernails sparkled, refracting the light of the full moon into glinting rainbows. She turned on the overhead for a closer look and when she held them to the light, little specks of color bounced off of them and lit up the interior of the car like a disco ball.  

Milo had discarded an empty glass bottle on the floor of his car and she picked it up.  With her index finger she drew a circle on the bottle and popped out a round of glass easily, with a merry little ‘clink’.

Diamond fingernails. I mean, they were really more like claws if you thought about it. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, a voice in the back of her mind whispered.

Her body had meant for her to fight after all.

 

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 1: “Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Fridge”

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 1: “Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Fridge”

As many of my readers are aware, there’s an infamous trope where a superhero’s girlfriend is killed off as a cheap plot device to create angst and/or motivation for the hero, typically sending him off on a mission of revenge (while conveniently freeing him up for a new love interest along the way). This has been called “fridging” after a Green Lantern storyline where one of the Lanterns’ girlfriends was murdered and shoved into a refrigerator for him to find. 

Over the years, the trope has grown to incorporate more than literal fridges.  It’s grown into a term that describes the sexist way that many male writers treat female characters as disposable ways to trigger a male character to take action – as if female characters exist in fiction for no other reason than to provoke men to have a reaction to them being hurt. It’s pretty gross and terribly dismissive of the many women who, you know, maybe don’t always want to see their fave female characters getting raped and murdered and tortured just to make male characters get spurred to action.

The writer Gail Simone has an excellent website where she outlays these deaths all together and it’s pretty damning: Women in Refrigerators. 

So anyway, a few weeks ago, my friend jokingly suggested I write a story about a woman fighting a refrigerator along the lines of what I did with my short story “Mom Vs. Couch” (read it here, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and I replied “Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell” as a humorous potential title for such an endeavor. But alas, just like with “Mom Vs. Couch”, what started as a joke turned into an actual idea which wouldn’t leave me alone.

What if, I wondered, what if, getting shoved into a fridge could serve as a catalyst not only for a male character, but for a female one? What if women could reclaim the fridging trope for ourselves? Was it possible to actually give fridging a feminist treatment, or at the very least, not make it grossly anti-woman? 

And away I went. So, here you go, the first part of “Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell.”  Be aware, I wrote this entire story (not just this part) in 3 days. Plus it’s the week before Christmas and I have about a zillion things to do so I’ve been getting up at 2am to write and keep my life going at the same time, so if there are any typos or weirdnesses or things that don’t quite add up, let me know in the comments below and I’ll fix them.

VERY IMPORTANT TRIGGER WARNING: Since the entire point of this story is a woman who ends up getting stuffed into a fridge and what happens as a result, please be aware that a woman is gonna get stuffed into a fridge at some point. While I tried not to make it too graphic and the story WILL have a happy ending I promise because I prefer happy endings, I can easily, easily see how it could be disturbing for some, so if that is you, please read “Mom Vs. Couch” instead.

“And this is Zoe Rose, for KAQT News. Good night and have a wonderful tomorrow.” Zoe smiled pleasantly into the camera and held that pleasant smile in place without wavering until the producer waved her hand signaling they were off the air. Then she yanked off the mike and stood up. While normally she was ok with hanging around and making chitchat after a broadcast, tonight she couldn’t wait to get away from these people.  

“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Zo?” asked Chuck, her co-anchor, a walking amalgam of hairspray, Botox, and Crest WhiteStrips. “I thought maybe we could go catch that drink we’ve been talking about?”  

They hadn’t been talking about a drink. Chuck had been talking about a drink. In the three months since Zoe had come to KAQT-TV, Los Urbanos’ Number One News Source, he had asked her for a drink at least once a day, sometimes more than once. Chuck was a veteran anchor, a holdover from another time, who walked around looking at every attractive woman he encountered as if they were entrees at the All-You-Can-Sex-Buffet. Everyone called him Matt Lauer, Jr. and they were only barely joking. Zoe counted her blessings because she knew that even just 5 years ago the expectation would have been for her to go have that drink and be appreciative of the opportunity to sleep her way to the top.

Thank GOD for #MeToo, she thought. “I can’t tonight, Chuck.” She forced regret into her voice although it wasn’t easy. “I have to get my computer fixed.”

“Again? Jesus, Zoe, you have to get your computer fixed at least twice a week!”

“At least twice,” she said, and laughed, even though Chuck had no idea why it was funny. “Have a good night, Chuck.” Zoe made her escape and headed back to her office.

Zoe’s office was small, but it was a corner office and it looked out over the sprawling megalopolis of Los Urbanos with these big glass windows all along both external walls. It was way bigger than what she’d had back in Cascade Falls. Everything in her life was way bigger since she moved to LU. She felt like the luckiest woman in the whole world as she swung open the door. She had worked hard, of course, very hard to get to where she was, as far back as she could remember she’d been working towards this dream coming true before her eyes, but she knew tons of other journalists who had worked just as hard and hadn’t had anything approaching the opportunities she’d had. And that didn’t even take into consideration her personal life, which was fucking spectactular and totally undeserved.

She was blessed. Incredibly blessed. Even though she knew it was a trite and borderline offensive bourgeois expression, Zoe Rose felt with every fiber of her being that she was blessed beyond belief and she was so, so very grateful for it.

Sanjay sat at her desk, fiddling with her computer. His long dark hair was pulled up into a man bun, which was his disguise. It was so funny how he could hide in plain sight just by putting his hair up in a bun and being a mild-mannered tech support guy. She told him that once, that she couldn’t believe people didn’t recognize him right away – his face was everywhere, on billboards and in TV commercials and plastered onto the side of city buses and smiling from the cover of People Magazine. He joked that the best disguise of all was being Southeast Asian, it was like he was invisible, no one even looked at him twice, and she thought that was really sad and wanted to beat up the whole world on his behalf.

Personally, Zoe wanted to look at Sanjay constantly. She wished she was invisible so she could follow him around and stare at him while he went about his day fixing computers and sitting in meetings and eating lunch; the most mundane details of his life, Zoe wanted to witness every one of them, except for the bathroom stuff. Zoe thought Sanjay was the most beautiful man she had ever seen and that was when he was just being Sanjay and not the other guy. When he was being the other guy she couldn’t even breathe when she looked at him.

He glanced at her with a sexy smirk playing on his full lips and Zoe thought she might die, literally might die in that second. “What do you even do to this thing?”

“Whatever it takes,” she replied, which was true. She would go into the settings on her computer and start clicking randomly till her computer stopped working, then she would call tech support and Sanjay would come and they could see each other during the work day. Zoe often felt she couldn’t make it through the day without seeing him, without reminding herself that he was actually real and not just a daydream.

“Well, I fixed it.” Sanjay stood up and his dark eyes traveled up and down Zoe appreciatively and she was really glad she’d wore her shortest tightest skirt. It was amazing how different it felt when Sanjay let his eyes rove than when someone like Chuck did. “Don’t let it happen again, Miss Rose,” he joked. Then he wrang his hands in front of his chest, which Zoe knew from firsthand experience was exquisitely muscled, but as usual he wore a loose-fitting shirt which covered it up.

He seemed nervous; he always seemed nervous when he asked her out, even though they’d been going out, or more accurately, staying in, for several weeks now. They couldn’t be seen in public, of course, not only because dating coworkers was frowned upon at the station, but because of the other complication.  

Supervillains.  

Staying in had its perks, anyway. Did it ever. “Thank you.” It was flabbergasting to Zoe that someone as mindblowingly phenomenal as Sanjay Biswas might have any nervousness regarding her whatsoever. Even though she knew she was successful and considered quite attractive – tall and willowy, brunette hair cut in a flattering chin-length blunt style, a made-for-TV face like a grown up version of Selina Gomez – even though she knew in an ordinary relationship it would be understandable for a man to be intimidated by her, it was still flabbergasting. Compared to what Sanjay was, she was nothing, nothing at all. 

“Meet you outside then?” he said, his hand reaching towards the man bun.

“Yep.” Zoe felt a gust of wind and when she blinked he was gone.  

She had started wearing her ID, debit card, and keys on a lanyard around her neck since carrying a purse was an enormous pain in the ass when Sanjay picked her up. Slinging the jingling mess around her neck, she rushed down the hall to the door that led to the fire escape, tucking her stuff down inside her pale pink silk shell as she did.  She cringed as the icy metal of her keys hit her skin and buttoned her suit jacket shut for warmth.

As she opened the door she realized she’d foolishly worn the wrong shoes, she’d worn slip-on mules that while comfortable for a day of work, could fall off her feet and probably kill a pedestrian, so she slipped them off and left them on the fire escape to retrieve the next day.  

Then she climbed up onto the railing of the fire escape and jumped off. She was on the 16th floor so it was quite a ways down.  

As she fell she saw him just for a moment silhouetted against the full moon, his shoulder-length black hair flowing loose in the wind, his crimson suit so tight it left absolutely nothing to Zoe’s imagination, his gold cape reflecting the moonlight. His one leg was straight, the other bent at the knee like a ballet dancer in mid-spin. In the very next moment she was in his arms. “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” she said breathlessly.

“You need to stop doing that, Zoe, what if I can’t make it in time?”

“You’ll always make it in time,” she said, and kissed him.

As she removed her tongue from his mouth he swallowed a couple times. “You ever been to Lake Geneva?” he asked with his voice all husky from desire, and Zoe laughed because he was always asking her things like that about random and unusual locations. He never took her places like Paris or Hawaii, he took her better places, peculiar places, places off the beaten path, places where villains probably wouldn’t be hanging out. He took her to Banff and the Isle of Man and Prague and Namibia. He took her to the Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota. He took her to the Bikini Atoll. One time he took her to Antarctica and they fed penguins a can of sardines. Even though he was called Captain Obvious because it was a meta joke that raised his cool factor considerably, he actually despised being obvious, at least where Zoe was concerned.  

“I’m not wearing any shoes, though,” she complained.

“I’ll carry you.  Whereever you want to go.”  

And that sounded lovely so she said no she hadn’t been to Lake Geneva, and off they flew across the Atlantic, headed for Switzerland. They were there in five minutes, even though what Sanjay would very much have preferred was to head straight back to his lair and pound the shit out of her, only tenderly and with a lot of consideration for her needs.

There were stronger superheroes than Captain Obvious – the Flying Brick, Idaho Spud, the Manatee. There were faster superheroes – the Pink Cheetah, Shelby Cobra, the Millennial Falcon. There were superheroes that had way more firepower than he did like Champagne Supernova and Black Betty. There were definitely grittier superheroes like Batverine, True Grit, and the Soiled Dove. But Captain Obvious was the absolutely coolest superhero. He didn’t just think that he was, even though he did think that he was.  He’d been officially deemed the coolest superhero by People Magazine for seven years running, stealing the crown from OK Boomer who had never bothered learning how to use social media.  

Part of being the coolest hero was that you never did what people expected. Being the coolest meant you set trends, you didn’t follow them. So while he did tend to take Zoe places where villains wouldn’t be, because DUH, it was really more about him not wanting to be, well, obvious. Inviting a girl to Paris was so fricking predictable Captain Obvious would never have let himself do it so whenever he had a minute to spare when Zoe wasn’t with him he was scrolling desperately through Atlas Obscura looking up places to take her to on dates.

Lake Geneva was pretty awesome though. Even though it was dark, the moon was full, so they had a lot of light to see by and Sanjay flew them over the water and they took in the beauty of the snowcapped Alps in the distance gleaming in the moonlight, and looked at the fancy houses and there were even castles and fortresses dating back to the Middle Ages on the shore.  

After awhile, though, Zoe started shivering. He hadn’t figured a way around that yet; she always got cold when they flew places unless it was someplace tropical. Zoe was the first woman he’d dated as Captain Obvious so he didn’t have the finer details worked out.

Since his lair was in the tropics, it was a nice excuse to get her back to his place anyway. 

The secret fortress of Captain Obvious was beneath an abandoned temple half-eaten by jungle on a small island not too far from Sri Lanka. He had an apartment in Los Urbanos of course, as Sanjay Biswas, ordinary citizen, but his lair was really his home. He kept his prize possessions there – memorabilia from the cases he’d solved, photos with celebrities, his Teen Choice Awards. And of course, since it was a lair and everything, it also housed his command center – surveillance equipment, a fully-equipped crime lab, top-of-the-line computing system, and his weapons collection, which he fortunately rarely needed, since he was a weapon himself. 

The living quarters were masculine, even a bit spartan, since the lair was where Captain Obvious came to work, not hang out. But Zoe found she felt very much at home there.

While Sanjay disappeared off into the kitchen to make her some hot tea, she snuggled into a blanket on his couch, although to be honest she hadn’t been anywhere near as cold as she pretended to be.  She was just ready, beyond ready, to be alone with him and for some reason she had a hard time just asking for what she wanted sexually, she felt like she had to trick people into it, or else she’d come off like a slut.  

Zoe had been to the lair many times; it felt safer than either of their apartments since Sanjay was so emphatic that no one know about her for her protection. Even though she thought he was being a bit silly about it, since no one knew who the secret identity of Captain Obvious even was, let alone the girlfriend of the secret identity of Captain Obvious, she loved it because it felt like they were the only two people on the face of the planet. When they came to the lair, it felt like she had Sanjay all to herself and didn’t have to share him with whatever passers-by was in trouble right that minute. Even though she understood when he had to run off and perform a rescue during a date, it was still disappointing when it happened because she wanted to be with him as many hours in the day as was possible.

The first time he’d kissed her had been at the lair. She’d done a one-on-one with him at the station, visions of Peabody Awards dancing in her head. They’d hit it off right away; Captain Obvious was as humble and down-to-earth and earnest as his reputation had led her to believe. She met a lot of arrogant assholes working in media, and it was refreshing to find that the one guy who actually had the God-given right to be self-important, wasn’t. Anyway, she found herself laughing and blushing and fawning over the guy in a way she normally didn’t during interviews; she fawned over him the way she cringed at when other female journalists fawned over celebs. But I mean seriously, he was Captain Obvious, fawning over him was different than fawning over Justin Bieber or some sportsball-playing-douche, right?  

At the end of the interview he offered to show her around his lair on one condition – no cameras. No one had ever seen the inside of the Captain’s lair before so it was a massive scoop for her to land after she’d only been in town a few weeks. She agreed and sent the cameraman home and Obvious swept her off her feet, literally. They talked for hours like they were old friends. By the end of the night she was shocked to find herself making out furiously with Los Urbanos’ resident superhero which seemed really unprofessional on both of their parts, but neither of them cared.

He came back in with the tea and set it down on the coffee table and then they forgot it was there.

Some time later, because Zoe was thirsty, Sanjay left the bedroom and got her tea and heated it back up with the fiery beams from his eyes. When he came back Zoe was sitting up in his bed with her always-perfect hair all messed up and her lips swollen from kissing so much. Mascara had smeared down below one of her eyes and the sheet slipped off her chest and she didn’t bother to pull it back up. He felt a rush of an emotion he had never experienced before and it took him a moment to pin down what it was.

His confusion must have shown on his face. “What?” she asked him, as she sipped her tea, which was turmeric and ginger, like Sanjay’s mother used to make when people caught a chill.

His long hair hung down into his face and his brown eyes were wide and intense.  He shook his head like he was surprised. “I love you,” he said. “I love you, that’s all.”  He laughed in disbelief. “It’s amazing. You’re amazing.”

Zoe was so happy she could have exploded.

The next day, Zoe took a half-day off work because she was so full of joy she didn’t think she could read the news without smiling, which would be terribly inappropriate if people had died or something. So she decided to surprise Sanjay. She got an Indian Cooking for Dummies cookbook at Barnes and Noble and went shopping at the farmer’s marketplace for ingredients. And then she bought a big bouquet of flowers even though she knew giving a man flowers was frowned upon because it made you look needy. She didn’t care, she didn’t care at all. She wanted Sanjay to know she needed him, so, so very badly. She didn’t want him to have a single doubt.  

The night before, after he had told her he loved her, he gave her a key to his place, and so she let herself in. Sanjay’s apartment was clean and spacious and airy, converted space from an industrial building. It had hardwood floors and an open floor plan, high ceilings with the beams exposed and the far walls were made of bricks painted white. There was exercise equipment in one corner; while it seemed weird since he was superhuman and everything, Sanjay still had to train hard to keep ahead of the other superhumans, she’d learned. The kitchen was in another corner and the bedroom and bathroom were through a door at the far end of the large room.  Framed posters lined the walls and a ficus plant grew against one of the windows.

She wondered if she’d move in someday or if they’d get a place together, and she knew she was counting chickens but she couldn’t help it.   

Sanjay had a friendly black cat named Midnight. As Zoe came in, Midnight rubbed against her leg. She set the bags down for a moment and locked the deadbolt behind her. Then she scratched Midnight under his chin and he purred appreciatively.

She carried the bags into the kitchen and started to unpack them. Then she heard a really weird buzzing hum like electricity arcing and turned around. The front door was glowing and then she saw a foot step through the door and then a whole body followed the foot. The glow on the door died out. Standing there was a short squat guy with a strange broad but thin body, like someone had taken a regular human head and stuck it on a brick wall or something.  

He was mutated, she realized.  Mutated. “What?” she heard herself say, even though he hadn’t said anything.

“Captain Obvious?”

“What?” she repeated, and realized her heart was beating about a million miles a second.

“I know you’re his girlfriend, or his wife, or something. Captain Obvious. Where is he?”

“I don’t…what?”  

“I can smell him on you,”  the strange man said, and sniffed through his nose as if to illustrate the point. “I been tracking him for a week. I caught his scent but when I followed it, it wasn’t him. It was you. He’s been all over you. And I mean ALL over,” he said, and then he laughed way down low in his throat.

“Oh,” she breathed and noticed she was really really dizzy all of a sudden.

“I’m guessing since he hasn’t blasted me yet, he’s not here?”

“Um,” Zoe said.  

“Well, well.” He laughed again and he started walking towards her. “Well, well, well.”

“Are, are, are, are are…are?” She paused and regrouped. “Are you gonna kill me?” It didn’t seem right that you could get killed when you’d spent the entire day dreaming about your happily ever after.

“Well,” he said, and he smiled, and Zoe was really, really sorry to see that he didn’t have teeth like a human being, they were pointy teeth like the cat had. “Not just yet.” 

She tried to scream but no sound came out at all.

When Sanjay got home that night after work he was in the best mood, like, ever. He’d gotten a text from Zoe that she’d taken the rest of the day off – normally she had to work late, since she read the evening news and everything – and that she had a surprise for him at his apartment. He hoped it involved nudity.

He’d even taken the chance of using his powers uncostumed, zipping back by 5:01 rather than taking the subway like he should have, because he just couldn’t wait any longer to be with her. He loved her so much it felt like the time he had to fly into the sun to defeat Dr. Coppertone, being burned alive and crushed by a massive gravitational pull, only good. So good. Good, like he had never even imagined what it could be. Now he understood what the people making all those sappy and cringeworthy love songs were actually singing about, even Bryan Adams.  

He stuck his key in the lock and pushed the door open.   

The lights were off and he flicked the switch on. Across the wall of his apartment it said ‘Catch me if you can’ and it was written in rusty red letters. 

In red letters. Red letters. Red. His brain dispassionately noted there was a wilted bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table.

Poor Midnight was hanging on a noose from the chandelier but as Sanjay looked around he saw blood everywhere it seemed like and it was just too much blood to come from a cat, no matter how he turned it around and around in his head he knew it couldn’t have come from a cat, not all of it and that meant only one thing. But no, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t be, please no, please, please don’t let it be that thing, he prayed to any deity who would listen; his brain even invented new deities to pray to like the God of Superheroes, there had to be one, surely, please, some higher power out there looking out for people like him who had to face so many terrible things.

Oh, my God, PLEASE.  

He darted from room to room in a tenth of a second but no one was there. Then he spotted the groceries on the floor, noticed that a bag had tipped and some vegetables and a bottle of fish sauce had broken on the floor which no one would leave broken on the floor without cleaning it up because it reeked to high heaven.

It felt like he died and came back to life again only he wished he was still dead.

The blood, he realized, wasn’t random, it was a path of blood, with drag marks and footsteps in it, and the drag marks led all across the apartment from the bedroom

the bedroom, the bedroom, oh my god

…into the kitchen. So he followed the trail and realized that there was a puddle of blood in front of the refrigerator and more blood was leaking from the bottom of the refrigerator door. He walked over and even though he didn’t want to, even though he would have rather done anything else in the whole wide world, Sanjay pulled the refrigerator door open and when he saw what was in there, he shrieked a sound that wasn’t even human and his eyes blasted fire. He squeezed them shut and didn’t dare open them again because he’d end up burning the whole building down if he did. 

He reached into the fridge and touched the terrible thing just to be sure it was what he thought it was.

And it was.