Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell: Part 5 “Fire and Ice”

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell: Part 5 “Fire and Ice”

Hey, Cats and Kittens, this one is pretty dark towards the end – sorry but I gotta go where the characters take me even when I don’t want to be there either.  Trigger alert.  

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

And if you need to start back at the beginning it’s here: https://atomicfeminist.com/2019/12/20/women-in-fridges-a-cold-day-in-hell-part-1-boy-meets-girl-girl-meets-fridge/

When Sanjay woke up he was stunned to find himself in a black-barred cage in a dark warehouse. There was a single light over his head illuminating only the area he was in and he couldn’t see further into the murk beyond. He struggled to his feet and stumbled to the bars, barely able to pick his toes up off the ground. He tried to bend the bars which should have been easy but he had no strength, no strength at all. Desperately he tugged at the cold metal, grunting and straining; then he tried to shoot them with his eyes but nothing happened.

Sanjay hadn’t felt so helpless since he was a child. He felt an intense flare of longing for his father, who had been dead for three years, to come and make the bad monsters go away.

A laugh came from the dark of the warehouse.

The thing about Desire that made him uniquely qualified to keep prisoners was that he didn’t care about anything other than eating. He had nowhere to go, no appointments to keep, he didn’t have to piss or take a dump, nothing. He slept, but only because he got so bored of existing; he didn’t actually have to so he skipped it when he had better things to do. And the only better thing he ever did than sleep was eating. Whenever he had a meal he would simply sit and wait till his dinner had recovered enough to eat it again and then he would.  

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Desire was pleased by how quick Captain Obvious had come to. It had only been an hour if that even and he was already up, already on his feet, already trying to escape. That was very encouraging. The guy didn’t heal any faster than a regular human, that was a rare skill indeed and Desire had never met a freak who could. But Captain Obvious was incredibly strong, so physically he could take a lot of abuse and bounce back from it.  

His stomach growled and grumbled and he wanted so badly to eat again, to eat it all this time. He wanted to drain Obvious dry, wanted the last drops of the life force on his tongue because those ones were the ones that tasted the sweetest. He wanted to pick up Captain Obvious in his hands and lick the platter clean.  

Desire wanted to suck him down till he heard a slurping sound like a child going after the last little bit of a milkshake.

But if he did that he would only get hungry again anyway, and sooner rather than later. So he forced himself to wait, to wait as long as he dared for the life force to come back enough to make it worth his while. While he waited he watched Captain Obvious testing his prison and lamenting his fate and attempting to figure out what the hell had happened to him. Desire didn’t have to keep them in a cell, of course; any one of them could have escaped in a heartbeat, prison or no, if he ever let them regain their strength enough to do it. He just thought it was funny to see them react to being behind bars, to realize they were being held against their will by being faced with the most definitive symbol of imprisonment there was – a cage.  

Captain Obvious opened and closed his fists in front of him and then shook out his hands and opened and closed them again. He squinched up his eyes and blew air out his cheeks. He tilted his head back and forth like he was clearing his head. Silly Hollywoodesque rituals he’d picked up from the movies, fictional gimmicks he resorted to hoping to make his powers work even though the only people they had ever worked for were, like, the Avengers or something. Freaking hilarious was what it was.

Obvious got more and more frantic when nothing happened, when his strength didn’t return.  He started slapping at the bars with his open palms, eventually screaming in frustration and kicking at the metal, raising his leg up in front of him and shoving forward with the flat of his heel. It was the kind of kick superheroes often used when busting down doors; it had worked many a time for Captain Obvious. He had used it earlier that day breaking down the door at the League of Disposable Criminals and it worked like a charm. It had worked so well in the past that Sanjay put every last ounce of what little strength he had into it.

Instead of tearing apart the cage’s wall like he had intended, the kick tore apart his foot. 

It hurt, hurt badly, and he wasn’t used to being hurt; he’d had powers since he was only a little kid. The ironic thing about Sanjay wanting his father to come was that he’d been stronger than his father since he was seven years old.  But he still wanted him.

Captain Obvious pulled up his foot like a cartoon idiot and hopped around and then he fell over. Desire laughed and laughed. It was pretty sweet.

Then he popped back to his feet and limped to the other side of the bars, the ones closest to Desire. So he could see the bewildered and terrified expressions on the Captain’s face as he repeated the performance all over again only wisely without the kick at the end this time. The guy’s red spandex suit was dirty and pitstained from sweat and his shiny cape was askew. Desire knew, he just knew, this was the lowest point of the guy’s whole entire life and he was so very thankful he’d been there to see it.

Witnessing the heroes, so-called, reduced to this lowly state was as satisfying as eating them was, just in a different way. These super-a-holes were so freaking entitled, used to being able to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to whoever they wanted to do it to, it was immensely enjoyable to watch them forced into being ordinary like everyone else. Yelling for help, yelling for their mamas, pleading, groveling, not being able to wrap their brains around the fact that this time, they’d met the Big Bad and they couldn’t muscle or blast their way out of it.

Priceless.  

Desire sometimes thought he ought to record them melting down and put it online for the everyday people to see, to show them that these were their heroes, their modern-day Gods, to prove to the brainless idiots in the cheap seats that the capes were the same as everyone else down deep inside. Once you took their powers away they were just frightened little kids, they weren’t braver or wiser or more in control of their emotions than anyone else, in fact they were even bigger cowards, even more useless. They quickly became gibbering emotional basket cases because they’d never had to learn to deal with life without getting everything handed to them on a silver platter.  

But that would have gave his game away so he didn’t.

Eventually Cap gave up and sat down in the middle of the floor with his legs criss-crossed underneath him and put his head in his hands. After a while Desire notice his shoulders were shaking. He was crying. Crying? After only an hour in the tank Captain Obvious, the biggest toughest superhero on the West Coast, the guy who’d never been beat, was crying. That seemed so pitiful that Desire couldn’t half-believe it; it usually took em weeks to sink to that level. He’d always heard Obvious was a badass and it was disappointing so he considered finishing him off just on general principle.  

But then he remembered the guy was having a time of it what with the girlfriend in the fridge and all, and decided to let it slide.  

*****

Flat Stanley tracked Desire to a warehouse in the industrial district. Zoe thought how funny it was that everything in real life was just like in a movie, the bad guys hiding out in a warehouse, in an abandoned zoo. She decided that if she ended up declared a supervillain which she probably would be by day’s end, she would hide somewhere really unexpected like the Plaza Hotel or Cabo San Lucas, the French Riviera, maybe, hanging out in plain sight where they probably wouldn’t even think to look.

“How are we gonna get inside?” asked Wallace, who was hoping Zoe had some kind of a plan.

“The door, silly,” Zoe replied, and headed towards it. She figured Wallace would want to go snooping around looking in skylights and stuff which would take forever. She just wanted to find Sanjay before it was too late, before the bad guy, whoever he was, finished him off or Nuclear Option showed up to take the rogue Captain Obvious to Hellgate, whichever came first.

Time was not Zoe’s friend here.  

Flat Stanley saw a few issues with the notion of just walking right in to where Desire was. He stammered frantically, “But lady, lookit, you don’t understand who you’re dealing with, here, ok, Desire, he’s, he’s…he’s not like other superhumans, ok, he can do things to you, bad things, real bad things, things like you can’t even imagine…”

Zoe laughed at that because she could imagine a lot of bad things being done to her. Matter of fact, she didn’t have to imagine them at all, all she had to do was remember them. And of course Flat Stanley was very well aware of the fact. So she laughed. Her nose crinkled up and her white teeth showed and she tossed her head back and if you hadn’t known why she was laughing, you would have thought she looked joyful, lighthearted, carefree.

But she was none of those things and severely doubted she ever would be again.  

Zoe twisted the doorknob and was happy to find it unlocked. “Wow, something went right today, it’s a miracle.” She pushed the door open with a metallic squeal and stepped inside. It was dark but she could see light in the distance. “Come on, Stan.” She grabbed Flat Stanley by the upper ear, poking right through the cartilage with her diamond fingernail to make a hole to get her knuckle into, and pulled him through the doorway.

Stanley whimpered. “AAAAHHHH, jeez Louise, you’re mean!  You are a MEAN PERSON!!”

“And to think I haven’t even got warmed up yet.” She tugged Flat Stanley along with her further into the warehouse so Detective Wallace could squeeze past them into the building. “Yoo-hoo,” she called. “Anyone home?”

“Ngyahh!” Flat Stanley grunted through his nose like the Three Stooges. “Look lady, listen, shut up, why don’t you, I mean seriously, think about it, the reason Desire leaves that door unlocked is because he can handle anybody who comes along!“ 

“Zoe, slow down here, just slow down,” Wallace didn’t particularly want to agree with Stanley, but he was appalled by the notion of marching in, marching in announced no less, to a place where someone strong enough to take out Captain Obvious was lurking. “We can’t even see where we’re going.” He followed Zoe anyway, even though it went against every instinct he had, both as a cop and as a human being, because he was in it, and when you’re in it, the only way out is through. He took his gun from the holster cause he figured he was gonna need it.

She groped the wall and found a set of lights, and flipped them on. The warehouse lit up like a football stadium. “Better?” she said sarcastically.

It started to dawn on DeShawn Wallace that maybe, just maybe, it was time to stop trusting Zoe to do the smart thing. Or the right one, either, for that matter, because the way she was acting was like she was planning a showdown and not an arrest.

When the lights came up Flat Stanley moaned because there was no way he was gonna get out of this without Desire seeing him, finding out he had led a cop and whatever it was Zoe Rose was, a hero, maybe, but Stanley wasn’t any too sure about that, right to his lair. “Desire? Desire! Help me, man, these people got ahold of me! Look out, they’re here for you, they want Obvious, help!” He shrieked for help a few more times and then Zoe got sick of it. She let go his ear and froze him solid to put a stop to his idiotic babbling. He turned whitish blue and sparkled with frost.  

“What are you doing, Zoe?” Wallace asked, as he passed Flat Stanley, taking a wary look at the guy. He looked like a statue, his mouth still wide open screeching for someone to save him. Zoe was making Wallace very, very nervous and he had been pretty damn nervous to start out with. No good deed goes unpunished, a wry voice snarked from a distant corner of his mind.

“I don’t need him any more.”

“Can he live through that?” 

“Geez, I have no idea,” Zoe said, looking back at Stanley. “But good point.” Then she gave a little hiccuping Cyndi Lauper yelp which stabbed into Wallace’s eardrums like an overly aggressive Q-tip and the Flat Stanley popsicle shattered into a million pieces, many of which ricocheted off the detective’s pants and leather coat before falling to the ground.  “He can’t live through that, I don’t think.”

“God damn it, Zoe!” Wallace yelled, louder than he’d intended. She pressed her lips together and raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms in front of her and Wallace had the distinct impression the temperature dropped several degrees. So he backed off and mitigated his tone because making Zoe Rose angry or even just slightly irritated, seemed like a piss-poor idea just then. “You know that’s against the rules, Zoe, heroes don’t kill under any circumstances! First, you do no harm!” Lord, the amount of favors he’d have to call in to get her out of this, he didn’t even know if he had enough favors owed him to do it. The authorities didn’t just let heroes kill with impunity, even when they were having a real bad day. It just was not done, not even to pieces of shit like Flat Stanley.  

“I haven’t signed the paperwork, Detective,” she said calmly, and turned away, towards the place where the light in the darkness had been.  The warehouse was full of boxes wrapped with what looked like Saran Wrap, stacked on pallets, and stretching up 10 or 20 feet tall, Zoe didn’t really know how high. All she knew was that that light was where Sanjay most likely was.  

Wallace considered the implications of Zoe’s statement. It was true, she hadn’t signed the government paperwork which meant she hadn’t yet agreed to follow the rules of engagement, so maybe it would be easier to get her off the hook than he’d first thought. They did occasionally run into a hero who had killed an innocent bystander or in self-defense when their powers first came in, who maybe just needed some help learning to control their gift, and if the person could pass the psych eval they did usually get a second chance. He could talk it up so Flat Stanley was coming at her, maybe, build a case for self-defense, and hopefully Zoe would cooperate.

But the way Zoe had said it was more like she didn’t intend to sign the paperwork at all, and that meant…

Well, that meant she intended to be a villain. Somebody of Zoe’s caliber – a person who couldn’t be killed, not to mention her other party tricks – either signed the paperwork and agreed to work for the government, or else the heroes rounded them up and sent them to Hellgate for intensive counseling or even permanent collaring if the shrinks couldn’t talk them around. That was just how it had to be. And Wallace didn’t want to see that happen to Zoe Rose, was all. She was a victim, an innocent victim. She’d been through more than one person could take. The girl was out of her head, flat out of her head, she didn’t know what she was even doing, she wasn’t responsible.  

“I know exactly what I’m doing, DeShawn,” she said, as if she’d heard his thoughts, and he sure hoped she couldn’t do that. “I made my choice, and I’ll take the consequences.”

Zoe felt bad for Wallace, she could tell he thought she was losing it, but she just couldn’t stand to let Stanley keep those memories of her, that was all. It helped her, so much, to know the person who hurt her was gone and that those thoughts of her were no longer in his filthy mind. It helped so much! It was like that feeling when you’ve been sick with a lingering illness, sick for so long you kinda forgot you were sick, even. But suddenly you wake up one morning and you’re better again; she felt a surge of renewed energy and a profound sense of relief. She was still scraped raw inside but it was fuckingfantastic knowing he wasn’t reliving what he did to her, and never could again.

Knowing that Flat Stanley was gone felt like a new scab forming over a wound. It was still there, you knew if you bumped it wrong it would start gushing blood all over again, but at least there was something hard and rough protecting her tender skin.  

It occurred to her if she did decide to go to the Dark Side she could help a lot of women the way she’d just helped herself. They could never go back to the way they were before, but at least they could reclaim those memories and maybe feel a little better for it. 

But before she could follow that train of thought back to the station she heard footsteps and a guy stepped out from behind some of the plastic-wrapped boxes. He seemed like he was vibrating slightly all over himself so she couldn’t make out his face or even what color his clothes were. Then she realized it wasn’t him that was vibrating, it was the air around him, and so she gave a shout his direction and disrupted the vibration so she could see him better for a moment before the air started vibrating again.

But even once she had seen him properly, she found him so unremarkable-looking he would have been hard to describe to someone else. He was ageless, raceless, and utterly forgettable. He could have been anyone in a crowd, you’d walk right by and two seconds later be unable to remember what he looked like. He was like if someone drew a stick figure and brought it to life. Zoe thought that if he wasn’t already called Desire, he should name himself Genericman.

He shut the vibrations off so Zoe could see him and then he smiled in an eerie way. Somehow his perfectly average face became even more perfectly average, despite its intense creepiness. “Cold and shrill. Excellent powers for a woman.” he taunted.

“Where’s Captain Obvious?” she asked, but before he answered Detective Wallace was stalking around in front of her with his ridiculous plastic stun gun held out in front of himself with both hands and Zoe totally wanted to do a facepalm. 

“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law!”

Desire looked at the cop and busted out laughing.  Then he looked at Zoe and she just shrugged. “I told him to stay in the car,” she explained. Zoe knew instinctively that there were two worlds, the human world and the superhuman world, and this was superhuman business that humans had no part in. Detective Wallace was like a mosquito trying to arrest an elephant and mosquitoes tended to get squished when they get too obnoxious. While she supposed she could have tried harder to keep him out of it, he just had to butt in and now he was going to pay the consequences. She felt a twinge of guilt but pushed it away since she didn’t have the mental energy for self-flagellation.

“Leave me alone,” Desire said in a weird way, and Wallace slumped and fell to the ground.  His gun skittered away with a rattling sound.

“Did you kill him?” Zoe asked, hoping that he didn’t but understanding it if he did.

“Nah. I probably should, but humans taste terrible.” Desire, while irritated he’d been found and would now be on the radar of the LUPD unless he killed the cop, was positively thrilled by the new arrival. She smelled strong. Women tasted different than men, sweeter and spicier, so with Captain Obvious and whoever this girl was, it would be like he had himself dinner and a dessert. Maybe two supers might fill him up, finally. He wondered if he could drain them both at the same time, a trick that had never occurred to him probably since he’d never managed to catch two at the same time before. It sounded positively delish. His stomach growled loudly.  

Plus, she was incredibly cute, delectable you might even say, and while he no longer had the ability to devour women in a sexual sense, an attractive meal was like sitting down to eat an elaborate bento box or maybe a beautifully frosted cake – he just appreciated the care that had been put into the package, was all. A feast for the eyes in addition to the stomach. His mouth watered and he had to actually swallow down his saliva.

So hungry.  So so hungry. 

“I’m here for Captain Obvious?” she prompted.  While she was inclined to freeze first and ask questions later, the fact was that she didn’t know where Sanjay even was, if he was even here, and she didn’t want to kill the guy without being sure she’d found him.

“He’s in my BELLEH,” he replied, in a terrible Scottish accent like the guy on Austin Powers.  

Zoe felt horror rising up her spine and hoped it wasn’t true.

“Get in my BELLEH,” he said to her and laughed in this sinister way, and Zoe realized he meant to eat her, to actually eat her, like, EAT HER eat her, which seemed like the capper on a pretty shit day overall. She send a dozen icicles his way and was stunned to see them drop right out of the air and shatter when they hit the floor. She shook her head which felt awfully fuzzy all of a sudden. “I need,” Desire said. “I NEED.”

She opened up her mouth to scream and all that came out was a mew like a kitten. Frying pan, fire, frying pan, fire, frying pan, fire, her brain babbled at her.

“I need,” Desire said again and started walking towards her.

One time when Zoe had been in high school she’d gotten anemia really bad, and after she’d done anything at all she’d be completely worn out. Even small tasks like just getting ready for school in the morning were exhausting; her muscles would shake and her heart would pound and she couldn’t catch her breath. Whatever was happening to her felt exactly like that. She could hardly stand up and so she bent over and tried to prop herself up with her hands on her knees and thought about how maybe she should have proceeded with just a smidge more caution.

What else did she have, what else did she have? She thought of her claws and they seemed permanent, like something no one could take away from her, and forced herself to shuffle forward an inch at a time, her right hand extended out in front of her. She had to get to him, she had to get close enough to get him.   

“What?” Desire said. Something was wrong. He’d just given her a double whammy, a triple whammy even, by far and away more than it had taken to bring down Obvious, and not only was she was still on her feet, she was actually coming at him. “I NEED,” he said again, and drank down a great big gulp of her. Finally she crumpled to the floor. But only a few seconds later, much to Desire’s shock, she was trying to get up again.

He needs, he needs, he needs, Jesus. Zoe was just so sick of men and their needs, always taking precedence over everything else, it seemed like she was drawing power from it. Even though logically she knew it was her body healing itself she felt like it was that rage giving her strength and she shoved her elbow underneath herself and pushed her torso up. Men and their goddamn needs, most of which weren’t needs at all, they were wants stoked by porn and a world that told them that every momentary urge they ever experienced was fucking sacred and if they didn’t immediately act upon every whim they ever had they weren’t really living. Needs, FFS. Men’s “needs” were a freaking joke, only the joke was on women. She cocked a knee up beneath her other leg and struggled to get her feet back under her again. If she could just get close enough she could sink her fingernails into his throat and find the jugular, she just knew it. She just had to get close enough.

Desire couldn’t even believe his eyes. She was still coming. “I need?” he whispered, gently, so very gently, because he was starting to suspect he had someone special on his hands, someone he had been looking for for a long time. He was terrified of killing her so he mustered every ounce of self-control he had and sipped at her, looking for the sweet spot where she was incapacitated but not dead. He reached out with his hunger and tentatively probed her, felt her life force draining away into him, and then much to his surprise felt her filling up again the way a toilet fills up after you flush it, only far more appetizing.   

Much to Desire’s amazement he realized he could take nearly everything out of her and then it just came back again. It was like magic and so he drained her and waited and drained her and waited and drained her and waited and he didn’t even know how long it went on. He lost all track of time. It was marvelous, it was bliss, it was paradise, it was heaven, it was like his every dream had come true. He could eat as much as he wanted to, he didn’t have to stop, he didn’t ever want to stop.

And then the most remarkable thing happened.       

The hunger was gone. He wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t hungry at all, in fact, the idea of eating was vaguely repellent like he’d just eaten an extra large 4 meat pizza and an order of cheesy breadsticks and a 6 pack of beer and a bag of M and M’s a box of ice cream sandwiches and was still licking melting ice cream and bits of chocolate cookie off his fingers. He was finally full. He felt a surge of gratitude towards the unconscious girl and relief so great he actually felt a sob escape his chest.

With the hunger gone, finally gone, his body stepped on the clutch and shifted gears.  Desire realized he had an erection, an urgent and undeniable erection, for the first time in seven years, since the truck carrying toxic waste had crashed into his Prius and the nickel-metal hydride batteries exploded turning him into whatever the fuck he was.

The girl was there already sprawled out on the floor. She was incredibly cute. Delectable. He thought he might love her, because he was so grateful to her, so thankful for her, she seemed like the answer to his every prayer. Even though he never would have thought himself the type of guy who could do such a thing, he found himself fumbling at his pants in desperation. His balls ached, itched, burned, throbbed from the agony of being pent up for seven years and he had to get it out of him before the moment passed or it would be stuck in there possibly forever. He had to, he had no choice. It had to come out. It wasn’t his fault, he had to do it. It wasn’t his fault, it was just his stupid body, he was a prisoner in it, a slave to it, he had no responsibility, he couldn’t be blamed, he was the real victim here, it wasn’t his fault, it had to come out. He was going to eat the girl anyway, what difference did it make anyway, no one would ever know anyway, no one would ever have to know what happened anyway, and he wondered how long he could keep her alive so he could do it again.  And again and again. And again.

She stirred then, and he was glad because he kind of wanted to look in her eyes when it happened. Her eyelids flickered like a sleeping child and then flew open. She pushed up on both elbows and Desire was surprised to see an eager expression on her face.

Zoe bit her lip and willed him to get close enough, imagined her claws ripping open his throat, imagined him clutching at the wound with a betrayed expression, imagined the skin of his impossibly average face turning ghastly white as the blood drained out of his head, imagined him falling over and twitching and then going still. Then he smiled at her, a real smile this time, an open and guileless and warm smile that Zoe’s brain could make no sense of whatsoever, and burst into flames.

The heat coming off him was incredible; Zoe scrambled to her feet and took a couple steps back trying to get away from it before she remembered she could just create a pocket of cold air to protect herself. She heard Desire making horrific noises and saw him flailing around but she couldn’t see anything else beyond him since the light of the fire was so bright. Then he fell down and stopped moving, and the fire sprinklers came on, which was irritating so she froze them all solid so they would stop spraying her. It was enough water to knock down the flames a bit, though, so she could see someone walking towards her, a beautiful man with long black hair, in a crimson suit, with a gold cape swinging out behind him.

“Sanjay!” she exclaimed, her heart jumping for joy.  Zoe wanted to run into his arms but there was a flaming man in the way.  

By the time she’d said it he’d gotten close enough to see his face and it was furious, downright malignant, and she barely recognized him. If it hadn’t been for his costume she wasn’t sure she would have recognized him at all.

“Who the fuck are you?” Captain Obvious asked in a strangled voice.

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 4: “Surprise”

Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell Part 4: “Surprise”

 

Wallace called in a few favors and bent a few rules and they found out Flat Stanley was living at the abandoned zoo outside of town. While there were occasional calls from John Q. Public to raze the place since it was an eyesore not to mention a public safety hazard, enough homeless superhumans lived there that the powers-that-be decided to leave the zoo standing. After all, if the supers weren’t living at the zoo, they were gonna be living someplace else, on the streets or in the sewers or in a neighborhood next door to somebody who voted, and nobody respectable wanted that. Short of tent city jails which the tender hearts decried as a violation of civil liberties, an abandoned zoo seemed like a reasonable enough containment system. Even had a fence around it. A nice tall one with razor wire curling along the top.

The freaks actually kept the place up pretty good, all things considered. The more functional ones took a proprietary interest in their living quarters, so while the zoo had been officially abandoned since the 70’s, the buildings were still standing, the brush wasn’t terribly overgrown, and there was a surprising lack of garbage piled up. It looked like all you needed to do was bring in some truckloads of zebras and a hippo or two to get the place back up and running again.

So the LUPD left the place alone, let the superhumans self-police what happened within the borders of their fiefdom, partly out of practicality and partly because the thought of going into that zoo – especially alone – was what a cop’s nightmares were made of.  But sometimes nightmares came true, especially for cops.

“No offense,” Zoe said as Wallace pulled up in the zoo’s vacant parking lot. The overhead lights had been shot out a long time ago, and there were weeds growing up through cracks in the asphalt. “But I think you should stay in the car.”

The detective shut off the ignition with a laugh. While the idea of going into the abandoned zoo didn’t thrill him even a little, whatever powers Zoe Rose was packing now, it wasn’t gonna be enough. That zoo was full up of all sorts of rough and tumble superhumans, and very likely a borderline unhinged Captain Obvious to boot. Wallace was pretty freaking sure Cap wasn’t going to just accept his girlfriend had come back from the dead on her good word. He figured Obvious would be more likely to believe two familiar faces rather than just one, especially when that one was meant to be dead.

Hell, Wallace barely believed it himself, and he’d had ample opportunity on the drive over to observe her playing with her new powers, frosting up the windshields, freezing his coffee accidentally then apologizing profusely for it. She grew icicles from her fingertips and floated giant snowflakes in midair, then disappeared them again as if they’d never existed.  

Impressive and all, especially for a corpse, but it was nothing compared to what some of the superhumans could do. Nothing. And unlike Zoe Rose, DeShawn Wallace didn’t have the ability to come back from the dead. He strongly considered calling for backup but he knew that if he did and the backup arrived before they could track down Cap, the chances were Obvious would be taking a trip to Hellgate Island, possibly even a one way trip. The thought of the affable Captain Obvious locked up for the rest of his life alongside hardcore irredeemables like Dread Scott and Suckerpunk, it just didn’t sit right. Plus there was more than a little voice telling him Zoe herself could end up in Hellgate right alongside of her boyfriend if a bunch of capes showed up to take him in. She wouldn’t let him go without putting up a fight, Wallace figured.

He had to play everything just so to get them out of the mess they were in, and part of that just so involved him walking into the Los Urbanos zoo on his own alongside a glorified weathergirl who could yell real loud.

Wallace said a prayer under his breath and got out his stun gun; thankfully he’d remembered to charge it. Sometimes he forgot. While stunning would never work on someone as strong as Obvious, even on max, it might help them get past some of the zoo’s weaker inhabitants. Then with any luck they’d find the Captain quick, convince him that Zoe was really who she said she was, and talk him back down off the ledge. Once they did that, they’d be safe. Captain Obvious could get them back out of the zoo again easily.

Zoe rolled her eyes at the sight of Detective Wallace checking his gun.  It was cheap-looking, plastic, made in China probably. She couldn’t imagine it would work on a human, let alone a supervillain. “All right, it’s your funeral.”

After she said the word funeral she started to wonder if she even could die, if her body would just keep healing itself forever. No funeral, no gravestone, no obituary, no mourners. Would she keep aging, just get older and older but never be able to die? While Zoe certainly didn’t want to die any time soon, that sounded awful. If she stayed young forever and all her friends and loved ones aged and died around her, that sounded equally awful. Sanjay had impenetrable skin and super strength, but he definitely aged, she’d seen pictures of him when he was younger and he had wrinkles between his brows and a couple white hairs in amongst the ebony ones. He was 35 years old already and that meant his life was half-over. That didn’t give them very much time, especially if you measured it against an eternal lifespan or even just an unusually long one.  

Zoe felt a wave of resentment that she had had to change, that someone had forced her to change forever because they were horny, because they were angry, because they wanted to prove some point to another man. So many men went through the world like they owned everything in it. Other people, female people especially, were a resource for them to consume and toss over their shoulder like an empty crushed pop can. She thought of Chuck at KAQT, he was just the same as Flat Stanley was, just a matter of degree. She thought of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and all the guys who had gotten away with it for years and would continue to get away with it in the future. What difference did it make if they got caught eventually, if along the way they hurt people and changed them forever?   

It was galling, the sense of entitlement some men had. Whenever they had a momentary urge of some sort they got to act on it, whenever they had an itch they had the God-given right to scratch. They took what they wanted and kept it, that was the worst part, they KEPT what they took. Staked a claim in you like planting a flag on Mars or something. They got to walk around forever with the memories of what they had stolen, they got to think back on it fondly and relive the experience as many times as they wanted to and what did you get? You either died or got changed into something else and had to just carry on that way and never let anyone see the cracks in you which was a challenge even if you were like Zoe and didn’t have any scars that were visible.

Zoe thought ok, whatever, she may be stronger now, wiser and more powerful, but she preferred being what she had been before. She missed being an innocent human woman who was just…happy. Fragile and innocent and living in the bliss of ignorance, it had been a good thing to be. And she hadn’t even appreciated it at the time. Now that she had them, she knew without a doubt that strength and wisdom were overrated. She could never have imagined what a luxury it was to be stupid and weak and happy. She wanted to be that person she had been before still. 

No matter what happened, she decided, no matter what the consequences were, she was going to kill Flat Stanley. He may have changed her forever but he couldn’t keep those memories of her. They didn’t belong to him. She didn’t want for anyone to know those things that happened except for her. Not that she wanted to know them either.  

She would never be the same but then again, he would never BE again. It seemed fair.

The detective shut the car door with a slam, which snapped Zoe out of her reverie. She got out of the car and followed Detective Wallace towards the big sign that read “City Zoo”.  

*****

Captain Obvious stalked through the zoo, with all the confidence having upper echelon superpowers afforded him. The few people he encountered saw that crimson suit coming at them and headed in the other direction. There was hardly anyone around, which was odd; usually the zoo was crawling with freaks, and he realized they must’ve heard he was coming and made themselves scarce.   

Which was fine by him. Let them scurry off to hide. Anyone stupid enough to challenge him was going to get a firsthand taste of Cap’s new rules of engagement. Kill em all, let God sort em out, a sentiment he’d heretofore found alarmingly militant, but now just seemed to be stating an obvious fact.

Adjudicating morality was someone else’s job. His job was executioner.

He didn’t think he’d need to find Flat Stanley, he figured Flat Stanley was gonna find him, since he had that inhuman sense of smell and everything. Probably how he’d found Zoe was by smelling his way to Sanjay’s apartment and then there she was like a lamb for the slaughter.

Why hadn’t Sanjay read his messages? Captain Obvious thought for the hundredth time. He had certainly updated his social media accounts repeatedly but hadn’t ever bothered to open the several messages he’d received on said social media accounts warning him that Flat Stanley was back on the streets. When he’d finally screwed up enough courage to check he’d found 17 messages from various government organizations telling him Stan was out of prison and he’d melted his phone in frustration. But people send me so many messages, Sanjay whined and Captain Obvious longed to cut out his own tongue even though he hadn’t said anything out loud. Sanjay was such a selfish self-absorbed idiot. He deserved every bit of the pain he was in right now and Captain Obvious wished it was possible for him to reach inside himself and beat the hell out of the guy and then roast him alive for his sheer mindboggling stupidity.

Captain Obvious realized he was imagining Sanjay Biswas in the third person, like he was someone else, another person with another life, some utterly useless guy curled up inside of him sobbing in a fetal position, and he knew it was because he couldn’t afford the luxury of being in mourning right now. Right now, the person who was in pain was someone else, and he was a wrecking ball. He wasn’t a person, not any more, the person he had been died with Zoe. He was vengeance wearing spandex. 

In the back of his mind, an alarm bell sounded. Obvious was very well aware that this was how superheroes cracked up – they started thinking of themselves as two separate people, the hero and the secret identity, till they actually BECAME two separate people and the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing any more. Sometimes the secret identity even forgot they were heroes entirely – they’d just wake up somewhere wearing a costume with no idea how they got there or what was happening to them.  It was how Pop Fly had got killed, people said. Reverted to her secret identity in the middle of a fight and swatted by a villain she could have easily handled under normal circumstances.

When superheroes developed split personalities like that they got hauled off to Hellgate Island for a mandatory reintegration and even if they got released, they couldn’t be heroes any more. They had to wear suppression collars for the rest of their lives. It was for their own protection, but they’d have to catch him first. And he wasn’t going to go down easy. He wasn’t gonna go down easy because he had a job to do.  

Seriously, why would you not kill bad guys? Why wouldn’t you? They never got rehabilitated, never learned a thing, just offended and reoffended and re-reoffended as many chances as you gave them. How could such a stupid, effed-up criminal justice system have even evolved in a world full of people who could obliterate bad guys with a thought, with the flick of a finger or the wink of an eye? It was fricking ridiculous was what it was. Accepting the deaths of innocent people to protect the civil rights of monsters, literal monsters like Flat Stanley? Ridiculous. 

And to think he’d been ok with it since up till now it had never been anyone he personally cared about. It was disgusting. He was thoroughly disgusted with Sanjay.

It occurred to Captain Obvious that Sanjay Biswas had not exactly been living up to his end of the superhero bargain. He’d been granted incredible Godlike powers and then what did he do with them? Wallowed in the fame and the glory, the fun stuff, and skated by doing just the barest minimum of crimefighting to justify his celebrity. He thought about all the people who had lost loved ones because Sanjay had been too late to save them or too busy accepting some bullshit award or because someone he’d put in jail had walked and he’d just shrugged over it. Yet they had hurt just like poor faraway Sanjay off in the distance somewhere hurt now.

Meanwhile he had been out taking selfies and posting comical memes on Twitter when those people he had failed were shattered by loss.  

Captain Obvious had thought he cared about them, but it was all academic to him. Hypothetical. He suddenly understood why some of the heroes like Batverine and Bully Pulpit were so antisocial and jerkish, why they could never put the heroics aside and chill. It was because unlike most heroes, they actually cared about the people they were meant to be saving rather than accruing likes on Instagram which was how Sanjay had spent a good deal of his time and energy.

But all that was about to change.  And who knew, if Batverine showed up maybe Obvious could talk him around and they could team up. If you wanted to talk about practically insane heroes, Batverine was at least ⅞ of the way there. He hung around Crazy Cat Lady for God’s sake, and she was just this side of a bad guy. 

You could kill evil people and still be good, surely. It was killing in self-defense, which was allowed. You were just defending yourself a little sooner in the game, was all. Did it really matter if you waited till someone’s hands were clenched around your throat before you killed them? What if they were just a couple feet away, a couple yards away, a couple blocks or miles? Wasn’t their intent what mattered and not whether or not they’d managed to act upon their intent yet?

That noble talk about power corrupting was foolishness. Power only corrupted you if you let it. If you were good, a truly good person, you couldn’t BE corrupted, because your power would be used only in the service of good. A good person couldn’t be corrupted, they could only go too far. But what if you were careful, so very careful to never go too far? Captain Obvious would never start playing moral policeman. He would stay away from the shades of gray.  He would kill the Actual Bad Guys, only the Actual Bad Guys.   

It all made so much sense he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before. He wondered if this train of thought had always been inside of him lurking in the back of his mind. Percolating. Maybe it was just the eventual and undeniable realization of a person who had lived long enough in this effed up world. Maybe it was just the logical conclusion that any rational person would eventually be forced to draw whether they wanted to or not. You either trusted the good guys to do good, or you empowered the bad guys.

There would be time to figure it all out later, when things calmed down, when his primary mission was complete. Maybe when Flat Stanley was gone he’d turn back into one person again and that person would know right from wrong without question like he had before. Or not. With any luck, he’d be killed, and the entire puzzle would never need to be solved.

Captain Obvious walked down the food court where the concession stands used to be. It still smelled vaguely of hot oil, like corn dogs and elephant ears and funnel cakes even after all this time. Then he saw Flat Stanley at the far end of the boulevard, in front of the reptile house. He stretched his hands out as if issuing a challenge. Obvious wondered if the guy was possibly suicidal or something, because he wasn’t that strong, and he’d been easily beaten in the past. Had Stanley come after Captain Obvious trying to get himself killed and found Zoe instead?   

But the world would never learn what Flat Stanley’s motivation had been. Despite an intense craving for some explanation as to why, why, WHY? Captain Obvious felt his eyes heating up almost of their own accord, and he wished for self-control, wished for the patience to make the pain last all night, for days, for weeks, but even as he wished it he knew didn’t have it in him. He didn’t have the time to indulge himself anyway. Stanley needed to be barbecued immediately and then Obvious could move on to the next villain on his list. The quicker he killed them, the more he could get through before the Flying Brick showed up to slap a collar around his neck and take him to Hellgate.  

But then a man stepped out of the shadows from behind a booth that said “Cotton Candy” on it in faded pink letters. The man was totally unremarkable in every way, and Captain Obvious suddenly realized he couldn’t exactly see the guy even though he was standing right in front of him. Average height, average weight, indeterminate race. He had absolutely no unique characteristics whatsoever. His clothes were gray or brown or maybe navy blue. When Obvious squinted to get a closer look, the guy’s face went blurry making it even harder to get a grasp on what he looked like.  

“I need,” the stranger said, as he came closer. “I NEED,” he said again. Captain Obvious felt really weird, like someone was sucking the life right out of him. He tried to shoot fire from his eyes but the flames came out only a couple inches and then died out.

“What?  What??” Sanjay said and he fell to his knees and then flopped forward onto his hands.  

Flat Stanley walked up and all Sanjay could do was raise his head a little. He couldn’t look Stanley in the face, he couldn’t raise his head up enough to do it. His skull felt like a bowling ball attached to a neck made of linguini or something. All he could see was Flat Stanley’s hands which were hairy like an animal and had dirty fingernails. Sanjay thought of those disgusting hands on Zoe and wanted to kill him so bad, so bad it was like he was boiling over from it, but he didn’t have any strength in his body. “That’s just what his girlfriend kept saying.  What, what, what like some kind of a fucking retard.”

“What?” Sanjay said again and both the men laughed. They thought he was beat so they laughed at him. But he dug deep, to depths he didn’t even know he had, and struggled to stand. He pushed up somehow back onto his knees again and managed to thrust a foot out in front of him and trying, desperately trying to shift his weight onto that leg so he could get to his feet. 

“Look at him go. Heh. Lost cause, buddy, lost cause!” Flat Stanley jeered at him.

“I need,” the strange man hissed again, and Sanjay deflated like a balloon. His lead leg started sliding forwards till he was practically doing the splits and then he fell over to the side, writhing on the asphalt like a worm after a rain.  

Sanjay couldn’t understand what was happening, he just couldn’t understand it. “What?” he said again, and then everything faded to black.

“How was it,” Flat Stanley joked, looking down at the limp body of Captain Obvious.

“Tasted like curry,” Desire joked back, and laughed. Stanley laughed too although he didn’t get it. “Thanks, my man.”

“No worries,” Stanley replied, although he thought Desire had cut it a little close. 

Desire picked up Captain Obvious in a fireman’s carry and headed off into the night with him.  He kept his meals alive as long as possible since they were so few and far between. Licorice Whip had made it nearly 2 months before he finally got too greedy one night and ate him all up. Obvious, being extra strong, who even knew how long he could stretch him out??

He was still hungry though. Despite having just drained one of the stronger capes, Desire still ached with hunger. It was damn disappointing.

Would he never not be hungry?

*****

Flat Stanley had set up housekeeping in the reptile house, in a Plexiglass-walled habitat that had, at one point, housed Burmese pythons. The thing about the reptile house was, since reptiles were cold blooded, it was closed to the weather. Primo real estate. He’d had to forcibly evict the previous residents when he’d arrived, but that hadn’t been much of a challenge. Since Stanley had the ability to pass through walls transdimensionally, as the girlfriend of Captain Obvious had found out firsthand, he had barricaded the door shut so the same thing didn’t happen to him if a stronger super happened to come along.

So he was pretty fricking pissed to get back to his place and see a big round circle cut out of the clear window of the habitat. He went inside and there was a black guy with a stungun inside. Human by the smell of him, which meant he was soon to be a dead human. Flat Stanley made plans to steal the guy’s cool leather jacket, even though it would never fit over his shoulders. Maybe if he made some relief cuts in the leather he could get his arms into it.  

“You’re under arrest, Stanley,” the guy said, and flashed a badge, which complicated matters but wasn’t insurmountable. Any human stupid enough to come to the zoo alone deserved what they got, and that was true even if it was a cop. Everyone knew it, even the authorities. Flat Stanley made plans to invoke the stand-your-ground law and figured he’d get off scot-free. 

“For what?”

“The murder of Zoe Rose.”

“I don’t have a clue who that even is.”

Flat Stanley heard a sound behind him and smelled…someone. A superhuman, he could tell that much immediately. In addition to the peculiar nasal tanginess of the hormones created by mutant DNA there was a familiar scent, like baby powder and cherry blossoms and coconut shampoo, a scent that he felt he’d smelled very recently. He tried to wrap his nose around it good enough to place it, but it was all overlaid with hospital smells – iodine and formaldehyde and disinfectant and old blood. He couldn’t figure out where he’d smelled whoever-it-was before.

He turned around and saw a ghost. “Surprise,” the ghost said.

“What?” Flat Stanley asked. “What?”

The black cop stepped forward with his stungun til it was pressed against Stanley’s temple. “You know what they say, Stan, when you come for the queen, you’d best not miss.”

“How is this…how,” Flat Stanley stammered before realizing that by asking how it was possible the girl was alive, he was basically giving a confession right in front of a cop. “Um, what?”

“Where’s Captain Obvious?” the dead girl asked and Stanley laughed because maybe he had the upper hand after all.

“Now why in the world would I tell you that?”  

She smiled and before Stanley knew what had hit him, he was totally encased in ice from his feet to his neck. The ice smelled old and stale with a faint hint of ketchup and rancid meat juice in it, like a fridge that needed to be defrosted. He could have phased through it but he didn’t want to escalate an already escalated situation. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know,” Flat Stanley replied, planning to offer as little information has he could get away with. Crossing Desire was not something you did if you didn’t want to get ate. “I can’t tell you.”

Zoe tipped her head forward just the slightest amount and sent a fist of ice directly into Flat Stanley’s balls. “Have it your way. Believe me when I say I’m more than happy to beat it out of you. And please, take your time, why don’t you?”  

“Seriously, I don’t know,” he replied when he finished coughing and gasping from the shot to the nads. It was dawning on him that whether he got ate by Desire or frozen by some vindictive bitch who took things way too personal, it was all the same for him. Dead was dead. “I wish I could help you guys, really, but Desire got ahold of him. I got no clue where he took him.”

“Desire?” the girl asked and looked at the black guy for clarification.

“Never heard of him, Zoe.” Wallace didn’t like it that there was an unknown villain out there strong enough to take out Obvious. Didn’t like that at all. He thought back; the zoo had been deserted, deserted like Wallace had never seen it before. Him and Zoe had walked in like they owned the joint; no one challenged them, not even once. And while he would very much like to chalk it up to Captain Obvious being there too, there was a little voice nagging at him that maybe the freaks were hiding from more than one threat.         

“Tell me everything you DO know.” 

“I don’t know nothing, the guy keeps his cards close to his vest. Secretive, you know?? Alls I know is, he’s a real bad guy, real bad, not like, not like me.”

Zoe looked at Flat Stanley in disbelief. She tilted her head and her sleek blunt-cut brunette hair swung out on one side and laid against her cheek on the other. Her brown eyes widened and then narrowed into slits. Stanley was sure he was about to get crushed so he prepared to phase through the ice and take his chances with whatever else this chick was packing. But before he could, the ice holding him in place turned liquid and dropped to earth, dousing his clothes with frigid, rank-smelling water.  

“What are we going to do with him?” asked Wallace.

“Take him with us,” Zoe replied. “Even if he doesn’t know where this Desire is, he can find him.”

“How?”

“Same way he found me.” Zoe created a ring of small sharp icicles encircling Flat Stanley’s neck, but hovered them in midair a foot away from him. “See those?” she asked, and Stanley nodded quick small nods and gulped. Then she made a much larger and much pointier icicle and hovered that about 6 inches from his crotch. “See that?” she asked, and Flat Stanley, who had got very red in the face, nodded again. “Turn around.” The largest and pointiest icicle of all she hovered right behind his ass and while he watched she grew it longer and pointier still.

“Oh, boy,” Flat Stanley whimpered. Then Zoe turned the neck icicles into a collar and the other icicles into a diaper-ish thing as she smacked them onto the guy as hard as she could. He started coughing again, partly from getting hit in the nuts again, but it was the blow to the Adam’s apple at the same time that really got him choking and sputtering. It was nice, Zoe thought, a nice feeling to see him suffer. She technically didn’t need to do it since she could just remake the icicles again at any time, but she thought he might need a constant and hopefully very painful reminder of the truth.

“You work for me now,” she said.

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 – 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, 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, an old decrepit mansion that looked like something off of an old movie. Captain Obvious walked right past the three security guards shooting AR-15s at him. Bullets bounced off him and ricocheted into the floor and the walls and into 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 incredible 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, they were the hands and the heart 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 to maintain the social fabric, 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, 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 just 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. He really hadn’t been keeping up with it 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, ok? Listen! 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 and the resemblance was coincidental.

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 took care to keep the crime scene locked down real tight cause of the secret identity factor. 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, 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, then he ground his teeth some more. 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 before getting down to business. 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 himself. 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, not 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 uncaring 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 now, 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 because her heart had stopped. “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 down deep 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. Though it was hard to imagine someone looking more kindly 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, a clever woman like yourself, 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 seemed to realize 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 while you do?” 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 at least on the outside.

Somewhere along the way her heart shuddered and flopped and then started beating again. She was alive, she was actually alive, after all. She finally started letting herself believe it even though it was like so totally unbelievable.

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 often seized on what abilities 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. The ability to withstand pain appeared to be 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 charbroil 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?

Lame. 

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, 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.  And claws are probably an even better friend than diamonds, all things considered.

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 many of 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 Zoe 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. Chuck joined in even though he had no idea why it was funny because he was trying to create a false sense of familiarity he could exploit later. “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, and it had these big glass windows all along both external walls so you could appreciate it all. 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 spectacular 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 maybe the bathroom stuff. Maybe.

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, or maybe someone would find them and steal them, she didn’t particularly care.

Then Zoe 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, 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 to name a few. 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 weapons collection himself. 

The living quarters were masculine, even a bit spartan, since the lair was where Captain Obvious came to work, not hang out. The lair, despite all its technical bells and whistles, didn’t even have Dish Network. But Zoe found she felt very much at home, probably because there was nothing to focus on but each other.

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 were in trouble right that minute. Even though she understood when he had to run off and perform a heroic 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 celebrities. 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 to Zoe since he was superhuman and his muscles worked different and everything, Sanjay still had to train hard to keep ahead of the other superhumans. 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 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.

 

 

 

the incredible shrinking woman

the incredible shrinking woman

I’ve really been struggling with my writing lately.  Well, not superlately because I basically gave up writing (aside from work, which is also writing) for the past 2 months, but right before that.  Ironically, just as I celebrated my 100th piece for the online magazine Ordinary Times the bottom dropped out and I sort of had a meltdown.

Writing – at least publicly – is not easy for me.  It’s a struggle every time against various demons that descend from the woodwork to tell me how much everything I do sucks, and also against various slightly less demonic entities that constantly demand my time.  Right before I went on hiatus this last time, I wrote a few things I thought were terrible, inexcusably, irredeemably, embarrassingly terrible.  I found myself sinking into a frustrated despair because I have virtually no uninterrupted time to get my work to the level I prefer, and if what I write is lousy, I cannot justify the time I take from my family who needs me.  It’s a conundrum because I do really and truly feel I have something unique to say if only I could get everyone to shut up long enough for me to get it down on paper.

Anyway, the other day I reread the pieces I recalled being so unacceptably dreadful and found to my surprise they’re perfectly fine.  Not my bestest best work perhaps, but better than just adequate.  On Glorious Bastards is actually pretty darn good, I was pleasantly surprised to discover.  But it took me forfuckingever to write that and its sister piece Put Away Childish Things and that was time I really needed to spend doing real things in the real world.  Again, I can’t justify the time I spend on writing if the end result is anything less than my best.

Finding out my suckiest pieces didn’t totally suck in retrospect is great, but not as great as if I could have just known that all along in my gut and not lost hope, not lost the past 2 months where I did nothing but play video games and scrub toilets, and the former a lot more than the latter.   In the end, though, it wasn’t my self-doubt that did me in, it was what other people had to say about my work that killed me.

You see, I made a critical error when writing those last two posts in particular, because I wrote them for other people and not for myself.  I wrote them because in my self-doubt I was questioning the types of things I liked writing about.  In my self-doubt I thought if only I could write about something I knew people wanted to read, I’d surely stop secondguessing myself.  So I pursued a subject (the ubiquity of male ennui in recent literature) I thought people seemed intrigued by, rather than something I was truly passionate about.  What could go wrong, I thought.  People are interested in this!

Long story short, the reaction of one of these people – indeed, the person who had demanded the loudest that I elucidate upon the topic in the first place – was this:  “So you don’t like Bukowski.  Got it.”

And encapsulated in one sentence is why I haven’t written anything to speak of for the past two months.  Just that quick, a person cut me down, diminished me, reduced my innermost thoughts to complaining and hypersensitivity.

Time and again I’ve found that men online come to women in the public sphere saying things like “I really want to hear your opinion, can you explain your point of view” as a pretext to get you to open up to them so they can slam you or debunk you.  I’d originally held back on talking online with this particular person (a total stranger BTW, not a friend) for exactly that reason.  I felt that his request for communication was not legitimate and was simply a pretense to yell at me about how stupid I was for not liking the right books, but he assured me repeatedly he was merely curious about where I was coming from.  Assured.  Repeatedly.

“So you don’t like Bukowski.  Got it.”

A man read what a woman had to say about something she thought was relatively important, AFTER EXPRESSING DESIRE TO HEAR THOSE THOUGHTS, and took the opportunity to remind her that no one wants to hear what she had to say.  He took the opportunity to play the “bitchez be crazy” card by implying I was a moody harpy with a personal grudge against a writer who’s been dead for decades.  (BTW, not even true, as anyone who actually knows me is aware, I love seedy underbellies and human flaws, it’s just that I’ve gotten sick of reading about the exact same seedy underbelly again and again.) This guy looked askance at something I’d worked very hard on, expending precious time I didn’t have, that I hadn’t even WANTED to write in the first place, and shit on it.

I’m sorry to say that I took it very much to heart and it’s taken me this long to get over it, inasmuch as I have, which I probably haven’t.

Now, I’m a pretty tough cookie and people say harsh and negative things to me all day long and it mostly rolls off.  People regularly dislike things I adore, despise things I write, and are disdainful of thoughts I hold dear.  I’m not a creampuff that can’t take criticism.  But that wasn’t criticism, it was dismissal.  In its casual dismissiveness, the comment brought home with crystal clarity how pointless having an online existence is, how no one cares about what I have to say, my silly small ambitions are ridiculous distractions that keep me from providing the maid service to which my family is entitled, that all I’m good for is wiping snotty noses and scooping cat litter boxes.  It played right into that negative selftalk that I already had going on, and just happened along at a time I was already vulnerable.

The person who wrote those words so carelessly claims to be a writer himself, and I assume that means he struggles like I struggle and fully understands that this isn’t an easy endeavor on a good day.  Yet he went out of his way to put me in my place.  It would have taken him not a second longer to write an encouraging platitude and less time still to say nothing, but he chose to insult me instead.  And it wasn’t even a bad piece.  He insulted me over a piece that was good.

Big Man.

In retrospect I realize I wrote a piece (taking time away from things I would rather have been doing and writing about, boy howdy, did it ever) in no small part because I didn’t want to give this Big Man and the Big Men like him, justification to dismiss me without also giving him the greater context so he couldn’t.  It just never occurred to me that he was so invested in winning an argument I didn’t even know we were having that he didn’t actually care about the context.  He was going to dismiss me either way.  It was predestined going in.  I could have written the most genius, brilliant, stunningly insightful essay in the history of humankind and the response would have been the same.

I wrote about what it feels like to be a woman being constantly told to read literature written by men and for men where women are afterthoughts and playthings and I got “So you don’t like Bukowski?  Got it.” in return.  It’s fucking flabbergasting.

It’s been said many times before that comments online are rarely about anything than the commenter’s own self-aggrandizement.  They’re picking a fight or preaching their gospel.  They’re meeting their own needs, and I very much expect that was the case here.  Big Man probably enjoyed the game where he watched a woman write furiously about a topic upon his request, and then passive-aggressively insulted her work with just enough clueless deniability to get away with it.  Or maybe he didn’t at all and he was just so self-centered, so entitled, that he thought he had the God-given right to repeatedly demand to hear what a woman was thinking and once she gave in, to pass judgement upon her opinion as if he was some sort of a moral or artistic authority.  Regardless, it was all about him, and anything I may have experienced as a result was collateral damage.

None of that takes away from me.  I wrote a good piece – a couple of them, matter of fact – that I’m proud of.  For me to stop writing because someone acted like an asshole online is self-defeating and only completes the job he set out to do – to shut me up.  So here I am, back again, as irritating as ever, ready for more.

I’m happy to report, one of my very first pieces back, Square Peg, Round Hole: Veronica Mars Season 4 was picked up by both WordPress and Google Chrome Reader for promotion and has thus far been read by more than 10,000 people.

2698FB568E2445268930F19B74EEA393

Oh Internet, you’re such a confusing mixture of discouragement and encouragement.

A lot of men entirely aside from Charles Bukowski exist to diminish and reduce women, to keep them in their place.  They thrive on it.  Many men prefer small and quiet women, not big and noisy ones, and prefer that even in random strangers that they don’t even know because unruly women cause them discomfort.

But I don’t like being kept in my place.  I’m too big to fit there.  I just needed a couple months to remember that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Glorious Bastards

On Glorious Bastards

Should women read books about bastards?

Must they?

I started writing about this subject tangentially for Ordinary Times as a part of a different piece, and I realized that my piece was getting too far afield.  So instead of giving you one overly long and ranging piece, you, my super awesome readers (all six of you) get two slightly more focused ones. Two for the price of one, that is a bargain!  But please do dart back to read the original piece if you have the time.

Anyway, there’s an essay by Rebecca Solnit called 80 Books No Woman Should Read.    I strongly recommend reading it because she makes a lot of good points, even though I mostly disagree with it, because I do think women should read books by bastards and about bastards.*  

There are noble reasons for this and you can read Marina Manoukian writing about them here or read Elissa Strauss writing about them.  But the real reason you should read men’s books is IMO the most noble of all – self-protection. 

Because you need to be fucking warned about what men really are, ladies.  (hint – it’s bastards) 

Not all of them, not all the time, but to paraphrase Lincoln, who himself was probably a bastard I assume since his wife Mary Todd got driven nuts for SOME reason (when it comes to crazy women, cherchez l’homme, just sayin) some men are bastards all of the time, and all men are bastards some of the time, so as a woman you gotta assume that any given man has the potential to be a bastard all of the time.  Even the generally nice ones.

If you were like me, growing up you were innocent and naive and probably read a lot of fluffy girly books and even some very serious and important ones, and you likely watched movies like The Princess Bride or When Harry Met Sally and maybe you watched Days of our Lives and Moonlighting on TV.  And these delightful pursuits maybe made you think – as I did, with every fiber of my being, until life beat it out of me – that most men are looking for a special woman that suits them better than all the other ones, that he’ll love her for who she is even if she’s different from him or high maintenance and he would never expect her to change, and once he finds her he will be completely devoted to her forever and she won’t have to work slavishly at keeping him every second of the day and of the night.

And I’m so sorry (you have no idea how sorry I am) to report that this is completely bullshit.  A woman being special and unique in the eyes of any man effortlessly and forever is a line of crap that people have sold us to get us to buy romance novels and to get us to behave ourselves, because if our man thinks we’re special just the way we are, what happens if we change, so we’d probably better not. 

The truth is, most men end up in relationships not with the most superspecialawesome woman they’ve ever encountered but just with that chick that works in the building next door or that nice girl who their friend happened to know from Pilates and they stay in that relationship till they get bored or someone better – or new, at any rate – comes along.  There is no magic here. There is nothing remarkable or unique about us (well, there is, of course, but don’t count on your man friend there to see it). And a LOT of men secretly think they could probably do a lot better than you or me and are constantly on the lookout for any reason to trade up.

Aside – while men of course do get massively obsessed with women in many cases it’s women that they barely even know, like a chick they once saw on a bus, or who they lived next door to when they were 10 but she moved, or Gabrielle in Marketing.  This fantasy woman is not an actual woman, but is a fictional character who they can imagine to have all those qualities that they think the ideal woman should have in any given moment, and the nice thing about her being a fictional character is that her qualities can change with a man’s mood.  When and if they conquer said woman and realize “oh wow she’s just a regular chick after all” and they have to start putting up with her bullshit, the bloom is off the rose and the relationship often sours. 

Given all that, the good thing about reading the worst types of men’s novels is that you get a front row seat into the way men think about women.  Reading Lolita (every woman on Planet Earth should read Lolita immediately) shows you just how actually evil some men can be when it comes to getting what they want sexually, even when they know full well that what they want sexually is actually evil.  Reading Fight Club (definitely do, when you get around to it) gives you an insight into how modern society, that men themselves largely created and have benefited from hugely, can demoralize younger and less successful men who haven’t had a chance to hugely benefit from it yet, and how these young men often look around and see women standing there and think “well there’s a likely cause for my unhappiness”, especially their moms.  Reading Bukowski (I wouldn’t bother, except for the poems, many of which are online for free and will kinda give u the jist) reveals how men think women are disposable and replaceable and how some men eventually decide to “treat women like human beings” as if it’s somehow noble of them, like they’re doing us a favor, as if they’re granting women a boon that we should be eternally grateful for.

The fundamental reason women need to read men’s books is because we need to know about the existence of men other than Prince Charming and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.  Because these men are legion and in fact these men, at least certain aspects of them, are lurking inside of every man, even Prince Charming and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.  Trust me, I beg you, it’s good to have a heads up on this in advance, as there are a whole lot of women who learn these truths about men eventually and are gobsmacked by it after building their whole entire lives on the lie.  Or so I hear, like, through the grapevine, or whatever.

BUT. 

The bad thing about reading the worst types of men’s novels is that they’re fucking boring as hell after you’ve read the first few and unless you’re 22 years old you’ve probably lived this shit already up close, personal, and repeatedly.  Take it from a middle-aged woman, by the time you’re a middle-aged woman you will have had ample opportunity to observe men, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

So sure, maybe it’s desirable, indeed, necessary, to read a few important men’s novels along the way.  Some of them are worth your time for any number of reasons. But there is absolutely no need to read them all.  And there is absolutely no need to continue to read them forever, if, as in the case of Charles Bukowski, a small taste would suffice.  Because they’re all the same variation on that same damn theme, a bastard and his penis and their delightful adventures, how they struggle for recognition and adoration from their parental units and society as a whole even though women are kind of insipid and disappointing and a boy’s precious penis deserves so so much much more, like that girl they lived next door to when they were ten who was perfect, but she moved.

Screenshot 2019-08-14 at 11.52.18 AM

  

Regardless of your opinion on penises – and I got nothin’ against ‘em – IT’S BORING.

A dear friend of mine recently suggested I read the Rabbit series by John Updike (a man who David Foster Wallace, himself a dick with a dictionary, once referred to as “a penis with a thesaurus”).  I took this recommendation very much to heart since this is a dude whose judgement I trust and whose writing I greatly enjoy.

But when I looked up Updike’s books I realized could never actually read them.  The first in the series, the very famous and beloved-by-many Rabbit, Run, involves a man who gets bored with his tedious existence of like, having to have a job, and take out the trash maybe I guess, it does kinda get old, abandons his pregnant wife to have a 2 monthslong affair with a prostitute, then comes back when his wife has the baby, tries to have sex with her as soon as she has the baby, can’t because firstly that is against the medical rules and secondly anyone who has had a baby will tell you that would be incredibly painful, jacks off onto her all pissed-off-ed-ly, and leaves.  Then the next day because she was so upset about her husband being a ginormous asshat, she gets drunk and accidentally drowns the new baby in the bathtub (it was a girl, naturally, since they are disposable). But don’t worry, the prostitute is pregnant so there’s already a replacement on the way.  

I mean seriously, I don’t even know what to do with all that.  Rabbit’s wife can’t even make a terrible mistake on her own. She has to be forced into it by the actions of a man; because he’s withdrawn his affection she can no longer function.  Lack agency much, Janice?  And then God-The-Author essentially punishes the temerity of refusing her husband sex by taking her baby away from her.

This doesn’t mean my friend was in any way wrong for liking Rabbit, Run.  By all accounts it’s great and undoubtedly brilliantly written and it’s a product of its time and should be viewed thru that lens.  He’s right, I probably should read it to be the well-informed person I hope to be. It just means that for me, personally, I’ve had enough.  My father left, my stepfather left, I’ve been pressured into sexual encounters I didn’t want and have talked to thousands of women (at my regular job as a fertility counselor) who have also been pressured into sexual encounters they didn’t want and/or who were themselves abandoned by fathers and husbands.  I have been told by a variety of sources that any physical weakness I have (such as, Janice needing more than 10 minutes to recover after giving birth before getting back in the saddle again) is simply me being a pussy and I need to suck it up and not complain and keep my man happy because a man’s temporary happiness is more important than a woman’s physical pain.  I have read dozens if not hundreds of books about the subject of male ennui, and seen hundreds, if not thousands, of movies and TV shows about it.  

I. Have had.  Enough.   

I’ve had enough of it in my personal life and I’ve for sure had enough in my fictional one. The last time I checked, engaging with fiction is a voluntary endeavor and not like eating my fucking spinach.  Reading as a chore? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Please don’t get me wrong here.  I believe that men’s experiences as relayed in these sorts of novels are profound and meaningful to other men.  I believe fully that men have a different set of drivers and experiences than women starting at conception itself (don’t @ me, people, it’s really actually science, the Y chromosome makes testosterone in the womb and it does stuff to ya as your brain forms, even if as some people claim there are exceptions and I’d never dare to quibble with their lived experience, it is the general rule) and they deserve to have books written by and for them about those drivers and experiences.  I get that in many, many cases these tales are told not as recipes for happiness/success, but as cautionary tales or as commentary on brutal reality. In many, many cases there are larger points being made and a greater theme underlying the penis pity party. I do get that. I would never presume to tell anyone that novels of male indulgence are bad, or not worth reading. I believe men have the absolute right to tell their stories and humans can and should sip from lots of different fictional cups along the way.  

But do they all have to be presented as MUST READ?  Because there are SO MANY OF THEM!!!!

Seriously, women have drivers and experiences too and there are far fewer books about the female experience.  Additionally, a whole lot of books allegedly written about or including the female experience – even those written by women – are written like women ARE men or are there for men’s gratification (either the character or the reader) , such as in The Corrections where Jonathan Franzen writes a lesbian character and somehow has her act first like a seductive ingenue, then like a man’s sexual fantasy of how a lesbian would act, and finally brings it on home having her act how a man would act in a similar situation (so she sleeps around and mistreats her partner badly).  And Franzen then is somehow PRAISED by “the critics” as being good at writing women.   

Less often, but too often, women are written from the perspective of maleness as a default setting, as if women are flawed and lamer men and not some other thing entirely, or that they’re entirely some other thing and not people at all.  Or we’re regaled with a thinly veiled parable about how men have made the rules and women need to live within them in a certain way or be considered failures to be punished accordingly (Anna Karenina, looking at you here).  There are really very few great novels featuring female protagonists at all, let alone that I relate to, and barely any that I find uplifting. I walk away from most books containing a female protagonist thinking “wow, thank God I’m not her,” and I find I’m mighty tired of women-who-misbehave-will-get-beaten-down cautionary tales.

Aside from that, it’s condescending as fuck to have our heads patted and be told “here’s a list of the greatest books in human history, Hon, read them to be a learned and well-educated person” only to find out that the Greatest Story Ever Told was actually Portnoy’s Complaint

Or if you prefer a more tangible example, here: Screenshot 2019-08-16 at 9.18.11 AM

Acclaimed literature, y’all, by Updike lover, and probably really cool guy Nicholson Baker.  I think it’s meant as a joke, and Christ, I sure hope so.

There is no written law that states anybody has to read an endless stream of books that are boring, gross, 400 pages too long, and shed no light on our personal experience in order to be well-rounded people.  And we for sure don’t have to read them at the expense of other things we’d rather be doing. It isn’t a black mark on our cool-chick-ometer if we decline the invite. It isn’t a sign of a willfully ignorant person for a woman take a pass on learning more about a topic (bastards and the inner lives of bastards) she feels she is already an expert in.  There is no shortage of material out there to read and watch and listen to. Somewhere between 200,000 and 2 million books are published a year, depending on the statistics you use, and in my rough estimation 190,000-1.9 million of them are male-centric.  

And if that’s not enough, streaming is a thing now if you prefer to watch rather than read.  We don’t have to waste our lives engaging with concepts we would rather not hear about any more.

I still believe, fully, that everyone should read books about everyone.  Of course. Fiction is a lens through which we can learn to view the motives of other people with empathy, even as they do some pretty heinous things .  But once you’ve read some of them and feel, like I feel, that you’ve had enough of a bad thing, I hereby absolve you of the need to continue reading similarly themed books till you’ve crossed them all off some arrogant dude’s imaginary list of bastard-centric literature.  

I think it is absolutely fine and dandy if a person prefers to read The Hunger Games or Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables because even though they are kids’ books, kids’ books are one of the few places I recall ever seeing a true and realistic accounting of my experience as a female human – even though, or possibly BECAUSE, they are completely asexual.  This doesn’t mean I’m asexual, or that I require or desire that in my fiction, just that stories without that dynamic have been where I’ve found the truest representations of myself.  

I happen to find that interesting and worthy of reflecting upon.   I think there’s a reason why women write and read more YA novels than men tend to and it’s because it’s the only place we can be free of penis-based literature.

In closing, my fellow women, I call upon you – yes YOU –  to stop reading some man’s book list before you feel you can write your own stories.  Write your story before you spend another second reading someone else’s. 

Look, I’m just like you. I’m a mom, I’m middle-aged and haven’t accomplished much creatively speaking as of yet, but I’m out here giving it a whirl because I know I have a unique perspective just like you do.  All these men’s books of the past half- to three-quarters-of-a century are regaling us the same goddamn story about the needs of a sad penis and the dull and weak women who surround said penis and fail to live up to its like, so totally reasonable expectations.

I heard that one already.  I want to read your story, ladies!

*I enthusiastically agree with the part of this essay where Rebecca Solnit called Hemingway’s prose “Tonka Toys”.  One of my fave encounters with mansplaining in the wild was when I wrote a piece about a romance novel I enjoyed as a teen written by a woman who revolutionized the genre and pretty much singlehandedly invented “bodice rippers”.  Hey, a woman did something and I found that worthy of note. Men came winging out of the stratosphere to define “purple prose” for me as if it was a term that I’d never heard before and to explain that Hemingway was better because he wrote sparsely.  It was even suggested that the Twilight books were well written because they were sparse (How far would YOU go to prove an absolutely meaningless point?  If it’s to the point of calling Twilight well-written, I humbly submit you may have gone too far).  

Tonkas may be fine for little boys but I’m a girl and I prefer playing with my sparkly holiday Barbie, so fuck off and get trampled by a bull, why don’t you?

No More Tender Vittles

No More Tender Vittles

This piece was originally published at Ordinary Times Magazine.

Andre was running late.  

Andre couldn’t stand being late. He knew people thought of him as a bit of a slacker and because of that, he dressed with care, spoke politely, worked fast, and was punctual. But he knew that despite his best efforts, they’d notice he was late today and use it as a data point to support their original assertion that he was a slacker.

It didn’t seem fair exactly that people could make a decision about a person and then forevermore be on the lookout for evidence to support their conclusion. It didn’t seem fair exactly that nothing you said or did for the rest of your whole entire life mattered once people had made up their minds about you.

Then he caught a light and the traffic gods were with him. Andre rammed his hovercar into the closest parking hole without hitting the brakes till the last possible second. He barely managed to stop within the zone. If he’d gone any further he would have had to keep going out the exit side of the hole and come around for another try and he totally for sure would have been late if that happened. But he had no time to celebrate his superior parking ability. He sprinted into work with about 60 seconds to spare, smiling as the security camera scanned his face. Officially on time.

There was a horse in the lobby. Looked pissed, which was par for the course. It was one of those huge ones, a Clydesdale or whatever, with those big hairy hooves that could kick your skull open, probably. Andre had never drawn a horse on any of his assignments and getting a look at the sucker he was pretty glad of that.

Nova was bringing him in. Nova weighed about 45 kilograms soaking wet and Andre thought for a moment how stupid it was they didn’t take an animal control agent’s size into account when handing out assignments. He knew it was supposed to be fairer that way, but in a cosmic sense it kind of wasn’t fair at all. Nova had a split lip, a pretty bad one, and she was limping. She sent him a rueful look and he knew it had been a rough one. Poor kid. “Hey.”

The horse snarled at Andre, like an actual snarl, which was disturbing.  “Hay? Real funny, pal”.

“Shut up, Wilbur.”

“Wilbur was the man, you twat.  You mean Mr. Ed.”

“Ok, shut up, Mr. Ed.”  He gave Nova a once-over. “Are you ok?”

“Don’t aggravate him, Andre, I barely got him here as it is. And I’m fine. Cracked some ribs, probably I think.”

Mr. Ed made a sound that was somewhere between a human laugh and a whinny. “You know what they say, once you’ve had horse, you’ll walk funny.”

Nova elbowed his flank. “Shut up or I’ll trank you again.” In response Mr Ed raised his tail in the air and plopped a massive pile of moist green turds onto the lobby floor. Nova considered it with a sigh. “That’s about the last thing I need right now.” She looked like she was about to fall over from exhaustion and Andre was overcome by chivalry.

“I’ll get it.”

“Really, Dre?”

“Yeah.”

“Won’t you be late though?”

“Eh. They got me on camera, they know I’m here.  Work is work, right?”

“Oh gosh, well, thanks!” Nova led the horse into the waiting elevator and pushed the button.  

The horse looked back at Andre with a smirk. “Enjoy.” The door closed before Andre could reply.   

By the time he got up to Argonne’s office, everyone else had picked up their assignments and left. Yay, one-on-one time with the boss. Fantastic. “Late again, DeLuca?”

“There was a horse in the lobby.”

“It’s always something.” Argonne took his phone and downloaded Andre’s assignment into it. “Here, kitty, kitty.” Andre thought again about poor Nova wrangling that Clydesdale and here he was getting a cat. Didn’t seem quite fair, cosmically, but you can’t change the world, so. 

A cat seemed like such an easy retrieval he decided to bring Harry along. If Harry didn’t get out enough he got stir crazy and weird and even though it was a risky thing to do, Andre swung back by the apartment to get him.

Harry was laying sprawled on the couch, one of his freakishly long arms draped along the back of the couch, and the other buried in a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. He had orange dust in his black fur and all over his mouth, and he was naked. Andre happened to know Harry hadn’t showered for a good long time and if he hadn’t happened to know it, he would have known it anyway because of the smell. He pushed down a wave of disgust, since he couldn’t exactly judge Harry by human standards, and Harry had certainly not asked to be created that way or any way at all.

The chimp was watching one of the Game Show Networks, a rerun of that stupid old show with the people on a desert island. Andre vaguely recalled his grandma had liked it. Harry loved that show because he loved anything that seemed tropical. Said it was in his blood. “Is this when the Skipper meets Gilligan? I love that one.”

“Up yours.” Harry sat up and touched the picture to pause it and Andre was chagrined to see he left a massive Cheeto fingerprint smear on the tv screen. “What are you doing here?”

“You want to get out of here for a few? I could use some backup.” In reality, Harry was generally more of a hindrance on retrievals than a help, but Andre figured he maybe needed a reason to live, just like everybody else needed a reason. So when he could, Andre treated Harry like a sidekick, a partner maybe even. He figured maybe it helped his friend get through the long days of his confinement, having a purpose, even if it was just charity.

“Hellz yeah. What do you got?”

“Cat. You gotta wear clothes though.”  

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Since he hadn’t had time for breakfast, Andre mixed up an energy smoothie while Harry put on a striped shirt and a pair of red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls. He felt bad for the guy, for his dignity, but they had to dress him adorably when they went out in public in case he had to pass. Selling a pet chimp was hard enough, so he had to look every inch of the part. Harry posed comically, a forced innocent expression on his simian face. “Ooo ooo aaa aaa?”

“Heh. You look like a chimp to me. Keep your mouth shut for a freaking change and we won’t have any trouble.” Harry nodded once and went out the windowdoor to the hovercar while Andre guzzled his breakfast and surveyed the ruins of his apartment. Since Harry moved in the place was thrashed, there was garbage everywhere, fur everywhere, the air smelled like sweat and bad breath and something worse that he didn’t want to know what it was. He didn’t dare walk around barefoot or he’d get tetanus or ringworm or something probably. He’d had to fire the cleaning lady so she didn’t rat him out for having a genetically enhanced animal on the premises. Most pressing, Andre found himself practically dying of the hornies since he couldn’tve had a girl come up in that mess even if he could have convinced Harry to hide in the closet for a few hours. And even if he could have convinced himself to bang some unsuspecting woman knowing that Harry was hiding in the closet listening in the entire time.

It sucked, and sucked hard, but what else was he supposed to do? Put the guy out onto the street? Not like he was a dog or something who could blend in if he tried; a lone chimpanzee walking unaccompanied down the streets of urban Cincinnati was not exactly inconspicuous. What was he supposed to do? Turn Harry in, walk him across that lobby and into the elevator on a one-way-trip like how Nova had taken the horse? Harry was a half-step from human, it just…it didn’t seem right. Andre guzzled the dregs of his smoothie and as he felt the rush of the epinephrine start to kick in, he wondered for the millionth time if there might possibly be a safe place in the world for Harry that wasn’t the inside of Andre’s apartment.

It was turning out to be a nice day so they put the top down on the hovercar. Since Harry didn’t get out much, he loved to feel the sun on his skin, the wind in his fur. But unfortunately the trip, while pleasant, didn’t last long. Much to Andre’s surprise, the cat wasn’t hiding out in a fancy neighborhood, it was only a few blocks away from his own place. Most of his retrievals were of course in the better neighborhoods where the rich people lived, since regular people didn’t have the spare change to waste on genetically altering their pets. This cat was in regular old low income housing, in a run down part of town Andre didn’t recall ever having visited before.

Harry played navigator, checking the GPS for directions, moving his finger across the screen of Andre’s phone as he held it securely in his foot. “Third story, round the back. Not the corner one, second one over.” Andre was glad to see there was no hovercar parked at the window dock, made things a lot easier when the perps didn’t have a way to run. He docked the hovercraft on the parking ledge. Harry looked at him drily. “You want me to come in?”

“Shut up and get in the back, would you? There could be cameras.” In the backseat of his car Andre had a cage and some retrieval gear, but he hoped he wouldn’t need it. Gloves, a loop and pole, even a trank if it came to it. But it was just a cat. Maybe it could be reasoned with. It was always better when they could be reasoned with. Harry scrambled out of sight and hid under a blanket Andre kept there in case he had to retrieve a parrot. Andre approached the windowdoor and peered through. The woman who lived in the apartment gazed warily at him through the glass. “Animal Control, ma’am.” She didn’t move, just swallowed hard. Oh yeah, she was hiding something, that was for sure. Andre tapped the screen of his phone. “I’m sending you the warrant now.” He could hear the buzz of her phone as it went through. She let it buzz five times before she answered, trying to prolong the inevitable, he figured. Her face had gone very red. Slowly she scrolled down, reading every word of the warrant. Innocent people never bothered to read the warrant, they just let him in. “You’ll see it’s all in order. Did you want to call a lawyer, maybe, before you let me in?”

She looked to the side as if someone was talking to her. “No.” She opened the windowdoor and let him in. It was a nice little place. Girls always kept such nice places, single girls anyway. Andre wondered if he should look into moving someplace like this building, maybe keep paying the rent for Harry and just find a nice little place of his own instead. It would cost a lot, but as long as he didn’t have to eat, drink, or keep the lights on it was doable. “Hey! Are you even listening to me?? I said, what do you want?”

“We’ve had reports…”

Before he could continue, he heard an unmistakable sound. Andre had grown up with pets himself, with normal pets anyway, and only one thing on earth made that sound. It was the sound of a cat jumping down from someplace high, in this case a dark wooden entertainment center that held a TV and several potted plants. “I guess you’re here for me.” The cat put his paws out in front and stuck his tail up into the air and stretched. He was a black and white cat, longhaired, with white mittens like that kind of black and white cat always seemed to have. He blinked his green eyes slowly and yawned, exposing sharp white teeth and his scratchy pink tongue curling. Then he sat and began to lick a paw.

“Tigger, no!”

“Tigger, did you say, ma’am?” The bastard wasn’t even orange. Andre made a note of the cat’s name on his phone. It was that kind of attention to detail that would get him ahead with Argonne. Eventually.

“I don’t want for you to get into any trouble, Zara, ok? If I go now you won’t get in trouble. That’s the way it works. You know as well as I do that if a human knowingly lies to Animal Control it’s a felony. This way they’ll let you off with a warning, right?” He put his paw down and looked expectantly Andre’s direction for confirmation.

“Exactly. If the owner turns the pet over when asked and is willing to testify, then the state doesn’t press charges.” The woman burst into tears. Andre was glad he was dealing with a good kitty. A fair number of enhanced pets would happily let their owners hang right alongside them, begging and pleading and guilt-tripping their humans into senseless acts of heroism and doomed last stands. “We don’t want you, Ms. Briggs, we just want the bastards who are doing this to defenseless animals.”

The cat walked over and rubbed against his owner’s leg. “Aw Zara, come on. We had fun. This day had to come someday.” She picked him up like a baby and nuzzled him, and Andre could hear the low purr from the cat’s throat. “Enough of that mushy stuff, now.” Tigger wriggled in her arms till he could get a good look at Andre. “She won’t get into trouble, though, right?  You promise? If I come peacefully, she’s in the clear?”

“As long as she’s willing to testify about whoever made you.”

“She doesn’t know, though. She didn’t have anything to do with it, she just found me.”

“Who made you?  Do you know?” Andre knew it was clutching at straws to ask, because the animals rarely retained any memory of the enhancement process, but the more information he could give the bosses, the better. 

“Couldn’t tell ya. I was a scrawny kitten living off scraps when Zara found me. I don’t have the vaguest recollection of how I got there. She didn’t even know I talked for the longest time. I scared the hell out of her when I started, heh.”

Zara started laughing through her tears.  “No more Tender Vittles.”

“Yeah, that’s right – no more Tender Vittles.” Tigger rested his forehead against Zara’s cheek for a moment. “You’ll be ok, kid. Just get yourself a real cat like God intended. ‘Cause I was never meant to be.” The cat squirmed till he dropped free from Zara’s arms and ran to the windowdoor. It was still open, just a crack. Zara wiped at her cheeks but more tears came as quick as she wiped them away. Tigger looked back at her.  “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” And he slithered out the door and was gone.

Andre saw through the glass of the windowdoor that the cat had hopped into the passenger seat of his hovercar, which was a relief, because he didn’t feel like chasing him down. As Andre filled out the forms on his phone to confirm retrieval, he tried to ignore the woman’s quiet sobs. “Sorry, Ms. Briggs, but I, uh – I need your John Hancock. Your signature?”  She stopped crying…well, mostly anyway…and glared at him. He held out the phone and she pressed her thumb onto the screen.

“How do you even sleep at night?” Andre had heard it all before and he knew better than to take the bait and get embroiled in some sort of a big philosophical argument with a grieving owner. That was for the politicians to worry about, not him. He was just doing his job and if he didn’t do it there’d be 20 other guys and gals lined up to do it inside of 5 minutes.  

He left the way he’d come in and climbed into the driver’s seat beside the cat. The furry jerk had his leg hitched up in the air and was licking his ass vigorously. “Do I need to put you in the cage?”

He didn’t even have the decency to stop licking himself.  “Does it…snarf…look like…mlerf…you need to…ffrelf…put me in the cage?”

“No.”

“Well, there ya go then.” The cat finished what he was doing and sat up. “So why d’you have a genetically enhanced chimpanzee hiding in the back of your car?”

“What?”

“Don’t insult my intelligence. The nose knows, man. Smells like he’s been eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or something, amirite?”

Andre willed Harry to stay put, stay silent so they’d have plausible deniability at the least, but he didn’t.  He popped his head out of the blanket and said, “What’re we gonna do now, Dre?”

“Goddammit, Harry, why did you talk? It was our word against his if you wouldn’t’ve talked!”

“Even you’re not that stupid, Andre. Come on! Animal Control gets accused of having an enhanced pet, whether he saw me or not, whether I stayed quiet or recited all of Roddy McDowell’s lines from Planet of the Apes, they’re gonna investigate! They’re gonna find my hair all over your apartment…and would it kill you to clean up once in a while, for Chrissake…”

“Well, Harry, maybe I could manage it if you weren’t such a freaking slob…”

“Even if I was a neat freak, they can get my DNA from a single hair!”

“Ladies, ladies.” Tigger licked his paw and wiped at his face with it. “Let’s save this lovers’ spat for another time, shall we? The question ‘what are we gonna do now, Dre?’ is sitting on the table before us, and I’ve got a suggestion, if you’d care to hear it.”

Andre sent a glare Harry’s direction, imagining his life going up in smoke for the sake of a damn dirty ape who hated showers and loved Cheetos. “I’m all ears, Tigger.”

Harry chuckled. “Tigger? His name is Tigger?  Dude, you ain’t even orange!”

The cat scrubbed his face with his paw furiously. “It’s because I’m bouncy, if you must know. Or I was, in my younger days. Now if I may continue?” Tigger shot Harry a side eye and Harry gestured at him to keep talking. “My suggestion is this. You pull over and I jump out and walk away. You tell ’em you lost me. I know you guys lose us now and then. You take your slap on the wrist, I keep my mouth shut, like, forever. No harm, no foul.”

It was a stupid idea. “They’ll just send somebody back to Zara’s place and pick you up again.”   

“I won’t go back to Zara’s.  She’s a good kid, but truth be told, the life of a housecat was getting kinda meh for me anyway.  The ennui.”

“The ennui?” Harry guffawed incredulously at the choice of words.

“It’s like French, for boredom.”  

“Oh I know very well what ennui means, you can trust me on that, Mr. Pussycat.  I could tell you about ennui for hours and hours.”

The cat considered Harry knowingly.  “Yeah, I bet you could, you poor bastard.”

Andre breathed in sharply through his nose and tried to keep his cool. The cat never looked his way, just kept washing his face. Andre looked at Harry, who shrugged, as if telling him the ball was in his court, and somehow the pitifulness of his friend’s gesture brought it home, how screwed they actually were. He hit the steering wheel a couple times in frustration, because this was a disaster, it was a complete and utter disaster, Argonne was never gonna let him hear the end of it, this would undo years of near-flawless work on his part. He groaned through his teeth and shook his head with vigor, as if he could just shake it all away. No good deed goes unpunished, ever ever ever it seemed like. “Fine. FINE! You got a preference where you want us to let you off?”

“Here is as good as anywhere.” Andre maneuvered the hovercar down to street level, past a fruit stand and some kids playing in the street. “Where do you take guys like me anyway? What do you do with us? I’ve always wondered.”

“I don’t know, believe it or not. They don’t tell us.” Andre drove the car into an alley to avoid the security cameras out on the street. There were supposed to be security cams in alleys too but they cost so much and were always getting vandalized, so most of the ones off the beaten path were fake or broken. He sure hoped the cams in this alley fell into one of those two categories. The cat stretched and leapt onto the top of the door frame where he balanced precariously for a moment. “Catch you on the flip side, gentlemen. Or not.” And he jumped onto the ground and scurried away while Andre and Harry watched.

Harry climbed into the front seat. Andre was lost in thought, trying to come up with a story he could tell Argonne so he wouldn’t get his ass completely chewed. He was so lost in thought he didn’t really pay much attention to Harry messing around with the glove box, debating as he was the merits of saying the cat had escaped versus that he had never been there to begin with and that he’d hit the wrong button on the touchscreen when he verified retrieval. But Harry was messing around with the glove box, and then IN the glove box, and when the chimp pulled out Andre’s service revolver that got his attention right quick. “What the hell are you doing? Harry, wait…”

Before Andre could even think of what to do, let alone do it, Harry had taken careful aim at the cat, who had climbed up onto a dumpster and was in midsquat, about to leap up onto a narrow ledge on a nearby building. The gun went off and Andre smothered a cry. “Problem solved.” Harry put the safety on and shoved the gun back into the glove compartment. He slammed the small door shut and Andre jumped at the sound. He realized he was shaking, shaking all over with anger, fear, sorrow, and something else underneath it all that he didn’t want to look at too closely. His stomach churned and he felt tears burn his eyes. “The cat ran, Dre. You had no choice.”

“Why did you do that for Harry, it would have been ok, I would’ve, I could’ve, I would’ve took the punishment, it was no big deal, everything was cool…” Andre realized he was babbling and forced himself to stop talking.

“Because screw him, that’s why. Screw him. Because better him than us, that’s why.”

Andre grew dimly aware that the troubling thing lurking underneath the swirl of more acceptable emotions he was experiencing was relief. “Better? Better him?”

“That’s right. Better him than us. The cat ran. Which he did, in a way, didn’t he, if you think about it? You had no choice.”

“No choice.” Andre nodded, and swallowed, and nodded again. The anger and fear and sorrow began to recede into the background and with more room to stretch its legs, the relief began to grow. It was wrong, what had happened, it felt wrong, and he knew it was wrong, but the thing was, if he was being honest the thing that just happened was really what he did anyway. It was what an animal control agent did. He took things…creatures…beings…things…that could talk and think and feel and had people that loved them across a lobby and into an elevator and then they went away somewhere and probably ended up just exactly like Tigger did and he was ok with that because he didn’t see it happen firsthand.

“All that just happened was an animal killing another animal, Andre.  It happens every day. It’s the most natural thing in the whole wide world for that to happen.”  

Natural. It was natural. It was entirely within the bounds of nature that a strong animal kills a weaker one in order to live. But what the hell did that mean anyway, natural, I mean seriously he was a guy sitting in a hovercar for Chrissake, how natural was that? He was a guy sitting in a hovercar beside a talking chimpanzee that had just wasted a talking cat. It was disturbing how quickly a person could go from thinking something was unnatural to justifying it as being natural all in the same moment. “Natural, yeah.”

Harry peered at Andre with those hooded round eyes of his for a long moment and then he leaned over and grabbed something from the back. Then he swung himself out of the hovercar with that casual ape athleticism he possessed, and scrambled up onto the dumpster where Tigger’s body lay. What he’d grabbed was the body bag that Andre always brought along in case a retrieval ever went south, like, deep south, which had never happened to him before but apparently it had now. Harry shoved the cat into the bag and then straightened up with sudden purpose just exactly how people do when their phone is set on vibrate and it rings. Andre realized with dismay that Harry had taken the phone and he knew it was because Harry hadn’t trusted him with it. Harry still thought Andre might turn him in and had taken the phone so he couldn’t call for backup. The chimp looked at the screen and touched it a few times and read something. He glanced at Andre with an amused air, tucked the phone back into the front pocket of the red Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls and leapt from the edge of the dumpster into the passenger seat of the car. He landed lightly in the seat, depositing the cat’s body in the back of the hovercar at the same time. “You got a text. From Nova, Lothario.”

“Oh yeah?” For a chilling moment Andre considered how strong Harry was and how far he could jump and how fast he could move. For a moment Andre considered how tough it would be to retrieve a chimpanzee, harder than a horse probably even, then he pushed that thought away because Harry was his friend. “What’d she want?”

“Meet you for drinks.”             

“Huh.”

“Life goes on.”

Andre stepped on the pedal and the hovercar rose straight up.  Drinks with Nova sounded pretty ok to him. “Yeah, it does, I guess. Life goes on.”

After all, it was just a cat.  

 

   

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

There’s Something About Mary Sue

There’s Something About Mary Sue

This piece was originally published at Ordinary Times Magazine.

The topic of “Mary Sue” came up on Twitter the other day. A friend of mine (we’ll call him “Rod Shelley”) mentioned that he thought that people calling characters Mary Sue was sexist because they always seemed to apply it to female and not male characters. This spurred an interesting conversation.

So – is the expression “Mary Sue” sexist?

Rod was absolutely correct in his observation that “Mary Sue” is a term that is used to exclusively describe female characters. But this is because from its inception, Mary Sue is a term that depicts a certain type of always-female character. Mary Sue is not applied to dudes because it’s not a descriptor that is applicable to male characters. It’s like the term “buxom” – it’s pretty much exclusively used to describe females but it’s not because it’s a sexist term per se, it’s because it’s a word that describes a quality present in females and not males. Buxom, like Mary Sue, can certainly be used in sexist ways, but it isn’t inherently sexist and it certainly isn’t sexist to apply it exclusively to women, because it describes a quality some women have. “Mary Sue”, the expression, isn’t anti-woman any more than the word “priapic” is anti-male.

Even though it’s become ubiquitous of late, the origins of Mary Sue are humble. It’s from A Trekkie’s Tale, a very funny, very short parody story about a certain type of writing that was…and still is…common in fan fiction. In 1974, when A Trekkie’s Tale was first published, fan fiction was just starting to become an Official Thing (in those dark pre-Internet days, fanfic spread at conventions and not online). Paula Smith, the author of A Trekkie’s Tale, realized that most bad fan fiction – particularly that written by women authors (then again, most who write fan fic are female so it goes to follow that most bad fan fic would therefore be written by women)- fell into a peculiar and oddly specific category, which we now refer to as Mary Sue. In Smith’s words (and may I just say I adore how spectacularly startrekian this is), “I simply named a bug, I found a new fern. I identified a piece of humanity and put a name to it, but that’s all I did.”

The qualities of a Mary Sue:

*A female character who is pretty obviously meant to be a stand in for the author (particularly in fan fic) or the author’s perceived audience (fan service).

*She’s an original, non-canon character who comes in from seemingly out of nowhere, with little explanation. If she has a back story at all, it’s fascinating and/or heart wrenching and/or incredibly impressive – in the case of the original Mary Sue, “the youngest lieutenant in Starfleet at only 15 and a half years old”.

*She’s incredibly gorgeous (often possessing rare and unusual beauty – IMO green or violet eyes and wildly curly hair in an unusual shade are dead giveaways), is unbelievably smart, witty, charming, sweet, and is often but not always a badass.

*The regularly occurring canon characters are bizarrely, even inexplicably smitten with her. If canon characters are female, Mary Sue becomes protegé/daughter/best friend/love interest, if the canon characters are male, Mary Sue becomes apprentice/daughter/kid sister/love interest. What’s more, the regular characters want to protect and defend Mary Sue, not just coexist alongside her. An intimate relationship of some sort begins immediately, no getting-to-know-you grace period, regardless of the canon character’s personality.  Even if the main character is generally taciturn, unfriendly, or standoffish, they aren’t any of those things when it comes to Mary Sue. She is embraced by virtually all the regular characters, and if there’s a recurring character who doesn’t fall head over heels in like with Mary Sue, they’re typically portrayed as bitter or jealous of her greatness.

*Mary Sue possesses an impossibly wide array of talents that surpass the skills of all the canon characters. She’s even good at things that the regular characters do that she’s never tried before. She can hack computers, set broken bones, fight demons, bake cupcakes, and play the lute. She’s well read, well dressed, well heeled, well connected, and well rested. There is nothing Mary Sue cannot do when she sets her mind to it. She puts all the everyday characters to shame with her wonderfulness, but she doesn’t rub it in their faces, though, because she’s also totally nice. Most of these characteristics aren’t relevant to the plot, they’re just there to make Mary Sue the awesomest.

*There never seems to be any price to Mary Sue’s skillset, either in acquisition or execution. She never (well, rarely) spent years in a university learning stuff, she never spent years slaving away in a workplace to get where she is today, she’s just inherently, naturally born amazing and the world has recognized this by giving her responsibilities far beyond her years. She never has to juggle priorities or limit herself in any way, she has an endless supply of time and money and energy to be great at however many things the plot needs her to be great at, plus all the things the writer happens to think are cool. She only ever has to pay a fee in terms of physical limitations or personal sacrifices when her fragility and spirit of self-sacrifice makes her more sympathetic and endearing to the canon characters.

*Usually, she dies a tragic death in which she saves everyone on the ship/planet/police squad and the main characters are utterly transformed by it in ways that they were never transformed by previous characters’ deaths, even when they’d known the other characters for years.

*And finally, (and I think this is the surest tell) she deprotagonizes the other characters. Suddenly, a show that was an ensemble cast about people on a spaceship or two brothers fighting demons to give a couple random and meaningless examples I just spun out of thin air, becomes about this other person entirely for an episode or three (or in the pages of a fanfic) leaving the characters most of us show up to see sitting on the sidelines waving pom-poms for her. Even more so, the recurring characters act completely out of character on Mary Sue’s behalf – gushing and paying compliments and giving hugs – even though they don’t DO stuff like that, like, ever.

Now, what a Mary Sue is and isn’t beyond all that, is a matter of great debate. The term has been watered down and bastardized and is admittedly grossly mis- and overapplied. It’s been stretched to include lots of variations, most famously something called a Canon Sue. Canon Sue is mostly just like her big sister Mary Sue, but she’s a recurring character. All the same qualities apply, though – Sue’s just too good to be true and she’s just born awesome and all the boys fall in love with her and all the girls fall in love with her too and she saves the whole entire universe. Be they Canon Sue or Classic Mary Sue, Mary Sues are loved by everyone, protected by everyone, cherished by everyone, and they are there to help everyone through their sheer unadulterated awesomeness. Mary Sues are awesome without assistance from anybody else, right up till they swoon dramatically and die from an overdose of saving the world.

At first my friend Rod shrugged off my claims that Mary Sue has to be female by definition, because as he said, he sees plenty of male characters who are Chosen Ones, who are inexplicably awesome at something-or-the-other for no real reason. But if you take a closer look, while there are absolutely plenty of male heroes in fiction that are Chosen Ones, they aren’t Mary Sues.

Everybody in a galaxy far, far away, doesn’t magically fall in love with Luke Skywalker. Heck, he walks into a bar and a total stranger says “I don’t like you” and he has to be saved by a geezer. Han Solo is always busting his chops and the princess he comes to rescue insults his height. He requires the help of Han and ObiWan’s ghost to blow up the Death Star. Later he gets his ass kicked and his hand chopped off and he needs his dad to kill the Emporer for him.

Everybody at Hogwarts doesn’t magically fall in love with Harry Potter. He has to deal with a hostile press corps, tons of people who don’t like him for various reasons, and even those who like him, don’t always believe in him. He needs the help of dozens of people to defeat Voldemort, even Neville, even his archenemy Snape for Dobby’s sake!! Nobody protects him from anything, even several people who by all rights should be looking out for him.

Everybody in the Matrix doesn’t magically fall in love with Neo.  In fact, Morpheus is hard pressed to convince anyone else that Neo is the Chosen One. Neo needs help from Morpheus, Trinity, and lots of other people (including parts of the Matrix itself) to defeat Agent Smith and save Zion.

Everybody in the Jedi Order doesn’t magically fall in love with Anakin. Mace Windu and Yoda never trusted him, the Jedi Council refuses to make him a master and even his teacher ObiWan doesn’t exactly have his back. He may fly a pod racer when he’s 9 (at Qui-Gonn’s request – not exactly protecting the little bugger, was he?) but he is very far from being universally loved or good at everything.

All the other characters have to protect and love a Mary Sue. That’s the deal with a Mary Sue. She is universally loved. She is universally nurtured. She isn’t just Chosen, she’s Cared About. She doesn’t even have to be chosen at all (the original Mary Sue isn’t a Chosen One!) she just needs to be adored. Mary Sue is a vector of wish fulfillment for people who want to be loved and taken care of by everyone around them while still being seen as a brave and daring heroine, and it makes for unrealistic fiction that a dude – no matter how awesomesauce he is – will show up anywhere and be incessantly fawned over by both men and women alike. Mary Sue is already an unrealistic character on a good day.

Try to make Gary or Larry or Marty Stu show up on an established show and make a bunch of grizzled old reserved and surly dudes like Jean Luc Picard or Dean Winchester or Han Solo suddenly start gushing about how fantabulous he is and how they want to be BFF’s and protect him at all costs to themselves.  At least in any fashion that is remotely believable and doesn’t end up with you despising the smarmy little twerp and/or wanting to slap the older dudes for debasing themselves that way.

Go ahead, try it, I’ll wait.

Mary Sue is a woman for the same reason a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a woman – it’s a close enough approximation of a type of person and/or scenario that exists in real life. It’s just plain more realistic that a winsome and talented chick shows up out of the blue and wins a bunch of people over without having to try very hard. That scenario is much more plausible than having a winsome and talented guy show up and everyone gloms onto him trying to be his mommy or daddy or buddy or pal or long-lost uncle or hoping to seduce him. Even more, it is much more realistic that people will behave protectively, solicitously, towards a female character than a male one. It may not be fair, it may not be right, but it be. Writing Mary Sue as a man just doesn’t ring true, and Mary Sue doesn’t ring too true to start out with. And trying to make Mary Sue a Gary Stu (kinda sorta) yielded one of the most hated characters in all of history…Wesley Crusher.

But maybe you’re still not convinced. Rod wasn’t. And that’s because the writing of a Mary Sue is only half the equation. There is also the reading (or the watching) of a Mary Sue. Because the audience is just as important to the existence of Mary Sue as the writer is.

The thing about Mary Sue that makes her interesting despite her triteness (to me anyway) is also what makes her 100% for sure not sexist. A Mary Sue is a female conception of an ideal female character. If you’re a man reading this and you’re confused or disgusted or annoyed by the ubiquity of Mary Sueism, it’s ok, Mary Sue isn’t intended for you anyway. Believe it or not, there are things in this world that women do for ourselves and each other and not for men, and one of them is Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is what women ourselves think the ideal woman should be. How can something that is made by women, for women, be sexist?? We Internetters have fun sometimes joking about men writing ridiculously idealized female characters but Mary Sue is women writing what women secretly want to be, down deep inside ourselves where we think no one is looking.

Women writing idealized female characters is as psychologically telling and as tragically hilarious as men writing idealized female characters. Men may write women as one-dimensional (and I hope it isn’t because men think the ideal woman IS one-dimensional) but women think the ideal woman ought to be so multidimensional that she’s positively interdimensional. Women have it drummed into us since the moment we emerge from the womb that we need to be successful in every arena and if they invent a new arena we better be good in that one too even though we never practiced before. Is it really any surprise that when we concoct an ideal woman, it’s one who is effortlessly successful at everything she ever tries?

A female friend of mine pointed out, and I fully, fully concur with her brilliance, that when it comes to Mary Sue, if our lives were a narrative, we would want to be the character who is good at everything, adored by all, protected and nurtured, and so desirable that love interests are actually fighting over us. She said, “We don’t get that in the real world and so we have to invent it.” This is very very much a similar sentiment to the sentiment of “unearned specialness” I explored in my recent piece about Twilight – and Bella Swan, the main character of Twilight, is widely considered to be one of the most well-known Canon Sues.

Men like wish fulfillment just like women do, but their wish fulfillment avatars tend to be more of the Everyman variety – guys who are nothing special, even damaged goods, but circumstances thrust them into situations where they have the opportunity to excel, to succeed, without really changing much or having to work too awfully hard at it. Everymen may be Chosen Ones, but they’re really only Chosen in one arena. Neo doesn’t also become a concert pianist and a New York Times Bestselling Author in addition to being The One. Luke becomes a Jedi, but he doesn’t even get the girl. This isn’t hard for me to understand – after all, I can see that would be a wonderful fantasy – to be average, to be flawed, to not succeed at most things, and still find some way to shine.

But honestly, that doesn’t do it for me.

I need to feel deserving of success. I need to feel like I earned it. I need to feel like the people around me – my parents and bosses and friends and love interests – look at me and see some version of perfection. Even my flaws are the flaws that they would have picked out if they could have ordered me from a catalog. And unfortunately for me, I find I need that even in my fictional escapades. I’m sure that this is in no small part because I’ve never felt good enough, or right enough, or fixed enough to be worthy of success or even worthy of love. It’s like a chronic case of Imposter Syndrome and most of us women are afflicted. Deep down inside, I don’t feel I’ll ever be good enough until I am perfect, and so in order to enjoy a fantasy – even just a FANTASY – I need to incorporate that desire to be seen as perfect through someone’s eyes, since that’s the only way I feel worthy.

Hence Mary Sue.

Mary Sue is not sexist. The term has been misused, grossly at times, with sexist undertones, for sure. But it isn’t a sexist term itself. The character “Mary Sue” is something that’s made for women, by women, and it endures because there’s something about Mary Sue that speaks to women both as creators and as readers.