April 2011


In the meantime, I continued looking for work, but wasn’t getting any responses to the angry resumes I sent out.

“Why aren’t there any jobs in this town?”  I griped.  “Couldn’t we ask the companies around here to hire a few more people?”

“If you did that, you’d be infringing on their freedom,”  RedGirl said.  “Don’t be so demanding!”

But I remained suspicious.  The employment listings were shrinking from week to week.  It was as if the jobs were literally disappearing somewhere.  Where were they going?

I was determined to find the answer to this question.  A friendly employment website advised me to bring my resume to companies in person, as it’s easier to beg when you’re face to face.  Oh, I was going to pay them a personal visit, all right.

I entered the hushed lobby of Squircal Inc headquarters right after the lunch hour was over, wielding my hearts-and-flowers covered resume folder.  The receptionist was smiling at everyone and wishing them a great day, blissfully calm in her position at the Squircal front desk.

“Good morning!  How are you?”  She smiled at me, too.

This is when I should have said that I was doing very well and started explaining the ways in which I could benefit Squircal, but instead I said:

“I’m doing crappy.  Why don’t you guys make your squirrel calendars locally?”

The receptionist stopped smiling.  “If you have a complaint, you need to go home and send us an online message.  Our customer relations representatives will review it.”

It was already too late for it, but I tried to fake a positive attitude.  “Um….I only wanted to know where you’re making them because I’m eager to relocate to wherever the work is.”

“It might be a little far to do that,”  the receptionist said.  China, I thought.  “You’re not going to leave until you get to talk to someone, are you?  You seem like the type.”

“I have a blog,”  I said.

She sighed and dialed an extension on her phone.  “Hey, can you have someone from customer service come down?  I have a lady with a question who came in.  Yeah, in person.  I know!  I know!  Okay, thanks.”

She hung up the phone.  “Conference Room B, the door to the right over there.  Have a great day,”  she snapped as I walked away.

I saw her coming down the hallway to meet me, an anxious customer service rep with tangled hair, mentally preparing herself for me.  She looked exactly the way I would look if I was employed there.  I didn’t want to talk to her—there wasn’t anything she could help me with.  So I just nodded at her and walked past her, but for the brief moment that I glanced into her eyes I transmitted a ball of blue energy, to be stored within her and activated later, a ticking bomb of insubordination.

I stepped up to the elevator and pressed the button to go to the top floor.  I had practiced for this, and now I wrapped myself in a protective aura of artificial happy thoughts mixed with cold indifference.  By the time I got out of the elevator on the floor where the executives worked, I was emitting a sickly candy-colored glow and was one of them.

Now to find out what they had done with all the jobs.  It wouldn’t be easy.  I snuck into an empty office, sat down at the computer and closed my eyes.  I was hoping my powers would help me divine the computer password.

There used to be a time, before I became a superhero, when I would have been embarrassed to go snooping through somebody’s e-mail and private files.  But this was something I had to do, and besides, the owner of the computer was a high-ranking manager, so he wasn’t entirely human.

The password refused to show itself.

“What is going on in here?”  A man entered the office.  “Are you fixing the computer?”

“Yeah, I’m….working on a problem.”

He paused, sniffed at the air.  “You’re not one of us, are you?”

Until then, nobody had noticed that I didn’t belong there.  But he could somehow see through my aura.

I stood up.  “I’m here to stop your outsourcing ways.”

He laughed.  “You’re here to stop our ways, huh?  You have no idea how any of this works.”

“I don’t care!  I’m not going to let you ship all our jobs to China.”

He walked to the large window in the back of the room.  “Come and take a look at this.”

I followed him to the downtown view.  It was impressive, I had to admit.  It would be nice to have an office like this.

I looked down and saw that beneath us, the city was on fire.  In the flames, ash-covered figures labored, putting together plastic necklaces and jackets and DVD players.

The man next to me spread his arms.  “This isn’t Asia, honey.  This is Hell.”

Smoke was rising past the window.

“See, I’m a lot worse than you give me credit for,”  he said.  “You thought I was running a sweatshop somewhere, but I can do you one better.  These poor souls work for free.”

“So they are…?”

“They’re people who have died….and this is their afterlife.  It’s very financially sound.”

“But what about God?”

“I’m not so sure God exists.  Yeah, there is a higher-up, and we’ll have to pay a commission to him later….”  He leaned against the windowframe.  “For now, as far as you’re concerned, we’re God.”

He was right, of course.  I had been stupid to think I could change any of this.  My pink light was stifling me, as if I was being suffocated by all the toys I owned which were manufactured in the pits of Hell.

“Don’t forget to drop your resume off with us,”  he called after me as I stumbled back to the elevators.  On my way home, I vowed to myself to leave the gods of this world well enough alone.

***

The next afternoon, I was woken up by my sister crying.

“This is terrible!”  RedGirl wailed.  “It’s like we’re in Europe.”

The TV was on.  I instantly realized that the energy I had implanted yesterday was erupting.  The screen was filled with images of Squircal employees marching in protest, toting signs demanding better wages and benefits.  The customer service rep with the crazy hair was at the head of the line, still looking frazzled, but now in an excited way.

“Yeah, but…why are you crying?”  I asked RedGirl.  “I know you hate unions…”

“They’re on strike and I’m not going to get my squirrel calendar!”  she wailed.

“Are you serious?  It’s just a calendar.”

“But the squirrels are so cute!  And they have funny jokes….  You don’t understand good family humor.”

“Did you know where their calendars get made?  They’re made by…uh…Satan.”  I felt ridiculous even as I was saying it.

She stopped sniffling and stared at me.  “I think your Marxism is warping your brain.  Anyway, I’m wasting time here.  Our way of life needs to be defended.”  She hopped up from the sofa and grabbed her cape.

“Are you going downtown?  You’re not going to do anything to the strikers, are you?”  I was alarmed.

She didn’t respond, just ran to the front door and opened it, and flew away.  When had she learned to fly?  And what now?

I went outside and hopped up and down a few times, but nothing happened.  Apparently, I was still too human to fly.

***

I took public transit, so by the time I got downtown the battle was over.  RedGirl was standing on the sidewalk across the street from the Squircal building, panting and shooting off angry red sparks.  The employees were filing back into the building, mumbling under their breath that they had to go to work, had to go to work, had to go to work….

“Don’t do this to them…please.”  I pulled at my sister’s arm.  “You’ve turned them into zombies.”

I noticed then that a group of men was watching us from the top floor of Squircal.  The deity I had spoken with yesterday was among them, but I also recognized a few of the men from the billionaire party RedGirl had been at.  I couldn’t hear their conversation from down here, but it was clear they were mocking me.

“Well, isn’t that always the way with us lefties…we plead with everyone, while they make fun of us,”  I thought.  It was time to stop apologizing.  I let go of RedGirl, sprinted into the middle of the street, and hurled an energy projectile up at the executives in the window.  But I had always sucked at sports and my aim was bad, so I only chipped off a piece of the wall between the seventh and eighth floors.

I winced, expecting to get hit back with twice the force by the corporate gods.  But no thunderbolt came.  Instead, the men all pointed a finger at me and chanted something in unison.

Behind me, RedGirl cocked her head and read her masters’ lips.  Then, she pointed at me as well and mimicked what they were saying:

“Terrorist!  Terrorist!  She’s a terrorist!”

The employees, most of whom were already inside the lobby, began shuffling back out in my direction.

“She’s attacking the people who give us jobs,”  the customer service rep said hoarsely, stretching her arms out towards me.

I tried to make eye contact.  “We’re on the same side, you know…  They’ve taught you to hurt yourself.”

They continued coming at me, and I couldn’t bring myself to fight them, not even to push them to the ground.  The gods had been very clever.  In the end, any trouble would be blamed on the workers.  I felt helpless.

Two of the employees seized me, one on each side, and led me away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fluttering down from the glass tower, like ashes from a fire.  It was a squirrel calendar.  RedGirl chattered for joy at the sight and ran to pick it up.

***

I prepared for a meeting with the gods themselves, but there was only an empty conference room.

The zombie workers had brought me back to the top of the building and released me from their grip in front of the open door, after which they backed away into the elevator, muttering.

It was kind of anti-climactic—there was nothing here.  No, I was wrong.  Very climactic.  There was a table with a piece of paper on it.  A contract.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what this meant.  The contract was for me.  I was expected to promise that I wouldn’t voice opposing ideas, criticize, protest, use my powers against or reveal embarrassing pictures about Squircal, Inc, or any companies friendly to it—and it appeared that all the companies in this world were friendly to it.

The executives didn’t make any threats in the contract.  They hadn’t left any ransom notes about my loved ones, or enclosed a list of their weapons.  I was perfectly capable of imagining for myself what they could do if I didn’t sign it.

I stepped away from the table.  There was a camera up in the corner of the room, and I knew that the gods could see everything I was doing.

I couldn’t get out.  I also couldn’t sign the contract.  If I did, I would have nightmares about Hell for the rest of my life.

The rulers of this world had everything, the money to own me, the starvation and poverty to blackmail me with, the information systems to control me, leaving me paralyzed in their trap, going through the motions of obedient work and obedient entertainment.  They had everything they needed to handle a small person like me.

What they hadn’t counted on was my craziness.

They had forgotten that even someone small like me had the ability to choose death.

I didn’t think I could knock out one of the windows with a chair, but I did.  I hesitated for a second on the windowsill, scared, but then I thought of how much more delicious life would be on the other side, and I let go.

I hurtled towards the bricks of the plaza.  I hit the ground with a painful smack, and then I lay there.  I opened my eyes.

Damn it, was this it?  Was this my special gift, that I couldn’t kill myself if I wanted to?  I sat up and spat some gravel out in an angry huff.  Except for a few cuts, I was unhurt.

I couldn’t fly, but I could fall.

I raised my eyes and gazed with fear upon the Squircal offices above me.  I didn’t have any strength left to fight.  It was hard even to get up, shaking with the sensation of still being here on earth.  I didn’t see any men pursuing me.  The only thing moving in front of the building was a flag flapping in the wind.  I wasn’t fooled.  I couldn’t run away from their contract, even though I was trying to run now.  There wasn’t a place on this planet that wasn’t a part of their network.

My hometown had never looked happier, as if it was doing everything it could to contradict my mood of defeat.  The sun sparkled on its green, fertile streets, as I fled along them.  It seemed I had never noticed how many vegetable and fruit and flower gardens we had in our city, vines creeping up mailboxes and waving at me over fences, tomatoes and pears dropping on the sidewalks with a great splat, everywhere I stepped, piles of berries rotting in my path, dark red rose blooms yawning before me.

“Perhaps I should appreciate the richness of the country I live in,”  I thought.  “I should have more gratitude.”

If I had time to stop running and be grateful, I would have, but I didn’t.

When I finally made it back home through the tangle of exploding summer, it was late.  RedGirl was in her room, sleeping like a baby after an evening of giggling at squirrels.  I was going to stay on guard all night long.  Sitting in my chair, wrapped in my sweat-soaked blanket, I waited to hear steps outside, waited for shuffling sounds, moving shadows.

The night was completely silent, and I couldn’t help falling asleep a few hours before dawn.

***

I awoke in the heartland of America.  As far as I could see, our house was surrounded by cornfields, with only a few rooftops and trees on the horizon.  Our street had been transformed into endless, golden farmland.  This was the shiniest new morning ever, and it made me sick to my stomach.

The corn had nothing to say to me about why it was here.  It just waved peacefully in the wind.  But I was sure it was waiting to pounce.  Should I cut it down?  Could I do it with a knife or would I need one of those scythe things?

“Why are there veggies on my desk?”  RedGirl complained, stomping into the living room.  “I told Mom I don’t like rabbit food!”  She froze when she saw our new front yard.  “What is that?”

“We’re…in the countryside now,”  I said.  I wondered if it was at all awkward for her to be having a conversation with me after everything that went down yesterday.  If so, I couldn’t tell.  She seemed comfortable as ever.

Suddenly, two apples fell from our roof.  We didn’t have an apple tree.

We ran to the window and I gasped in disbelief.  The large red apples which landed on our lawn were crawling towards the house.  They also appeared to have fangs.

RedGirl relaxed.  “Oh, I know what these are.  They’re the genetically modified plants that my friends make.  No biggie, these are actually good for you….”

“Why do they have teeth?”  I demanded.

“It’s an enhanced feature you get with them….they’re supposed to help boost your immune system or something…make it more aggressive.”

“Yeah, but right now they’re trying to eat us, not help us.”

“You’re right.”  She leaned forward and watched one of the apples below open its mouth and hiss at us.  “I don’t get it.  They’re supposed to be friendly to humans.  They only attack viruses and unhealthy emotions, and stuff like that.”

“Oh, quit acting like you don’t know what’s going on.”  I lost my patience.  “It’s your friends coming after me, because I escaped from them yesterday.”

My sister’s mouth dropped open.  “You didn’t sign the contract?”

“Of course not.”

“What is wrong with you?”  she asked, incredulous.  “When I came in here and you were alive, I assumed everything was fine.  What did you do?”

I went straight into martyr mode.  “I would rather die than be enslaved.”

“These guys are only the most powerful people in the world!  If they enslave you, they enslave you!  Don’t you have any good sense?”

The apples sprouted unnatural branches and were reaching their way up the wall.  More apples fell, and behind them rows of beets were digging themselves out of the ground.

Mother came in, wearing a bathrobe, her hair wrapped in a silk towel.  “I certainly hope this isn’t that organic garden you’ve been bragging about.”

“Mom, you know what I’m like.”  My organic garden consisted of a couple of dying radish plants in a crate.

Mother looked out upon the crowding beets and carrots, snapping their jaws and frothing at the mouth.  “They would be delicious in a light salad.  But how do we kill them?”  she mused.  She opened a drawer and examined her carving knife collection.

“Isn’t it too dangerous?”  I asked.  Vines were sliding down from our roof, covering our window.  The corn stalks made loud creaking noises and grew, their tips now waving far above our heads.

“Nonsense, dear.”  Mother grabbed the butcher knife and headed for the door.  “These are very lively vegetables—they will give you that extra kick.”

When she opened the door, there he was—a man in suit and tie, holding out a contract in a very intimidating manner.

RedGirl waved at him.  “Hi Boo-Boo!”  The man shot her a glare.

He had stepped on a few of his own vegetable soldiers, and their juices were fizzing and boiling into the earth, killing the sprouts of grass caught in them.

“My apologies about the property damage,”  he said.  “Where we plant our crops, nothing else can live.  Even better reason not to delay our negotiations.”

I ignored his outstretched hand.  “So…how do you know you’re not going to poison all the food in the world?”

“You will always be able to eat our products.  They are higher quality than ordinary food, anyway.”  The apples growled on our doorstep, ready for his signal.

“You won’t get away with this,”  I announced.  “You will be defeated by the power of good.”  I closed my eyes and drifted off into a state of meditation.

A silence descended on the room.

“This defeat could take a while,”  the man said.  “While you’re waiting for enlightenment, you should sign this.”

I could feel the light rising, it was bright and powerful, it was almost there, almost….

Right at that moment, a dark figure fluttered down from the ceiling, the figure of a giant bat.  It bit the man’s head off and flew away.

I turned to see Mother standing behind me, the butcher knife still in one hand, and the carcass of a sacrificed squirrel in another.

“Was…was that the Great Bat?”  I asked.

“It owed me a favor.”  Mother shrugged.

“I can’t believe that this….the guy had souls working for him in the underworld….”

“The Bat is the boss of the underworld.  Don’t worry, It has many more middle managers where that came from,”  Mother assured me.  She hugged me.  “I hope you’ve learned a lesson from this, darling—evil can never be defeated by any of this kindness garbage, only by a greater and more devious evil.”

“Are you okay?”  I asked RedGirl, who was a bit quiet.

“Yeah,”  she said.  “I was going to defend him, but then I saw that bat and I was like, eww.  Thank God I have a lot of Boo-Boos!”

***

I didn’t really want to eat the salad made from the genetically modified vegetables, but everybody had to help out, because there was so much of it.

“Remember to spit out the teeth,”  Mother said.

A few weeks later, I had my first real chance to test my powers when I heard that those archvillains, the Funeral Fiends, were coming to town.  In a fatal accident, a bus filled with nuns, little children, bunnies and virgins crashed, so naturally, the Fiends decided to protest homosexuality.  They blamed everyone on the bus for America’s acceptance of gay rights, except for the bunnies, which were cute, but did not have a soul.  Anyway, they were going to harass the grieving families of the crash victims, and I wasn’t about to let them.

“I’m going to fight your evil buddies,”  I warned RedGirl as we sat over a breakfast of croissants and orange marmalade.

“Go for it.  Those people aren’t my buddies, they’re complete morons,”  RedGirl sniffed.  “I’m not going to defend them.”

It was a bit of a letdown to have my nemesis agreeing with me, but I would carry on.

In the cold Thursday sunlight, I watched the invaders getting bussed in, appearing from the depths of the wilderness to the South of us.

Today was the memorial service for one of the little boys who died, I couldn’t remember which one.  Children all seemed the same to me.

The doors of the bus opened and a parade of deformed souls exited, clutching their protest signs for dear life.

I had plans for them.  I would create an explosion of energy that would blow the Fiends far away from here, catapult them across city blocks with the power of love.  I would set off a bomb of compassion and tolerance.

Problem was, I didn’t have enough love inside of me to construct my bomb with.  I tried to scrape some up from the bottom of my heart.  It blazed into a tiny flame and then went out.  Somehow, the presence of the Fiends had infected me—my spirit was dripping with darkness.

Just as things started to look hopeless, a group of heavenly angels appeared.  They formed a shiny band around the small church where the service was about to take place.

“You’re going straight to Hell for this!”  a gnarled old woman screamed at the angels.  She was waving a placard which read “God Hates Everyone”.

The angels did nothing but smile at her.  “Is that it?”  I thought.  They were the divine messengers—I expected at least a little bit of lightning.

The first family members were arriving at the church, their heads bowed, wiping at their eyes, trying to ignore the Fiends, who howled like a pack of banshees at them.  Something had to be done.  I no longer cared which force I was tapping into, I was going to find the center in myself, but couldn’t, I heard a fat guy yelling something about AIDS, I closed my eyes and allowed whatever it was that was chewing at my insides to explode.

When I opened my eyes again, I was lying on the ground.  I scrambled up to examine the beauty of my work.

But the protesters had not been carried off by my wave of anger, as I had hoped.  They had only been knocked down, and now they sounded happier than ever, waving their arms while flat on their backs, proudly proclaiming that they were under demonic attack—finally, they had proof they were part of an army, engaged in a war far more important than any they could have volunteered for overseas.

The angels had also been knocked down, and they lay in a tangled pile of wings and sneakers.  One of them, glowing and blonde, got up, picked up her halo and dusted it off, then, after a long and inquisitive look at me, flung it back down in the dirt and raced in my direction.

Even though she didn’t fly, she easily caught up with me and yanked me towards her.  “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything wrong!  I had to fight them!”

“You really think you’re helping, don’t you?”  she asked with angelic pity.

“Did you think you were being helpful?  And by the way, you’re not real, are you?”

“I’m more real than an angel from Heaven would be.”  She shrugged.  “But yeah, I’m part of Angel Action….we dress as angels to protect the families of the victims…in a non-violent way,”  she added emphatically.

“Which is really working very well,”  I snarked.

“Are you screwing things up again?”  The screechy voice next to us made both me and the angel jump.  It was RedGirl, her ruffled, crimson cape flapping in the wind.  She had fashioned herself several models of capes by now.  This one was curtain-based, Scarlett style.

We looked back at the church, where the Fiends now babbled in tongues, defending themselves against the demons they imagined all around them.

“You have to hit your enemies in their weak spot,” RedGirl said to me, “which, as usual, you have no idea how to do.”  Then she pulled the angel into an embrace and gave her a long, sensual kiss.

As soon as the Fiends noticed this, a shriek of insecurity and fear went up from them, the tragic wail of marriages getting redefined, high-pitched like the deflating of a thousand wedding cakes.  They gave chase like a rabid foxhunt, and we fled, RedGirl out in front, then me, the angel stumbling along with her wings sliding halfway down her back, and then the baying mob of  religious warriors, followed by journalists covering the breaking news funeral story.

I was beginning to think I would end up getting burned at the stake in a Wal-Mart parking lot, when the angel appeared next to me, signaling, pointing to our salvation down the road.  It was the Fantasy porn video store.  I had never been so happy to see objectified women in all my life.

Indeed, a few blocks later we were no longer being pursued.  The Fiends froze in front of Fantasy, like cats in front of a giant bag of X-rated catnip.  They dropped their signs about God at the curbside.

Their leader licked his lips, cleared his throat and turned to his flock.

“Remember that as much as we are disgusted by this filth, it is our duty to research it thoroughly…we have to know the tools which Satan uses against us.”

And the Fiends gingerly walked into the store, with the angry old woman waving the journalists away:  “No cameras!  No cameras!  I know what you’re trying to do—gonna make us look like perverts…”

***

“There goes a successful funeral, all thanks to me,”  RedGirl said.  We had said farewell to the angel and were walking home.

“I didn’t know you were into girls,”  I observed.

“Of course I’m not.  I did this to defend the reputation of the conservative movement,”  she replied.

“Oh.  Well, at least I’m glad you agree that Christians shouldn’t be in charge of everything.”

She stopped walking.  “I never said that.”

“Really?”

“The Fiends are idiots.  But this is a Christian nation.  The majority of people in this country are religious.  Why shouldn’t we have the right to express our morality?”

“I…I guess I don’t know why you shouldn’t.”  We continued on our way, but the chill had come back between us, and we were two separate Americas again.

***

“Well, all of that sounds very good,”  Mother said that evening, “but none of it is actually true.”

“What do you mean?”

“That stuff about us being a Christian nation.  Oh, the Founders did their best to pretend, they had to, but….”

“But they didn’t follow Christ’s teachings, because they were heartless capitalists out to oppress the masses!”

“You need meds.”  Mother shook her head.  “What I meant to say was that they were worshippers of the Great Bat.  As are we.  Don’t tell your sister, please—I don’t think she’d take the news very well.  When the two of you were little, I presented you both to the Bat, but neither of you wanted to come into the fold.  You ignored the Bat, but your sister downright freaked out.  It was obvious she needed to believe in something simpler and more comforting.”  She stood up and gestured for me to follow her.  “I can understand that.  It’s not always easy to live with the awareness that your soul will be consumed by a huge Bat after you die.”

I did not have a ready response to that statement.

We walked into my parents’ bedroom.  “Seriously, though,” she asked, “didn’t you ever peek inside our bedroom cabinet?”

“No, I figured that’s where you guys kept your sex toys.”

“I have such strange children.  No, we do not have any sex toys in this house.  See?”  She opened the cabinet and pointed to a little grinning skull inside.  It looked like the skull of a mouse.  It was surrounded by nickels and dimes, arranged in a semicircle.  Nearby stood a bowl of stale chips.

“I always thought you were sane,”  I murmured.  “So what does this thing do?  Can it perform miracles?”

“Sure.  Did you know it was your father who gave birth to you?”

“Never mind.”

“I’m just joking.  There are no miracles.  Our lives are short and unsatisfying, and once they’re done, we’ll be eaten by that Thing, as you call it, and we’ll sink into darkness.  The point is, our lives here can be less unhappy if we have respect for It.”  She peered closer at my face.  “What are you so upset for?  You’re not religious.”

“I kind of assumed you weren’t either.”

“I thought that it didn’t matter to you what religion people were.  You’ve told me so a million times.”

“Theoretically, yeah….  But this is….”  I stretched my arms out towards the altar.

“Look, I’m not mentally ill, darling.”  Mother rolled her eyes.  “I just accept reality as it is.  If you’re not strong enough to handle it, you can continue hiding behind your skepticism, like your sister hides behind her Christianity.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”

I was stepping away from her.

“Before you run away from here, one more thing,”  she said.  “If, for whatever reason, you decide you’re interested in getting to know the Bat, and developing a personal relationship of healthy fear for It, there’s stuff in the public library.”

“Thanks.”  My own Mother was asking me to become a Bat-fearing person.  That’s when I did panic and run away, and hid in my room.  I collapsed on my bed.  I was torn.  On the one hand, it was sad that my family was crazy.  On the other hand, wouldn’t it be great to be able to tell my sister that she was wrong about something?  RedGirl was feeling a bit too confident lately.  Maybe an imaginary bat-monster would come in handy, after all.

***

“Oh-em-gee!  What is this?”  RedGirl said when she found my library books on the dining room table.  They were little kid books.  One of them had a colorful illustration on its cover of the Bat biting off the heads of naughty children.

“It’s the new truth I’ve found in my life.”  I hurried to her side with a big smile.  “Would you like to hear about the Bat?”

“No.”

“But the Bat hates you so much!  And It might hate you a little less if you worshipped It….”

“The Bat sounds like an invention of the Devil.  I’m not interested.”  Sadly, my sister did not show the slightest sign of being traumatized, so she must have forgotten all about her childhood experience.

“Mom, do you want to tell her?”  I asked.

Mother raised a hand to caution me.  “I can see why you’re doing this, and you’re lying about things you don’t understand.  Be careful.”

“Nonsense.”  I stomped off, annoyed at yet another failure.

But all that night I kept dreaming that Jesus was about to fly down from the sky and bite my head off.

I first got my superpowers when my house was foreclosed on.  At that point, I had been unemployed for over two years, so I suppose I had no choice but to develop some special talent.

I woke up that morning with my hair plastered to my face and a raging headache.  As I crawled out of bed, I heard the voice on the radio speak to me.

“I warned you about this,” it said.  “This audience knows that I’ve warned you.  I told you this bubble would burst, years before anyone else even knew it would happen.”

I couldn’t remember being warned about what my life would become, not once.  I did remember being invited to invest in precious metals and stock up on emergency food, but that was it.

“This is what happens when you let people buy houses when they don’t deserve them,”  the voice continued as I hung over the bathroom sink.

I needed to pull myself out of my migraine and start packing.  Dad would be there to pick me up soon, and then it was off to my parents’ house and the family closeness that this recession would help me experience more of.

A sudden flash of anger overtook me.  Clutching my forehead, I ran out of the bathroom and searched the Web for a photo of the radio voice.  There it was:  “Radio Host Glenn Beck, Shrieking”.  I printed it out.

It wasn’t until I put the lighter to the paper and watched the picture go up in flames that I really felt the change happen.  A surge of power filled me, the power to right wrongs and bring justice, the power to make the world fair.  This incredible feeling of righteous purpose mixed with the pain of constant election losses, the essence of being a progressive in America, and my body twisted back and I uttered a scream into the heavens, followed by a little puff of blue smoke from the top of my head.

***

I realized that I would have to let my parents know about my new identity as BlueGirl as soon as I arrived, since it meant I would stay unemployed for a long time to come.  Now that I was on a mission, I couldn’t waste my time on a regular job.

“Mother, I have a secret.  I have liberal superpowers,”  I blurted out.

“Great, we’ve got another one.”  Mother rolled her eyes.  She waved her hand at Dad.  “Honey, get me a drink.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

“Your sister says she has superpowers, too.”

“What?  But she’s a cheerleader!  What kind of powers can she possibly have?”

“I have no idea, but last time I saw her, she was burning a picture of Keith Olbermann and howling at the ceiling.  Now she wants us to call her RedGirl.”

“Nooooo!”  My plans were about to be thwarted!  “But I’m going to save America!”

The blonde little villain herself ran into the kitchen at that very moment.  “Wrong!  *I’m* going to save America!”  She thumped her chest.

“Moooom, say something to her!”  I whined.  “I’m the one who’s right!”

“Don’t look at me.”  Mother shrugged.  “I’m a moderate—I’m just here to have cocktails.”

“Watch it, ditz—I’m a superhero,”  I snarled.

“Yeah?  Well, my superpowers come from Jesus,”  RedGirl said.  “Besides, if you’re a superhero, why are you such a loser?”

“I can only use my powers to fix other people’s lives, not my own.  In fact, I’m going to find someone to help right now,”  I said, grabbing the newspaper.

“See, that’s the cool thing about being a conservative…I can save the world *and* make shitloads of money at the same time,”  RedGirl observed.

Then it was quiet for a while, as I pondered the news pages and my sister made herself an adorable red cape out of a blanket.

***

“Don’t listen to what your sister says.  Personally, I don’t care if you’re a Commie, you just need to pay the rent.  You have to find a job,”  Mother told me.

“You don’t understand….”  I began.

“Darling, of course I understand where you’re coming from.  All I’m saying is that I might kick you out of the house in a couple of months.”  And she swayed out of my bedroom.

We lived in a hippie town, so surely, I was thinking, there would be a quaint little store hiring somewhere, the kind that sells revolution-themed toys and protest accessories, but no, there wasn’t.  Weren’t the boomers nostalgic for souvenirs of their own fighting days?  And where did the people at the protest rallies get all those cool props?

But, since this was a hippie town, I finally found the Wildcakes Café, where they were being subversive one muffin at a time or some such thing.

“We’re not accepting applications right now,”  the manager of the café said.  He had bright hair, a funny T-shirt, and gloomy eyes.

“I can be very radical,”  I offered.

“That’s sweet of you, but in case you haven’t heard, there’s a recession going on and we’re not making a lot of money.”

“You’re not supposed to want to make a lot of money.”  I couldn’t help myself.  “Don’t you want to share with others?”

He frowned at me darkly.  “Not with you, I don’t.”  And he walked away.

Something within me moved, making me queasy.  I leaned on the counter.  I had been rejected when applying for jobs before, but back then I hadn’t represented an entire ideology.

I recognized the thing moving inside of me—it was a weapon.  I had carried it with me most of my life, but only with my newfound identity could I effectively use it against other people.  I took a deep breath and a glowing blue ball of guilt burst out of me and hit the café manager in the back.

He continued chatting with a customer as if nothing had happened, so I stumbled outside, feeling drained.

I was quite disoriented without my blob of guilt, and I was still standing at the crossing, trying to remember how to look both ways, when I noticed the manager following me out.

“I don’t know why,” he said,  “but I feel like shit about this whole situation.  You need serious help….here.”  He handed me a box of muffins.  “Good luck with your life.”

I knew that I had to give the muffins away—what else would BlueGirl do?  “Is this my first superhero deed?”  I wondered, a little disappointed.

But it got a lot worse, because nobody out there really wants a box of muffins.  I put on a blue sweater (since I didn’t have a cape) and trolled the streets of my neighborhood with my box.  The homeless people only accepted cash, my neighbors suspected that I was trying to poison them, and Mother was on a diet.

“Your sister is having a party downtown with her little friends,” she kindly advised.  “Maybe they’d like some treats.”

I was desperate.  And who knows, maybe offering my sister some stale muffins would be one of those gestures of reconciliation which bring the world together as one.

To my surprise, the address Mother gave me for the party turned out to be in an obscure office building.

I rang a bell and a voice boomed from behind the door:  “Password?”

“I don’t have one, but I’m here to see RedGirl,” I said.  “I have a delivery.”

The door opened.  “Second floor,” the disembodied voice said.  A pair of invisible hands grabbed me in the darkness, and while it held me in place, something was stamped on my forehead.  “Last door on the right.  Thank you for visiting!”

As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I could hear the thumping beat coming from the end of the narrow, shag-carpeted hallway.  Was this one of those secret clubs where the hipsters went?

I entered the room and squinted, overwhelmed at first by the blinking of a fluorescent lamp and blaring country music.  A small group of mostly older men in shirts and ties sat around a table covered with beer bottles.

“Hey, girl!”  My sister waved at me from across the table.  She was sitting in one of the men’s laps, wearing her red cape over red lingerie and a garter belt.

“Would anybody here like some…?”  I held out the box.

“Not likely.”  She pointed to two of the men, growling at each other over a slab of beef.  “These are more of the red meat type of guys.  But we can freeze them….  They’ll be perfect for our underground food safe!”

She bounced out of the seat to take the box from me and leaned into my ear.  “Ever since I became RedGirl, all the billionaires love me!  I can’t believe how awesome my life is now with this superhero thing….”

I tried to think of some way in which having liberal powers had made my life happier.

“Don’t give me that look,”  RedGirl pouted.  “At least I’m honest about selling myself out.”

“How are you helping anyone?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”  My sister shrugged.  She put the muffins aside and wriggled back into a chair.  “It’s not about helping, it’s about winning.  And I’m the one who wins!”

She was right, of course.  I couldn’t get a job selling pastries, while she was spending her evenings getting spanked by wealthy bankers.

I shook my fist at her.  “Fine.  You win this time, RedGirl.  But we progressives will be back….at some indefinite point in the future.”

“No shame in losing,”  the drunken man nearest me drawled out.  He tried to leer at me, but after one look at my pullover and the expression on my face decided I wasn’t leering material.

I was certain it was thanks to men like these that I had lost my house.  The blue light of accusation awoke within me again and started to move, but I found that I could not strike them with it—something was blocking me.  They were too powerful.

It wasn’t until I got back home and slouched into the bathroom that I realized what had stopped my attack.  In order to enter the billionaires’ house, I had allowed myself to be stamped with their seal.

I spent most of that night in front of the mirror, scrubbing away at my forehead, finding that once you’ve received the Mark, it is very difficult to get it back out.