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.

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