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.