Once in a while I overhear something on Glenn Beck’s show that leaves me slightly befuddled.  A few weeks ago, Glenn was enthusing over the Avengers and how much he loved the movie.  How Captain America kicked ass, how this was an example of America’s greatness.  And then he said that when he left the movie theater, he thought “Take that, Europe!”

Ummm…so, I hope Glenn realizes that the Avengers is a fictional story?  Yeah, Europe is having a lot of problems right now…but I kind of doubt that Captain America is at the top of their list of issues, unless he is involved in the Greek debt crisis in some way that I’m not aware of.  Economic growth, a stronger military—these are all ways that we can show the world what we’re made of, so to speak.  Imaginary superheroes?  Not so much.  Unless he’s applauding our ability to make superior movie entertainment, in which case, great—but I doubt an entertaining movie will convince the Europeans that we have a better system than they do.

Anyway, just another instance of Glenn unhinging himself from reality just a bit.  Maybe that’s why I like listening to his show, because I can relate to having a delusional side.  Cheers from one lunatic to another….

I used to believe I was a nerd.  I was always made fun of for being a nerd when I was younger, mainly because I wore glasses and spent all my time reading, and so I assumed that those were the basic requirements for nerdiness.

But as with everything else, things get complicated as you get older.  It turns out that nerd and geek are much more specialized terms than I thought.  Geeks are into programming stuff on computers.  I love computers as a tool for sharing gossip and irrational political opinions.  So, not a geek.  Nerds are expected to be into sci-fi, which is a genre I have never managed to become enthusiastic about.  I’m still obsessive about reading, but my preferences are a mixed bag of everything from Victorian novels to 20th century Eastern bloc fiction to pop culture analysis.  I’m not sure what that makes me.  I guess that the comic book and superhero thing can also put one in the nerd category.  I grew up in Poland reading a comic book about a superhero called Orientation Man, who was constantly being chased by an Eskimo with a broken heater, but somehow I don’t think that qualifies.

And I get the feeling that my love of hip-hop automatically cancels my membership in the nerd world.   

So what am I?  I’m definitely socially awkward enough to be a dork, but there’s so much more to me than my klutziness.  I suppose my fanatical interest in politics might mean I’m a wonk, but that word implies connections and influence in Washington D.C. that I just don’t have.  A bookworm?  A dweeb?

Ah, hell.  I’m from Europe.  I should have known all along.  I’m an intellectual.

I went out into the garden, where a gentle rain was falling, and stood on the lawn.  I breathed in deeply.  Something was different about the air.  It smelled like the air should smell in January.  Jesus had been sworn in as President, and the four seasons of the Earth had gone back to normal.

I didn’t have anyone to share my joy with, though.  I couldn’t exactly talk to my sister or Mom about this.  Finally, with some trepidation, I called Leah.

She seemed happy to hear from me.  “I’m still amazed.  In just a few years, our lives could be completely different,”  she said.

“Are you quitting your job like you said you would?”

“No, I’m going to keep working.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, but Squircal will be under new management.  All the old executives are going to be arrested.”

“Are you going to get paid more?”

“Not right now.  But I think we will have so much more dignity.  Would you like to come work for us?”

“Uh…in customer service?”

“Don’t miss out on your chance, Blue.  We’re building a new society….you don’t wanna be left out.”

“I’ll think about it….”

“You can think, but make it quick.”

***

This time, when I came back to the Squircal headquarters, it was filled with stacks of bread, boxes of cheese and canned fish and oranges, and bottles of cheap wine.  A banner which read “Food Distribution Center” was hanging in the lobby.

The Squircal receptionist and a few others were busy carrying in more food crates.  The receptionist didn’t say anything in greeting.  As I watched them, Leah walked up to me, embraced me and kissed me on both cheeks.  It was as if nothing bad had ever happened between us.

“I see you made your decision right on time,”  she said to me.

“What’s all this?”  I asked.

“One of the Squircal execs had taken ownership of a Grocery Outlet.  We’ve liberated it from him, and we’re going to be in charge of distributing the food fairly.  The cool thing is, as one of my friends, you are entitled to a ration of it.”  She handed me a note.  “Go to the sixth floor and talk to Nina.  She’s Director of Edible Materials now.”

***

For the most part, life continued as it had before the inauguration, quiet and unimpressive.  I was employed at Squircal.  There were anti-Jesus riots in town, and a couple of the troublemakers got arrested.  Their names were listed in the newspaper, and they included Paul, who was apparently found in illegal possession of a large knife.

“Did you hear about Paul?”  I asked my sister.  We were at the kitchen table, and I was slicing up Swiss cheese for everybody.

Every Friday, I brought home a box of rations from Squircal.  The amount of food I received was extremely fair and just, but I had to share it with my family, as RedGirl and Mother were not employed, and Father’s job was not one of the desired occupations, so his ration was small.

“I really don’t care.  Shhhh, my dancing show is on!”  At first, RedGirl was devastated when “Dancing With The Stars” was taken off the air.  But now, she was a big fan of the synchronized dancing displays which had replaced it on prime time.

“It’s the little girls’ fan dance!  Ohhhh, so cute!”  She dissolved into gushing.

“I have to admit I think the old reality shows were more interesting,”  I said.

“Eewww.  They were kinda trashy, compared to this.”

I shook my head.  “Whatever happened to the ‘America will be destroyed’ stuff?  You were weeping about that not too long ago.”

She shrugged.  “I guess I was wrong.  Some things are different, but I still have food and my house, and my TV.  So America didn’t get destroyed.”

“That’s good to know,”  I said.  “Here, have some cheese.”

***

To my relief, I didn’t have to take a lot of phone calls at Squircal.  We were always doing other, more important things, and we mostly ignored customer complaints unless they came to us in written form, and even then they would go to the Office of Complaints, where they would disappear for months.

The arrests continued, but in very small numbers.  Still, they made me uncomfortable somehow.

“I don’t understand why the receptionist was arrested,”  I said to Leah.

“She would tell people to have a nice day, when the workers were having a miserable day.  This behaviour was deemed to be close to deceit,”  Leah explained to me.

I should have been satisfied with this answer, but wasn’t.  It was ludicrous.  And so, once again, I found myself taking the elevator up to the top floor of the Squircal building, where the new union committee which now ran the company was located.  This time, I did not wrap myself in a protective aura.  After all, I was one of them.

A grim secretary welcomed visitors to the top floor.  Probably overwhelmed by all her new responsibilities, I thought.  Must be difficult.

“How are you?”  I asked.

“Horrible.  It’s been an awful day,”  she snapped.  “Why do you want to know?”

“Just making conversation,”  I admitted.  “Hey, I’ve got a few concerns I would like to bring before the committee.”

“Like what?”

Undaunted by the harshness in her voice, I continued.  “I have questions about the arrest of the downstairs receptionist.  Also, I would like to hear more about the reasoning behind the way the rations are distributed.”

“What do you mean, the reasoning?  The rations are what they are.  They are based on the amount of food we have.  What is there to reason about?”  She turned her back to me.  “Thank you.”

I was taken aback at getting shut down like this.  “Well…I might still have problems with this…right?  Can I talk to someone, please?”

“You can submit a written complaint.”

“Oh….well, then.”

I sighed and started filling out the form.

***

Leah was very agitated the next day.  “I had to talk them out of arresting you.”

“What?  All I wanted was to ask some questions,”  I said.  “Are you kidding me?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?  We are finally achieving our goals.  Are you going to fuck things up just because you get hung up on the details?”

I felt a sudden, crushing tiredness.  “Leah, what’s the point of us having achieved anything?”

She came closer to my desk.  “The only thing I ask is that you at least wait for a while.  It’s too soon after the riots.  They’re a bit jumpy right now.”

I slumped in my chair and nodded.  “I’ll wait.”

***

RedGirl found me lying curled up on my bed.  “And what are you crying about?”

“You were right.”  I rolled over onto my back.  “America has been destroyed.”

“Even if it has, you’re on the winning side.  Quit whining.  I need you to give me a reference for a position at Squircal.”

“Squircal?”  I sat up.  I wanted to shake her.  “Sis, I thought I could depend on you in a moment like this.  You were supposed to be the loyal opposition.  Don’t you have anything for me?  Not even a tea party?  Or a militia?”

“A militia?  Oh, Lord.  Really, that kind of drama isn’t necessary.”  She adjusted her cape.  Our heat was low, so she had it wrapped around her neck like a scarf.

I lay back down and covered my face with my hands.  Everything around me was spinning.  For the first time, my sister and I were on the same political side, and it was a nightmare.

“So, who’s going to stop these people if they go too far?”  I asked, when the vertigo went away and I was able to speak again.

“I dunno,”  she said.  “But you can always find some idiot out there who wants to be a rebel.”

***

So my sister wasn’t going to be any help.  It turned out that for her, being conservative wasn’t about any specific set of beliefs, it was about conserving.  Whoever was in authority, whoever could offer stability to her world, that was who she was going to follow.

Two weeks later, I received an e-mail letting me know I was invited to a meeting at which my productivity was going to be honored.

“I don’t want to be honored,”  I thought.  “Just let me work in my cubicle and leave me in peace.  Don’t single me out for anything.”

But you didn’t say no to e-mails at Squircal.

I entered the conference room where the meeting was to be held and froze.  There, around the table, were the old Squircal executives.  They weren’t wearing suits and ties.  They couldn’t wear suits and ties, of course—they were now union leaders.  They smiled at me.  In front of them was the contract I remembered, and a little box with a medal in it.

“It’s nice to see you here on more friendly terms,”  one of them said to me.  “I trust that, under the changed circumstances, you will accept this token of appreciation from us.”

“I thought you guys had been arrested,”  I said.

“You will be pleased to hear that the guilty parties have, in fact, been arrested,”  he said.  “And now, we are at last able to lead this workplace into a brighter and more progressive future.”

I hesitated, but sat down.  The feeling of exhaustion was back.  No matter what happened, no matter which government was in power, I would have to keep fighting these men over and over and over again.  I didn’t think I was up to it.

“Do you have a pen?”  I asked.

I pulled the contract over to where I was sitting, and then stared at it, unable to make the final choice.

“Well, what else are you going to do?”  the exec joked.  “Are you going to commit suicide again?”

“Maybe,”  I mumbled.

“You are free to do that, if you wish.”  He gestured towards the window.  “Keep in mind that your family will die with you.”

And so this time I wasn’t going to crash through the glass, but I was still going to kill myself, or at least kill the person I once was.

When I emerged from the conference room, the contract was signed and a medal was pinned to my chest.

“We look forward to working with you,”  the exec said to me.  “You’re lucky to be one of us.  A lot of perks come with doing this.”

I held on to a doorframe, nauseated.  Something was bubbling up inside of me.  Possibly my disgust with the world.  I could already tell this would be one of those embarrassing moments when I couldn’t stop it—I had to throw up.

I heaved and a small explosion took place.  Two of the executives were knocked down to the floor, and almost all of them were covered with shiny blue slime.

“Not this again,”  I groaned.  My idealism was like an illness I couldn’t get rid of.  “Erm, sorry about that,”  I said to the executives.  “This kind of hiccup might still happen to me once in a while.”

“Do us all a favor and try not to use your….special gifts from now on,”  one of them advised me.  “It will make life a lot easier for everyone, including you.”

***

When I went back downstairs, Leah was waiting for me.

“Congratulations,”  she told me.  But her eyes narrowed when she saw the medal.  “I see you got through it okay.  I’ll be keeping an eye on you, though,”  she warned me.

“I don’t have a problem with that,”  I assured her.  And I didn’t.  When I stepped out of the building, I was determined not to be BlueGirl any longer—just an ordinary liberal blue girl.

I called my sister to let her know we would be getting extra rations.

 

 

[To Be Continued In “BlueGirl In Paradise”]

We started getting used to the world as they had created it for us, even pretended that we liked the weather changes, humid one day and freezing the next, the air heavy with worry.  We pretended that we enjoyed struggling for survival.

Then the election season came with the spring.

He was said to be a direct descendant of  Jesus.  At least, there were plenty of experts willing to trace his lineage back to the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.  Or maybe he said so himself.

The point is, he was here to deliver us.  Who cares where he came from?

When Jesus Jr. (or J for short) first announced his candidacy for President, I was watching TV in bed, still unemployed and chewing on an old chocolate bar.

“America isn’t lost yet,”  he said.  “I believe in America, America as it can be in the future.  We can save it!”

I dropped the chocolate bar.  I had been down for so long that I’d forgotten about my powers, about the things I once thought I could do.  I remembered again.

“I see an America which isn’t a red America or a blue America.  I see one unified America,”  J said.

Unfortunately, my sister disagreed with him, making America a lot less unified.

“You just don’t like him because he’s one of the Christs,”  I said.  “You still believe that bunk about Jesus never being married.”

“Yes, I do,”  RedGirl confirmed.  “You’ve got a huge crush on this guy, don’t you?  Now I know what it takes for you to fall in love….a man who claims he’s God.”

“I’m not in love, I’m an activist.”  I shook my head.  Maybe one day she and I would have a heart to heart talk, and I could get her to have more of an open mind.

“Fine, but your activism will make the country broke and our children will have a horrible future,”  she warned.

I changed out of my pajamas and sprinted out the door, not listening to her.  Finally, my day of greatness had come!

***

“Hello, I’m with the campaign for….”

This time the person on the other end hung up before I even had the chance to finish the sentence.  At least they didn’t yell at me or ask me to explain why we were calling them again.

One would think that a political campaign would make better use of a superhero like me.  But no.  I was put to work on the phone bank.

“Would you like to hear why I will never vote for J?”

“I’m not sure….”

“Have you read the Book of Revelations?”

“No.”

“Let me get my Bible and I will read you the relevant verses…hold on…”

Stupid swing state people.  It was their own fault for being indecisive.  Any decent state would know which side it was on.  And now I had to persuade these people who didn’t have the sense to have made their minds up already.

“Hey, I’m working,”  I kept saying in my defense.

“But you’re not getting paid for it,”  Mother reminded me.  “I’m sorry to tell you this, but this doesn’t qualify as a job.”

“The rewards I receive from my work are intangible,”  I countered.  “They cannot be measured in simple financial terms.”

I was getting the distinct impression that my family viewed me with pity.

“Couldn’t I burn down a wealthy suburb for you, or something?”  I asked my volunteer team leader.

“I’ve heard the stuff about you being different and all that,”  he said.  “But we can’t give any preferential treatment.  You have to start out down in the trenches just like everybody else.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “That’s the principle of equality that we’re all about.”  He looked to be around eighteen.  I have to say, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to get lectures about equality from a college student this much younger than me.

But I obeyed the kid.  After all, I believed in equality too…although deep in my heart, I knew I was a little more special than the others.

***

My patience paid off.  After I got sucked into yet another long philosophical conversation on the phone about the nature of morality, I was promoted to doing mass mailings.

“Stick the letters in the envelopes,”  my team leader told me.  “Don’t talk to anybody too much.”

I stuffed envelopes as if the world depended on it….which it kind of did.  Out in the main office, a group of new volunteers was being brought in to work the phones.

I put the envelopes down.  There she was, the customer service rep from Squircal.  She was wide awake, no longer a zombie.

I wanted to talk to her, ask her how it felt for her to stand up to the powers that be, but then I recalled my instructions and thought better of it.

When I was done with my assignment, I snuck another glance at her.  She was sitting at her desk, looking just as stressed out as she did before at her job.

She was in between calls, so I walked up to her and sat in the empty chair next to her.

“Are you okay?”  I asked.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,”  she said, pushing her wild hair out of her eyes.  “I hate being on the phone all day, and here I am doing it again in my free time…and I’m doing it voluntarily!”

“Well, thank you for making the choice to do this,”  I said.

She stared at her call list of numbers.  “Yeah, I guess I almost forgot how important this is.”  She nodded at me.  “Thanks.  I’m Leah, by the way.”

***

“Get the Heck out of here!  I’m not voting for no foreign brown-skinned Heeeebrew….”

“Very well, sir, we’ll leave.  Let me give you our info sheet about Medicare….”

I pulled on Leah’s sleeve.  “Come on, it’s obvious the guy doesn’t like to read.  Let’s get out of here before we get shot.”

As weeks on the campaign went by, Leah and I were chosen to be one of the pairs of volunteers going door to door to talk to undecided voters.  Rather, Leah was chosen.  She convinced my skeptical team leader that I would make a good partner for her.

“I feel like sometimes you don’t know when to stop, Leah.”

“I’m going to push as hard as I can.  There are kids in Iraq that might not die if the right guy wins,”  Leah said to me.  “This election is a life and death thing, Blue.”

“Well, I agree with you….”

“Are you sure?”

Then an exciting announcement came from one of  J’s disciples: J would be driving through our town.  We weren’t nearly important enough of a place for him to stop and give a speech—but still, we would get waved at.

That morning, all of us crowded into a designated section of Main Street.  We called it the Democracy Zone.

Our sense of style was a bit uneven.  J had been called everything from unpatriotic to the Antichrist, so we needed to make a good impression.  Some people made a point of wearing gaudy, bejeweled crosses, even if they weren’t religious, while others sported clashing concoctions of red, white and blue.  One of our team leaders dressed up as George Washington.

On the other side of the street, a small counterprotest by the Whiskey Party was taking place.  A bearded man was shouting into a bullhorn.  “He will force you to give all your stuff away…  He wants us to turn the other cheek to our enemies…  All I got to say to him is come here and turn the other cheek, bitch, and I will slap the shit out of you….”

“Idiot!”  Leah spat out.  “Could you hit him?”

“Excuse me?”  I raised an eyebrow.

She came closer to me.  “I’ve heard that you have talents you can use.  Could you strike him down?  Just while J is going by.”

I had asked so many times to be allowed to use my powers.  But now, something felt wrong.  “Um….doesn’t J preach nonviolence?”

“Well, yes, he does.”  She slumped a little.  She seemed disappointed.

After a moment of quiet, she turned back to me.  “But don’t you sometimes wish we could?  I mean, I know it’s morally wrong, but….  Or, what if you could strike their *minds*, not their bodies?  You know, use your energy to change the way they are thinking.  Don’t you ever wish you could do that when you’re talking to all those racist morons out there?  Things would be so much easier if those people could only realize the truth….”

“You mean….we should brainwash them?”  I asked.

“No, I don’t.  You make it sound so harsh….”

“I don’t feel comfortable…forcing people to believe in him.”

Leah’s mouth grew tight.  She stabbed her finger in the direction of the Whiskey Partiers.  “If they had a chance to hurt you, they would.  They are not your….”

She was drowned out by the giant cheer which erupted behind us.  We spun around and tried to see past the barriers and crowds of the Democracy Zone, but it was too late.  The limos had flown by already.

J was gone.  I was in disbelief.  We had missed him because of a stupid argument.

The spectators were jostling their way back towards the parking lot, mothers carrying their babies, a woman in a wheelchair, children with their elderly parents, all of them hoping that J’s policies would one day heal what ailed them.

“Well, that was kind of anticlimactic, wasn’t it?”  our team leader said.  “I’m not even sure it was really him.  But it was somebody with a long beard!”

I was about to burst into tears.

Leah looked down.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t assume that everyone else is as intensely committed to the cause as I am.”

She walked off in silence and I slowly followed after her.

***

As the summer ended, Leah was awarded the plaque for top volunteer in our local office.  We didn’t talk very much anymore.  She worked on that phone that she hated so much with obsessive zeal, and she not only motivated the swing voters to support J, she also persuaded them to send us financial gifts, telling them vivid stories about what would happen to them under a conservative administration when they were old and sick.  She used all the customer service and sales tricks that her evil corporate employer had taught her.

Then it was fall—the final big push.

On another one of those unseasonably hot afternoons, I went outside to take a break for a few minutes in the fresh air.  My team leader was lounging on the steps, a cup of coffee in his hand.  He didn’t say anything to me.

I leaned against the brick wall.  “Are you angry at me, too?”

“Huh?  No, why?”  He recollected something.  “Oh, I think I see what you mean.”

“When I came here, I thought this would be a non-judgmental place,”  I said.

“Yeah, I know.  I used to be a hippie too.”  He hunched over and sipped his coffee.  “But we don’t have that luxury these days.  This is a serious situation.  We live in America, and we have to be hard, even if we’re dreamers.  You can think of this thing with Leah as a way to challenge yourself, to try and take it to a higher level.”

“A higher level?  I completely support J….”

“You might have to prove that.”

“How?  With my superpowers?”

“Noooooo….I’m not a big fan of those.  They make you seem like you’re not the same as the rest of us.”  He shrugged.  “Use your human powers.”

“But how would I….?”

“I can’t always tell you what to do,”  he said.  “Think about it yourself.  You’re intelligent, right?”

***

My human powers?  What did that mean, exactly?  I didn’t have very much money.  I wasn’t intimidating, and I wasn’t good at talking people into paying for my product.

What could I do to show them that I cared just as much as they did?

I was deep in thought as I walked along to the bus stop.  Suddenly, pieces of paper fluttered in the air in front of me and around me, coming down like last year’s freak snowstorm.  I caught one.  It had a picture of  J’s election opponent, The General, and a small blurb about a brand new morning.

I looked up.  A familiar red dot flitted here and there across the sky, scattering flyers as she went, the Republican Tinkerbell.

She had no problem with using her supernatural skills.

***

From the minute I got home, RedGirl was her usual obnoxious self.

“Did you see me doing my political activism today?”  she screeched at me.

“Yes, I saw your pathetic flyers.  Most of the stuff on them was factually incorrect,”  I said.  “And that picture you had didn’t make your sad old General any more attractive.”

“It doesn’t matter what you think.  Your side is going to lose anyway,”  she snarked.  “We like traditional people in this country.  There’s no way anyone is going to vote for a radical like J.”

“Radical?  You claim to be a follower of his religion!  Or his family’s at least….”

“I’m not sure it’s even constitutional for him to be running in an election,”  she countered.  “Who knows where he was born, or what he was born of….?”

“Oh, don’t give me *that* crap.”

She got up to go to bed.  “Like I said, you’re going to lose.  We are so winning this one.”

My heart sank.  I knew she was probably right.  Jesus didn’t stand a chance.  He didn’t fit in with mainstream America, and he looked too much like he was an Arab.  My throat tightened with anger.  I did have some human powers I could use, after all.

“Did you have a permit to drop those flyers on the city?  I think I’m going to have to contact the authorities,”  I blurted out.

“You’re going to turn me in, huh?”  RedGirl came back and faced me, her eyes blazing.  “Don’t make me launch a fireball at your ass.”

“I liked you girls so much better before you got involved in politics,”  Mother’s voice said.

She was standing there, watching us, shaking her head.  “Is this really what it has come to?”

Something in her tone set me off.  “It’s easy to talk.  You’re not willing to commit yourself to either side, and that’s a choice too.  You might as well be the enemy.”

“You can denounce your entire family if you want to, dear.”  Mother sat down in a chair and stretched.  “If that will make you happy.”

I didn’t have anything to say to that.  I turned around and stormed off to my room.

I had one more human power left.  I would vote.

***

On election night, I nervously sorted through boxes of  J bumper stickers.  I didn’t want to watch television with the other volunteers in the main office, for fear of what I was sure was an impending loss.

I turned the radio on for a second.

“Next, who really was J’s Dad?  Does his parentage reflect family values?  Also, his little-known links to Palestine….”

I turned it back off.

One of the girls, the one who had purple hair in two braids, stuck her head through the door, very excited.

“Jesus is President!”  she said.

The rest of the evening was spent dancing and drumming in the street, with lots of champagne toasts and hugs.

It wasn’t until after midnight that I came home.  I stopped by my sister’s door.  I heard sobbing on the other side.

RedGirl was curled up on her bed with tearful eyes and an empty beer bottle in her hand.

“I can’t believe we lost!”  she said to me between hiccups.  “He’s going to destroy America!  It’s all over….”

“No, he won’t,”  I said.  “He will fix America.”  I sat down next to her on the bed and stroked her hair.  “You know how the insurance companies didn’t wanna give you health coverage?  He’s gonna make all of that go away….”

I held her while she continued to cry.  I wanted to be magnanimous in victory.  The time for fighting was in the past—from now on, there would be peace.  Soon, she would understand this, too.

“From now on, everything will be….perfect,”  I said, gazing out the window at the stars, knowing very little about the kingdom which was about to come.

“I’m tired of doing the superhero thing already,”  RedGirl sighed, wiping her brow.  “Back in the good old days, there would have been men to do this kind of work for us.”

“Oh, stop it,”  I said.  “We don’t need men anymore.  I can achieve great deeds without anybody’s help, thank you very much.”

We were sitting in a stall at the Farmer’s Market, surrounded by cages of fruits and vegetables, some of them still half-alive and wriggling in their enclosures, as they hadn’t been hacked to death with quite the precision that they should have been.

RedGirl nudged me in the ribs.  A potential customer was poking our meanest carrot with a stick through the bars of its cage.  It grabbed the tip of the stick and snapped it in half with its jaws.

“I would love to cook this one,”  he said.

“He’s kind of a freak,”  RedGirl whispered to me, as he continued trying to spear the carrot.

I groaned.  “Do you want me to talk to him for you?”  My sister had a hard time admitting to herself that she liked the freaks.

“You rarely see ones as big and juicy as this,”  he said, standing up and handing me a couple of rolled up dollars in payment.  I opened the cage and stepped back a little.

He pulled the carrot out of its cage, still hissing and spitting, took a knife from his belt and stabbed it through with one long slice, the carrot juice splashing some unfortunate hippies, who shrieked and ran away.

I turned my head to see that, quite predictably, RedGirl’s jaw had dropped.  “Wow….that was so beautiful,”  she managed.  She squeezed my arm.  “Come on.  You always talk to strange people like this.”

“How do you usually cook these?”  I asked, irritated.

“With meat,”  he replied.

“So do we!”  RedGirl said.

He shook the limp body of the carrot and started cutting out its teeth.

“Aren’t you scared of eating them?”  I wasn’t very good at promoting our mutant veggie stand.

“No, I wish they would legalize them already,”  he said.  “They’re not any worse than regular vegetables, they just make you feel more powerful.”

“We’re gonna have that potluck dinner,”  RedGirl suggested to me.

“We would love to have you come to our potluck dinner,”  I snapped.  “Do I need to give him my phone number, too?”  I asked her.

“Well, I’m certainly not giving him mine,”  she bristled.  “Just give him our address.”

He took the slip of paper from me and went on cleaning his knife.

***

I threw a bag of potato chips down on the table.  “There, I’m ready for the potluck.”

RedGirl pretended to be outraged, even though I contributed a bag of chips to any event I was involved in, including baby showers and Christmases.  “You will never impress a guy like Paul this way.”  The carrot-killer’s name turned out to be Paul.

“That’s good, because I don’t want to impress him.  No worries, I’m sure he’ll love whatever greasy thing you grill up.”  I grimaced.

“My bacon is delicious.  You can make fun all you want.”  She hesitated.  “He did say he was in favor of legalizing the genetically modified vegetables.  Maybe he’s my conservative guy and I don’t even realize it!  Maybe he’s RedMan, but he’s in disguise.”

“Or he’s a crazy bum with a knife who’s coming over to dinner.”

“I’m sorry I was having a romantic moment,”  she said.  “I forgot you’re a bitter feminist who doesn’t approve of this kind of stuff.”

“That’s not what I….”

We couldn’t continue our argument, because the doorbell rang, and it was time to start welcoming the potluck guests, most of them either Mother’s friends, fashionably dressed and bringing homemade pastries and unnecessary husbands with them, or my sister’s friends, dressed like sluts and bringing junk food.  Paul arrived too, with a bowl of his supercharged stew, ogling the skimpy-skirted girls.

My intuition instantly told me that he was a dastardly character.  What was he going to do to my sister?  He went out to smoke on our patio, huddling in the first cool air of the early fall, and I followed him out.  The crumpled remains of giant corn still lay scattered all about.

“So is it true that you’re kind of a family of political bigshots?”  he asked.

“You could say we have special connections, yeah,”  I said.

“What a waste of your time,”  he observed.

“You think so?”  I watched him blow out smoke.

“Yes, and it doesn’t matter to me which party you’re working for.  They all fuck you over the same way.”

“I don’t believe that’s true.”

“Excuse me….I have to go.”  He stubbed his cigarette out and went back inside.  I looked in the window and saw that RedGirl was flashing some good old-fashioned cleavage at him.

At this rate, I wouldn’t be able to stop this disaster.  The heartless man would probably have sex with her, too.  My sympathy went out to her.

So sad did I feel for her that I waited for him to go into the kitchen when he was on a break from his flirting, knocked him unconscious with a bolt of energy and locked him in our storage closet.  It was unusual for me to feel so protective of my sister.

In the living room, the party was swinging.  The guests laughed loudly and devoured sweet cakes and RedGirl’s bacon.  Father came out of his room for once and, trying to be necessary, handed out champagne.

“Where’s Paul?”  RedGirl asked.  “He was talking to me.”

“Who knows?  I’m sure he’s gutting and skinning one of our houseplants.”

“Whatever.  You don’t have to put him down just because you can’t cook.  His stew is ah-mazing.”  Her eyes scanned the room for him once more, and then she walked off to search for him.

Her comments left me frustrated, as usual.  I couldn’t understand the desires of everybody else around me.  I didn’t understand why you would want to spend hours cooking, when you could buy food ready to eat and have more time for other things.  I didn’t understand why you would want to be stuck in a relationship, when you could be free.  I wasn’t missing out on anything.

Of course, the fact that I felt this way possibly meant that there was something very big missing inside of me, but I preferred not to think about that.

“What did you do to him?”  My emo moment was disrupted by RedGirl, who had come back from her inspection of the house.  She was jabbing her finger in my face.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“What did you do to Paul?  I could tell you were into him ever since we met him, and now he’s disappeared.  I know you had something to do with it.”  Her eyes drilled into me.  “Give it up.”

“Like I care about your little rightie.  Maybe your conversation was boring and he left.”

RedGirl stalked away again, but she kept watching me.  She and her screeching friends circled the party like a flock of multi-colored hawks.

I escaped to my bedroom.  I couldn’t wait for this evening to be over with.  I needed to get rid of Paul somehow.  My sister already thought I was involved in some pathetic girlie competition with her, and if he came rolling out of our closet, she would be convinced of it.

Well, it was almost nine p.m.  The guests would be leaving shortly.

I cracked the window open.  Outside, the air was muggy and thick with rain.  It had gotten a lot warmer.

In the back, people gathered out on the patio, listening to the downpour in the steamy heat.

“Fall can be such an interesting time of year—the weather changes every minute,”  one of the ladies commented.

The rain seemed too intense even for an interesting fall night.  Puddles and pools were forming in the grass, rising until there was water on the concrete slabs in front of our doorstep.

“Are we getting flooded?”  Mother wondered.  “Everybody, please collect your possessions and we will continue the party up in the attic.”  As she said this, snow started swirling out of the sky.

“It’s obvious this is global warming,”  I said, as everything around us froze into sheets of ice.

We closed all the windows and doors, and had hot toddies.  A half hour later, the cold wind was still blowing, and our yard still gleamed in the moonlight, frozen solid.  It became clear nobody was going anywhere for a while.  We were iced in.  I put my head in my hands.

“We’re running out of tea biscuits,”  Mother said to Dad.  The guests had stopped joking about the weather and were clustered around the fireplace.  “Be useful, dear, and go check the storage closet.”

I didn’t even have time to be horrified, because right then, Paul strolled into the living room, a half-eaten bag of pasta in his hand.

“Where have you been?”  RedGirl asked, suspicious.

“Oh, just taking a little break over there.”  He grinned at me, which I didn’t appreciate.  “May I have something to drink, please?”

“Go for it, get the man a drink,”  RedGirl said to me.  “Since I can tell that you really want to.”

“No….”  I began.  But that would be very bad manners.  With all eyes on me, I picked up a whiskey bottle and showed it to Paul.  He nodded, and I poured him a glass, simmering with hatred.

“Thank you,”  he said.  “It’s okay…I won’t reveal your secret,”  he added in a half-whisper.

This was going to be a very long potluck.

***

We woke up to a perfect Christmas morning view.  We had snowdrifts and everything.

“Well, sometimes winter comes a little early.  It’s not like there’s anything abnormal about that,”  RedGirl said.

In the distance, shafts of lightning struck the ice.  A tall snow funnel slowly travelled along the horizon.

“Are we going to wait until we have no food left?”  Paul asked.

“Won’t there be an evacuation of some kind?”  I replied.

Paul burst out in mocking laughter.  “Are you seriously hoping that the government is going to help you?  Good luck with that.  We need to mount an expedition for supplies.”

“Would that mean going out into…the snow?”  I shrank from the window.

Paul’s eyes had a glint of unhealthy excitement in them.  “Are you scared of the cold?  You can always just stay here and suck your thumb like a little girl.  Maybe someone will give you a handout.”

“No, I’ll go with you.”  Somehow, I had volunteered myself for a polar explorer mission into a blizzard.  “As you know, I have energies that could help you.”

“I have energies too,”  RedGirl reminded us.

“Oh, good.  Then you can go instead of me,”  I said.

“I’ll be more than happy to take both of you,”  Paul said with a smile.  “Double the special powers, right?”

***

The air was crisp and the sky was clear when we waddled out into the street, wrapped in our warmest layers.

“It’s a beautiful day for an adventure,”  Paul said, pulling RedGirl and me into a big bearhug.

An impromptu neighbourhood committee had held a meeting and agreed that sending the three of us off in the direction of town was a fabulous idea.  They were also nice enough to provide us with a mode of transportation.

A line of dogs sat on the ice, all of them tied to a rope, which was attached to a ramshackle sled nailed together out of pieces of nonessential furniture.  One of the dogs distantly resembled a husky, but the line also included a couple of overweight retrievers and a pug.  Of course, all the dogs wore little coats and sweaters, and booties on their feet.

“Let’s see how well these guys can handle our weight,”  Paul said.

We climbed onto the sleigh, my sister and I on either side of Paul.  The dogs wagged their tails and waited for treats.

“Hold on, I’ll get some milkbones,”  the pug’s owner called out.  “He likes those—he’ll run for them.”

“If we wait for them to go, we’ll be here until the snow melts, and then there won’t be a point to it anymore,”  Paul grumbled.  “Would you be able to use those energies you’ve been talking about, girls?”

“Not if you keep referring to us as girls,”  I said.  “That’s BlueWoman to you.”

“Don’t be so insecure,”  Paul said.  “Can you help get us going?”

I frowned, but I sent a jolt of blue light at the dogs.  It shoved them forward a small distance, but they were insulted at this treatment, and refused to move any further.

“Here, take my hand,”  RedGirl stretched her arm out to me.  As we held hands across Paul’s lap, a stream of purple energy shot out from us and the sled hurtled over the white streets, the surprised dogs flying before it.

We ended up on the side of a hill, the rope tangled and dog legs and tails sticking up out of the snow.

“We’ll have to find a better way of doing this,”  Paul said from somewhere underneath me.

***

“Do we have to keep going on to town?”  I yelled out.

“Yes, otherwise we’ll starve,”  Paul called back to me.

“Can’t I just lie down and rest here on the snowbank for a while?  It feels so warm,”  I said.

“You wimps.  Aren’t you the ones with the superpowers?  Keep pulling!”

Paul and the dogs were sitting on the sled.  RedGirl and I were in front of it, holding on to the rope.

“If you and I team up, we can still overturn him into a ditch somewhere,”  I suggested to my sister.

“Yeah, what a great way to make me look bad to him.  No, thanks.”  RedGirl walked back to the sled.  “Paul, I have something private that I want to share with you.  I can fly.  I think I can pull us to town through the air.  BlueGirl can’t fly, by the way.”

“She’ll have to sit up here with me, then.”  Paul moved the husky to a back seat.  The expression on his face made my stomach turn.

Soon, we were flying along.  I clung to a rail out of habit, but the ride was pretty smooth, considering that it was RedGirl who was driving us.

Then, we were circling over a sparkling downtown, attempting to make our approach, and we were hit by turbulence, the sled shaking and creaking on the way down like an old Soviet airplane.

“I have something special to share with you, too,”  I said to Paul.  “I attract accidents and falls.  Hold on!”

We landed right in the center of the shopping district.  The sled bumped along the frosty ground a couple of times, scattering chair legs and sofa cushions as it went, but it held together, and nobody was hurt.

Downtown was completely abandoned.  Which made sense—the snow and ice had struck in the evening, when there wouldn’t have been anybody here.  The skyscrapers were empty and silent.

Paul knelt down, picked up a little snow with his fingers and tasted it.  He pointed in an eastern direction.  “We have to go that way.  The Grocery Outlet is over there.”

“The Grocery Outlet?  Ewwww!”  RedGirl recoiled at the thought.

“You have to trust me.  Their food lasts forever.”  We moved down the street, armed with the bedposts from my old canopy bed, the one I was now kind of embarrassed about.

I held Paul back just as the Grocery Outlet sign came into sight.  “There’s someone in front of that store….somebody with a gun.”

“Probably the store manager.  Ugh.  I wonder if he’ll trade with us.”  Paul pulled out a fur-lined pouch.

“It’s….not a manager.  It’s one of the Squircal executives,”  I said in disbelief.

“Don’t come any closer.”  The executive aimed the gun at me.  “I remember you.”

I should have expected this.  The Squircal guys had most likely created this entire winter event, as part of their plan for some sort of resource grab.  And now this man would ration the food in town to us at a high price, if he even felt like giving any of it to us at all.

Then I looked at his face and saw something which chilled me even more:  panic.

I walked up to him, in spite of myself.  “You’re not in charge of this weather thing, are you?  Not anymore, right?”

“The climate changes are within our control,”  he snarled.  “You’ve caused us problems in the past.  Be careful.”

“Yeah….?”  It was obvious to me from his tone that he wasn’t in control of a single snowflake.

“I’m willing to let you go now only because you’re connected to a higher power.”  He was referring to the Bat, of course.

He shivered in his small jacket.  Like the rest of us, used to our mild climate, he was not prepared for these kinds of temperatures.  I was wearing multiple sweaters, one on top of another.

“So….can we get some food?”  I shivered, too.  “I mean, what happens now?  How do we survive?  Or do we all die because you guys messed up the planet?”

He didn’t lower his gun.  “What if there isn’t enough food left for me?”

“We have money.”

A fire came back into the man’s eye.  A familiar instinct stirred him.  “Money?”

I turned back to my friends.  “Er….we do have money, right?”

I was broke, Paul had mostly beads, but between the three of us we managed to scrape up almost ten bucks.

“Now, naturally some serious inflation will apply,”  the executive said.  “But I would say that I can sell you a box of Cup’O’Noodles soups in exchange for your payment of eight dollars and ninety-nine cents.”

“What?!  That’s outrageous!”  RedGirl said.

I held out my hand to quiet her.  “I think this may be our only option.  We’ll accept the deal.”

We left the man shaking with cold as he guarded his giant food stash, holding on to our money with near-frozen fingers.

Paul carried the box of soup cups.  “What are we gonna do with this?”

“Are you kidding me?”  I flashed him a smile.  “Paul, you’re in luck.  I don’t like to cook, so I have a thousand and one methods for making a Cup’O’Noodles meal.”

He seemed slightly nauseated.  “That’s….great.  Thanks.”

***

Later on, Paul and I were standing and waiting by the sled.  RedGirl wanted to check if the mall was closed.

“I like it when I find a woman I can have an intelligent conversation with,”  he said to me.

I remained guarded.  “Is that so?”

“Yeah.  You’re pretty cool, you know.”

“But aren’t you interested in RedGirl?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer a girl like her?”

“Why do I have to choose?”  He chuckled quietly.  “I can just have the two of you.”

“Huh?  Can you get away with that?  I thought you were a Republican.”

“There’s your first mistake.”  He stretched.  “I’m not a conservative.  I’m a libertarian.  I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

My eyes shifted to his left.  There, right behind him, was RedGirl, glowing with the crimson light of vengeance, her chest heaving.  She had heard every word.  I gave her a tiny nod and a moment later, Paul lay face down in the snow, unconscious.

“I feel so much better.  But isn’t it cruel to leave him here like this?”  RedGirl asked.

“Nah, he’ll be okay.  This is wilderness man we’re talking about,”  I said.  “We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t come after us with his crocodile hunting kit.”

“I guess you’re right,”  RedGirl agreed.  She exhaled.  “Man, courting the libertarian vote is *so* not worth it.”

We made the dogs pull us all the way back home.

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.