My descent into villainous psychosis started on a pleasant, sane enough day.
I'd wrapped up the day's last class teaching English at the church's day care center. Yes, it was under the table and pretty much volunteer, but my teacher's certificate hadn't come in yet. And while I did tutor high school and college students privately to keep the bills paid, the offering plate filled, and pantry stocked with store-brand stuff, there wasn't much in higher learning levels that let you play with monkey puppets.
So after Bosco the Chimp and I told the immigrant kids, "time for us to say bye-bye," I packed up my gear, picked up my pay packet from the office, said thanks, and trekked to the bus stop.
But while I waited for the No. 36 to roll by, I spotted a very tall, very heavy, yet very pleasantly shapely woman squinting at a street map. I turned her way, and before I could ask her, she asked me, "Luv, could you help me, please?"
I smiled at her cute British lilt. "Sure, no problem."
And she lowered the map flat below her immense bustline, and asked, "I'm trying to find the nearest post office. Can you show me where it is here?"
I was about to simply say it was two blocks down the street and around the corner right next to McDonald's. But I checked on the map to give her reference she wanted. The problem, though, was that I didn't recognize the streets or the names on it.
Then I saw why: the map was for Adelaide, South Australia.
And just as four tires rolled to a stop and a panel door slid open behind me, I quickly realized what was up. But not quickly enough.
Whoomp! She sprang forward, her chest hit my face like a wrecked car's airbag, her right arm caught and wrapped around my waist, and her powerful, full legs pushed us both back into the van. I flew off my feet and my back thumped against what felt like two overfilled water cushions mounted on a stone wall. As the van's door slid and slammed shut, another woman's arm wrapped around and pressed an inhaler's spray guard over my nose and mouth as her other arm clamped me deeper against her massive body. As a funny smell hissed into my breathing passages, the map amazon pushed and sandwiched me while her partner whispered in my ear, "Be smart, ducks... don't fight."
I never got the chance. Three blinks later, I was out like a light.
I came out of the black and into the blur with a low, dull headache. The world was a muddy gray. I sat on something hard and metallic; it felt like an office chair with my wrists behind the back. When I tried reach up to rub my eyes, clink! Yep, handcuffed.
As my eyesight resharpened slowly on its own, I saw I was in a featureless room. Only one way out: a steel door with a streamlined handle, and a dark grey uniformed guard stood next to it. He pulled his walkie talkie from his belt and murmured into it something like, "Gruntle. Gruntle grunt." Some incoherent staticky answer squawked back, and the guard nodded, grunted, and put his radio back. He then focused on me, and let his right hand casually rest on the submachine gun slung on his shoulder.
I went with the obvious: "Hey, buddy, where am I?" He just stared at me without a word. I tried again. "Why did you kidnap me?" Nothing. "What do you want with some underemployed working noodge anyway?" Still nothing. "Where's my bag?" Buttloads of more nothing. I glared. "Are these questions too hard? Habla usted ingles?" The guy was Discount Silence Warehouse.
I glanced around the ceiling, looking for air vents, cameras, I don't know, anything to help me escape or learn my location. Then I heard heavy footfalls draw nearer. When they arrived, shh-clank! The door slid into the wall and revealed another big, tall, heavy-set yet lovely woman; a jet-black brunette, unlike the sandy brown-haired one that tackled me into the van.
"Right," she told the guard, "follow us to the Star Chamber."
"Gruntle," he answered.
And she stepped around me and her toe pressed on something around the foot of my chair. Click. Then she felt around with her foot and clicked two other things down below. Clunk. The chair released, and the woman put one hand on its back, the other on my shoulder with a squeeze, and she pushed and rolled me out the door as the guard led the way down the dimly lit steel corridor.
I tried to glance up her way but couldn't crane my neck that far. "So, Gigantica," I grumped, "Don't give me any hints on what's going on here. I want to be completely surprised."
"Name's Geraldine," she said simply, without any offense.
"Gruntle," the guard put in.
"Oh?" I countered. "And is that your name, Mooky? Or am I using too many syllables?"
"He's a formerly disgruntled Army vet," Geraldine said. "We re-gruntled him when he joined us."
"Gruntle!" the trooper emphasized.
"So who's 'we'?" I pressed.
She held an open hand toward the guard's back, which showed three white stitched-on initials: F.O.E.
"Foe?" I squinted. "What's that?"
No talking anymore, not even a gruntle. Geraldine just hummed as we rounded a corner from the concrete floor to a hallway with dark wood panels and soft carpeting. And about twenty-eight steps later, we arrived at a set of tall, thick, solid-looking wood doors. Leaning toward a scanner pad, Geraldine swiped a plastic card. The sensor chirped and k-shunk-shhh, something big, heavy, and metal slide inside. The doors then parted, and they reeled me through.
Inside spread out a cavernous pillared meeting hall, dimly lit with red and purple stained glass windows, and big enough for a full court basketball game. On the backmost wall above a span of 50-inch Sony monitors hung a movie-screen-size banner showing a steel gauntleted fist stabbing a blood-red knife down and through a spread world map. And at the bottom of that were three words in Old English lettering: FORCES OF EVIL.
Right in the middle was a large mahogany conference table with luxurious black leather chairs all around. Sitting in them were a handful of adults, all in shadow. Down at the table's head in the cushiest, blackest, throne-like seat sat a stout, barrel-chested, bouncer-sized spear-bald man with jagged scars on his pate and by his left ear. By his right stood my towering sandy blonde kidnapper from the bus stop.
"Very good," he said, as the dark haired one joined his left. "You've come around... just in time for the meeting."
"Meeting?" I said. "I never got the memo."
The big boss put folded his arms over his general's coat just below the medals. "Guess the gas is still lingering, if that's your best quip now. No matter. Welcome to the Star Chamber. I... am Baron Braggadocio." He spread out his hand to the room as he flashed a vicious smile. "And we... are the FORCES OF EVIL!"
The minions cackled. I blinked. "Yeah, so I read on the banner. What do you want with me?"
The Baron leaned forward. "Why else, my dear boy? To take you within our ranks. To co-opt you into our masses. To make you one... OF US!"
I didn't know whether to tell him his standards were slipping or ask if he had some quota to fill. He didn't give me time to say either. "Let us enlighten this poor benighted soul on the steps of our Grand Master Plan that this pathetic planet cannot hope to understand or conceive, let alone prevent. Mr. Banner? Report."
An overhead light clacked and shone down on a spectacled fellow seated just to the Baron's right. The guy looked like he'd be more at home at a general store out in the Midwest. He peered over his rectangular frames up to his overlord, and a sinister smile spread below his frosted mustache. "Yeap, Baron, I just got back from the V.F.W. meeting, and all my boys are ready. We've got the goods just today and I handed at least one out to each person there."
Baron Braggadocio grinned. "Do tell. Any leftovers?"
"Nope. We all got at least one apiece. Couple of them got two, though, to share with family and friends." He thumbed his suspenders with satisfaction.
"You did save one for yourself, and one for each of us, right?"
"Got one right here, right now, in fact. Wanna see?"
Nodding, the Baron extended a hand to the table. Mr. Banner reached under his chair and pulled out a folded yellow cloth. Then with a flourish, his pinstripe-sleeved arm tossed it open to settle neatly on the table. A couple of still-darkened henchmen took the corners and stretched it out for all to see.
It was a bright yellow flag with a coiled rattlesnake on green grass, ready to strike. And under it were the words, "Don't Tread On Me."
I blinked. "The Gadsen revolutionary flag?" I murmured.
"Yes!" Mr. Banner reached into his shirt pocket and pointed a remote control at the widescreens. They each blinked on, showing different places around town, all flying the yellow flags. Homes' front doors had them next to the Stars and Stripes. Apartments had them over their balconies. The occasional small business and social organization sported them, too.
Mr. Banner twiddled with his red bow tie. "Soon, all these flags will be all over town, and will send the message that we are NOT gonna let the federal government ride ramshod over us!"
Applause sounded all around the room. "Well done!" the Baron beamed. "A marvelous, simply malicious plan! Deliciously malicious!"
I squinted. "Malicious?"
The Baron turned my way and peered hard. "You said something?"
Shutting up, I sweated a little. "Or wanted to say something?" he prodded. I quickly stared at the floor. The Baron let out an annoyed huff. "No, no trap doors are going to open under you just now. It's more likely one WILL if you don't finish your thought. Spit it out."
I gulped. "Uh... what's so malicious about flying a flag on private property?"
The Baron's forehead wrinkled. "What's so-- what's so malicious about it?!" he sputtered. "It's an act of defiance! A declaration of our resistance to the grasp of the U.S. Federal Government!"
"Which doesn't break any laws by itself," I countered, "and is actually using our First Amendment rights and sticking up for the Tenth, if I'm right. There's nothing malicious about it."
Baron Braggadocio glared at me like I would at the class clown or idiot-acting student.
"Uh, yo, Signori Baron?" said another darkened figure who'd just raised his hand.
"Ah, yes, Representative," the Baron said as another light shone down.
This man wore a dark navy double-breasted suit, a fancy red and maroon power tie,, and black hair combed back inot a ducktail. He looked like a Jet who'd beaten the Sharks in the last election. And he had; I recognized him from the ads he approved: Representative Phil O'Buster. "Perhaps I'd better help this guy figure out the deal here by doing my report next," he offered. "It kinda goes hand in hand with Mr. Banner's, anyway."
The Baron nodded. "Very well, go ahead."
Mr. O'Buster turned to me. "So, you know about the Tenth Amendment, hah? The one which says that the states of the Union have powers and authority that not even the U.S. Constitution can touch so that the power stays with the people?"
"Yes, yes, I remember that and the Bill of Rights from U.S. History class, thanks."
O'Buster's eyebrows popped up. "They still teach that in school?"
"Campbell Christian Academy. Also looked it up in an old encyclopedia," My captor squinted at me. I added, "What? I was bored."
He smirked. "Figures. Anyhoo, the federal guv'mint's got this idea of sending a big fat ton of money to my district if I play ball with them. They want me to give them some bits and pieces of control in return... a little leeway here, a little say there." He intertwined his fingers, cracked his knuckles and sneered. "Well, guess what. I'm gonna send every penny of that back, tell 'em where they can stick it, get my crew to make budget cuts where they gotta, soldier and run things the way my original buyers want." He folded his arms. "I mean, 708,000, man. Is that clout or what?"
"708,000 bucks? That cheap?"
He glowered at me. "No, ya yutz! Votes! Majority of that's what got me in office! I'm gonna do what my electorate put me in for!"
The darkened hordes around clapped and cheered in chorus. I scrunched my eyebrows. "Huh? You're actually gonna do your job and honor your word? THAT'S villainous?"
O'Buster stopped. Then he tilted his face forward and glared. "You trying to tell me it's not?"
"Uh... it's spectacularly rare nowadays. But insanely commendable. I'm... struggling to see the evil or corruption here."
The politician's gaze tightened. "Pal," he said with the threatening quiet of a cocked pistol, "if you weren't handcuffed to that chair right now, I'd be takin' you outside of this chamber and settlin' this matter one on one. Know what I'm sayin'?"
I glanced back at him cockeyed. "Do you?" And to the others in the room, "Do ANY of you?"
Yet another dark figure stirred. "I believe," an antique German female voice creaked, "zat our guest is having doubts that our... departure from current contemporary mores is authentic. Might I be next?"
Mr. O'Buster looked a little put off by her cutting in. But the Baron said, "Yes, Dr. Sicchsaad. Your world view on human life is well known and beyond words here. Except perhaps to our guest." And with a glance to O'Buster, who nodded, sat, and gave up the floor, my captor gestured for the old woman to go on.
Another light clacked on. This one illuminated a wizened, wrinkled, bumpy-faced, grey bun-haired woman in a white lab coat. She steepled her knobby, warty fingers. "I hope, mein freund, zat you will not be too uncomfortable with a discussion of... abortion?"
I gave my handcuffs a light shake. "I got a choice?"
She chuckled grimly. "Choice. Yes, one of ze most bandied around words in ze whole sordid issue. Very much too often zan not, zat is used to mean whether a pregnant mother can or should painfully elect to end ze life of her unborn child." She let her forearms cross as they rested on the table. "Of course, ze word choice has ... other facets."
I quietly sat still and waited for her to make her point.
"What of ze choices of ze doctor?" Her metallic blue eyes glistened. "I have a selection of... alternatives to ze scalpel, vacuum hose, and bin. For one, we can talk to her about possibly... giving birth and providing the newborn to a family zat wants to adopt. Yes, many couples and families would have a place to welcome another little one. Many of zem would love that, ja.
"Or perhaps we can have her... raise the child herself. True, she will be a single mother, and such a home is scarcely close to ze best environment in which a child could grow up, but..." And she smiled tightly. "...help is available."
I squinted on how she parsed that word: "Help?"
"You know. Crisis pregnancy centers. Ze Salvation Army. Churches and houses of worship. Other charities and groups, zat sort of zing."
I sighed. "Please drop the other shoe. What if she doesn't want to have the baby."
Dr. Sicchsaad straightened up in her seat. "Well, in zat case... if she is determined to have the abortion..." She spread out her hands. "Zen I regret I'll have to tell her zat my conscience holds life, born or not, in ze highest regard, and does not permit me to end it. Primum non nocere. Hippocratic Oath, you see. And I'll have to advise her to find another medical center or physician if she's still dead-set on zis."
Several short gasps and whispers abounded all around the board room.
Even the Baron seemed taken aback. "You, Dr. Sicchsaad," he muttered, "are beyond utterance."
She nodded in satisfaction. "Danke." To me: "So. Are you now... convinced?"
I leaned in. "Convinced that you're all... a bunch of ninnies." She flinched. I raised my voice to the room. "That's villainous and wacko? I can top that! Not only do I agree with how ol' Doc Toasterstrudel here works, I can go one better! Not only do I want to prevent abortion, get this: I actually believe that a guy and a girl shouldn't be having sex in the first place unless they're ready willing, and able to marry and raise the baby if one happens! Yeah, that's right, folks! And don't pick your jaws up off the floor just yet, 'cuz I'm also saving myself for my wedding night!"
The murmuring crowd went really restless and loud on that one, like I'd just hocked and spat in the face of Desmond Tutu or the Daili Lama.
"He's mad!" went one minion in the dark.
"He's obsessed!" went another.
"He's full bore looney!" went Mr. Banner.
"He's a freakin' extremist!" went Rep. O'Buster.
The Baron folded his arms and smiled smugly. "He's one of us."
I turned in my chair, and if looks could have killed, my glare would've sent the Baron's head clean off his shoulders. "What's the point to all this?!" I snapped. "Why did you clowns drag me down here? Just because my politics lean to the right? Is this why you assaulted and drugged me? Is this why you committed a Class C felony kidnapping? Is this why I'm missing Deal Or No Deal?!"
My captor sighed patiently. "It's because you're a villain. Like us."
"Like YOU?! A bunch of costume wearing, bad-acting yahoos who've watched Austin Powers too many times?! At least get some tips from the local sci-fi/comic book convention next time!"
The Baron turned to the sandy haired woman that grabbed me. "Heather? Would you please provide him with the report?"
The amazon picked up a binder and walked my way. Then she flipped to the front page. It was a report from the Department of Homeland Security. She held it in front of me, let me read it, and waited to flip the pages like she was very charitably letting me read her magazine over her shoulder.
And as I read, I steadily became more gobsmacked. And angry.
"groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented...?"
"...rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority...?"
"may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration... ?"
"Many rightwing extremists are antagonistic toward the new presidential administration and its perceived stance on a range of issues, including immigration and citizenship, the expansion of social programs to minorities, and restrictions on firearms ownership and use.... ?"
Baron Braggadocio smirked smugly. "See? There it is from your own tax dollars at work. You... and we... could all be terrorists."
"Could be? COULD BE?!" I looked at them all. "You could also be a bunch of right wing cosplay sillies who've--!"
Closing in, Baron Braggadocio leaned to me and his eyes locked with mine. And his tone got quieter, serious, and surprisingly down to earth.
"That report doesn't differentiate. If they had given some examples, some particular organizations, names, groups with anagrams or initials, or some sign they've separated the benign or healthy from the malignant, well, that would be a different story.
"But they haven't. They've lumped us all together. Small businessmen and suicide bombers, housewives and hatemongers, nurses and neck slashers, students and snipers, archbishops and arsonists." His finger tapped the report. "All one."
He straightened up and folded his arms. "And if that's so... if they can't be bothered to know the difference, let alone say it honestly... if we're all villains, big bads, and dragons... we may as well enjoy having the underground lair, the costumes, and the frickin' lasers."
I stared at him. Then down from the floor I heard something: eep eep eep.
I leaned that way as far as the cuffs would let me. The noise came from my bag of teaching stuff. How'd that get there? Heather walked up behind me and placed a gentle yet solid grip on my forearms. Geraldine then reached for the cuffs. Clink. They unlocked my and removed my bonds, and I stood up.
Eep. Eep eep.
Puzzled, I stepped warily to my bag and unzipped it open. Right on top of my letter flash cards, soft toys, CDs and squeaky hammers was my black chimpanzee hand puppet, Bosco. Unsure, I reached in, put my fingers within the puppet's head and arms, and raised Bosco up to face me. Staring into those dark brown plastic eyes, I felt pretty stupid toying with this terrycloth plaything in front of this room of jokers.
I then let Bosco approach my ear, and he started to chatter at whisper levels. And as he did, things got clearer. My eyes and ears were opened. I got vision. Perspective. Comprehension. An epiphany.
"Oh. Now I see. Yes, Bosco, now I understand."
I scanned the others in the hall. A low chuckle turned over in my voice box. I let it percolate into a laugh, and finally it sprouted into a full maniacal cackle. It felt good and releasing somehow. "I must say now -- I stand corrected." I said. "Looks like I seriously misjudged you all."
I let my free hand drop to my hip. "Your strategies and schemes? They are all insidious. They're all nefarious. They're all undermining to the order of society. They're all a middle finger to those in office over us now. They're all a kick to the global community's crotch."
I wrinkled my nose in contempt. "And they. Are. All. WEAK."
I let out a sigh. "Haven't you heard that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world? We are the past, they are the future. That's why I got into education in the first place. Now, admittedly, I wanted to be a force of goodness within the system. The system that would have me preserve the little children's self esteem and feelings. That would present and install in them an all-accepting, pro-social, omni-tolerant non-imposing set of mores and philosophies. One where all would be equal, and none would feel lesser or greater than another."
I planted both hands on the table. "WELL, NUTS TO THAT! I'm going rogue! I've decided to blow off the public school system and give those little snot-nosed rugrats what they really need! I'm going to become a private tutor and home-school teacher! And the NEA knows where they can go, and what they can do en route!"
I grinned nastily. "And the curriculum? Hang onto your socks. I'm going for not just politically incorrect, but WRONG. I'm gonna give them actual reading, writing, and arithmetic! The U.S. Constitution! The Bill of Rights! The Amendments! Pride and thankfulness for their citizenship! And how to work the rights and privileges endowed by them by their Creator! Yeah, I said it! Creator! As in Almighty God Himself! I'll even throw in the Scriptures, like the Mayflower Pilgrims followed! And maybe the Torah for giggles to cover all the bases! Yes, I'm actually going to teach them a solid RIGHT and WRONG! If their parents are unhappy with that, they can pick another teacher!"
I leaned a little on a vacant chair's backrest. "Now I'll keep it fun, of course. I think we can take a break with fun, games, and some DVDs between lessons. Some classic stuff: Schoolhouse Rock, The Electric Company, Sesame Street, that sort of thi--"
Pow! Something hit me like an out-of-control forklift and knocked me to the floor on my back. Right over me, hands crushing my shoulders flat on the marble was Heather.
"You swine!" she snarled. "You'd shirk your duties and leave those poor children in front of the TV?! With Elmo, of all things? I thought you were on the same page with us here!"
I let her words sink in. Then with a building rage, and a "RRRRREEEEEAAAGH!" I shoved her up off me and onto the table, leapt up, and landed on her with my knees on her ribcage, and my free hand at her throat.
"YOU INSOLENT SOW!" I roared. "I was going to say the Old School stuff from the early 1970s! With me in attendance at all times! Do you think... do you dare even IMPLY that I'd leave my charges alone with the tube for three seconds?! Let alone with the current rot programming's become now? And with THAT red fuzzy freak?!" My rage spiked and my fist clamped down on her windpipe. "I OUGHT TO--!"
"Eeep eep eep! WREEEEEEAK!"
I stopped, turned and stared at Bosco. "What?!"
"Eeep eep eek! Eep eek, epp eek!" My puppet shrieked and chattered fast, excitedly, urgently. And after a handful of seconds of this, it paused, and threw in a quiet "Ook ook."
I turned back to Heather. Then gradually, my hand slackened, I let her breathe again, and stopped driving my knees down into her enormous chest.
"Bosco says let it slide. THIS time."
I slid off her, and finally saw the entire room staring at me in shocked, stunned silence. I huffed. "Oh, what are you looking at?"
Somebody behind me quietly, slowly started clapping. Then another. A third added his applause and left his chair. And gradually, the entire board room joined the standing ovation. Only two others stayed out: Geraldine, who stared at me with hands clasped together under her chin and wide, doe-like, elated, adoring eyes. And the Baron, who smiled with triumph, acceptance, and appreciation.
"Welcome to FOE," he said simply.
I exhaled and smiled. But just then, Heather's fist grabbed the back of my shirt. Her other fist grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around so we faced each other. Then those powerful arms squeezed me closely to her body, she barrel rolled us off the table, and we landed on the floor with me on top and her ampleness cushioning my fall. And with a schoolgirl's squeal, her hug tightened as much as I could comfortably stand it, and then she stood up, picking me up with her. And she peppered my cheeks with kisses.
"I knew you'd finally come around!" she squeaked.
"You simply could've said what you were all about," I said. "That van and tackle thing was totally over the top."
As Geraldine closed behind me, wrapped her arms around, and pressed her buxom mass against my back, Heather snorted and cooed, "Oh, don't come at us with that."
Geraldine's lips and warm whisper graced my ear: "You enjoyed it and we all know it."
Being outnumbered two to one, and outweighed four, I decided not to argue.
And thus began my leap over the rails. And on that evening I joined my newly found dark comrades in the long war, determined to forward our tenets, and to crush and grind underfoot the current established order and all those foolish and weak enough in soul, mind and spirit to ally themselves with it! BUWAAAAAH-HAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!