Love and Supervillains
By Caroline Diorio
The gals here at the Raleigh Women’s Asylum for the Nefariously Gifted have a little saying they like to share with the newbies: fuck a superhero once, shame on him; fuck a superhero twice, shame on you.
Well, technically my first super wasn’t a hero. Or even all that super. Davey could control metal with his mind, which came in handy whenever the little gears in the ice cream machine at our after-school job got jammed, but he couldn’t budge anything heavier or thicker than a can of tomatoes. He auditioned for the Southeastern Sentinels at their headquarters in Charlotte two months before our high school graduation, and while they didn’t laugh directly in his face, they thanked him for his “radical vulnerability” and told him they would “give him a call if they ever needed his skillset,” which was almost worse. He was a sweet boyfriend, though, always fixing my necklaces when they broke. We lost touch after we broke up for college, but in hindsight, I really should’ve looked him up back when I still had Internet access. Or any access to the outside world.
Not that it’s all bad here. Sure, the power-suppressing ankle monitors that shock you if you get rascally are a drag, but the food’s okay, as prison meals go, and we have movie nights every Friday. They only let us watch G-rated ones until I tore the throat out of the guard setting up the projector with my teeth. I got lit up like New Year’s Eve for my troubles, and spent a week in solitary, but it was all worth it the following weekend when we got to see Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle gyrate across the moth-eaten projector screen.
Sometimes it’s just cheaper to add a couple rom-coms to the roster instead of having to keep replacing guards, you know?
But the best part is all the new friends I’ve made: North Carolina’s best and brightest supervillainesses, together under one roof. Where else could I swap jokes with Patty Acid while folding towels on laundry day, the left side her face a glowing green mass of scar tissue from the Battle of Durham? Or watch Slug Woman beat a lunch lady half to death with a plastic tray because she snuck salt into her food? Oh, and my roommate? Madam Magma, real name Ursa, the former Southeastern Sentinel who went rogue and almost turned the Charlotte Motor Speedway into a giant volcano before her stuffy ex-boyfriend Permafreeze ruined the party. But, hey, when you’re a pyrokinetic alien exiled from a planet with a surface temperature that makes the flames of hell look like a Norwegian cruise, you’re bound to get a little homesick. Trying to drill to the core of the earth is just lovable scamp behavior, if you ask me.
She’s also a pretty great fuck.
Sure, Ursa almost barbecued the lower half of my face the first time I made her squirt, but we make it work. She’s beautiful: seven feet tall, with Maraschino-red skin and wavy black hair and glowing gold eyes. She’s also fucking brilliant, with a razor-sharp wit that makes even the longest days seem like minutes. We can pass hours hanging out in the back of the closet-sized library, talking about everything and nothing.
I’d say I’m in love, but then, that didn’t go so well for me last time.
Before I was a man-eating abomination, I was Roz, a sophomore at Meredith College. Majoring in Marketing, though I had no idea what to do with it. A quarter Puerto Rican, and desperately trying to learn Spanish, though it looked like I was never going to make it past the DuoLingo owl’s smug little face. Not talking to my Jesus freak parents, though I still called my younger sister on birthdays. Working at Whole Foods to help cover what my scholarship didn’t.
I was blessedly, gloriously normal.
And then Kirk Kittredge waltzed up to my register and asked me where he could drop off his application.
I was pretty promiscuous back then. My roommate Bree, a prissy English major with a bad underbite, said it was very feminist of me. That I was “subverting puritanical standards for women” by getting stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey on the weekends, which was bullshit. Like, maybe the Barefoot Contessa is subverting some patriarchal whatever by being a famous chef, but at the end of the day, that bitch probably just likes to cook.
My point is, in all the time I’d spent touring the twin-sized mattresses of both my tiny women’s college and–just down the road–NC State, I’d never been hit with a case of lust at first sight the way I was with Kirk.
He was a funny-looking guy at first glance, that Kirk: short and scrawny, with beady blue eyes and huge ears and a blobby, misshapen nose like a melted candle. Then you looked again, and you noticed that his eyes were warm and deep-set, with a little ring of silver around the pupil. You noticed that his ears looked kind of sweet peeking out from his wavy black hair. And his nose wouldn’t have looked right on his face had it been anything less than a big old beak.
Then he smiled, and, oh, there wasn’t anything funny about that smile. It was the kind of sunny, guileless grin that makes even the most level-headed gal do something real silly just to see it again.
My boss put me in charge of showing Kirk the ropes, and we got to know each other. He was an engineering major at NC State, one year my senior. He’d transferred from Duke after one of the physics professors destroyed half the campus opening a portal to hell in an attempt to resurrect his dead mistress (said dead mistress was also one of his students; the mess of it all). If Mantis Man hadn’t shown up just in time… I didn’t want to think about it. I’d seen shaky iPhone footage from that day: a flash of green wings disappearing into a roiling dark cloud, followed by the shrieking of things that had been suffering for a very long time.
I thought that was a perfectly valid reason to transfer.
We started eating lunch together, chatting about our favorite movies and the customers we hated most and which of the Southeastern Sentinels we’d swap lives with. My pick was Adhera Aster, because I’d always wanted to teleport, and his was Human Shield, mostly because he got all the girls.
“I’m sure you could get just as many,” I nudged his shoulder, “if you just asked them.”
Kirk snorted, but I saw the pretty red blush creep up the side of his neck.
Three days later, he asked me to come home with him after work.
Kirk lived in the student apartments on Gorman Street with a roommate who was out for the night, thank God for small mercies. After he shut the door behind us, he put his hand on my arm.
“Listen, Roz,” he said. “I’m not really experienced with…” He gestured vaguely between us.
“And?” I unlaced my Doc Martens. “It’s been a while, so what?”
Kirk looked away, his mouth twisted like he was trying to suck a piece of food out from between his molars.
Now that was surprising.
“So you’ve never–“
“Been too busy, I guess.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Is that okay?”
In answer, I went up on my tiptoes and kissed him.
Kirk wasn’t the best I’ve ever had (that title goes to the drummer of a Korn tribute band called Karrots I met on Tinder), but he was surprisingly close. What he lacked in experience, he made up for in enthusiasm. I said move to the left a little, and he did. I put my hand on his hip to show him the strokes I wanted, and he took it all in stride.
And, in the grand tradition of skinny men, he was plenty heavy where it counted.
We finally wore ourselves out after about two hours. I rolled over and scooted to the other side of the bed, thinking he’d want some space, but he spooned himself right up behind me and threw one of his legs over mine before giving me a loud, smacking kiss right where my neck met my jaw. I laughed and laced my fingers through his, but I didn’t say a word. I knew if I opened my mouth then, all warm and happy and hopped-up on dopamine, I’d say something so embarrassing that I’d have to flee Whole Foods forever and go work at fucking Food Lion.
I woke up at 2 AM, needing to pee.
After I used the bathroom, I wandered through the apartment, too wound up to fall back asleep. The sills and shelves were lined with clean, empty liquor bottles, a college boy’s attempts at interior décor, but overall, the place was surprisingly neat. Luxury of luxuries, it had an in-unit washer and dryer.
Suddenly inspired, I tiptoed back into Kirk’s room and scooped my clothes up off the floor. I’d never liked putting on day-old underwear, even if it was just for the ride home. I grabbed Kirk’s while I was at it, because, well, I thought he might like to wake up to freshly-washed clothes too.
I was about to pour in the dregs of a bottle of Tide when I realized that I’d forgotten to make sure the dryer was empty. I flung open the dryer door, and my blood turned to ice.
It was a richer shade of green than what I’d seen in the newsreels. In the dim light of the stove lamp, the octagonal lenses on the mask shimmered with the pinks and golds and blues of an oil spill.
Mantis Man’s suit, crumpled in Kirk’s dryer like an old cotton sweatshirt.
Kirk shook me awake the next morning, babbling about a broken condom.
“I didn’t see it until just now, I swear! I have no idea–“
“Kirk, it’s fine.” I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “Can you drive me to CVS?”
Thirty minutes and a Plan B later, we sat in a Bojangle’s parking lot having breakfast. I kept stealing glances over at Kirk as we ate. Here I was, sitting in the passenger seat of a shitty Neon after a night of amazing sex with Raleigh’s favorite masked vigilante on the morning before Spring Break, and I was so happy I could have cried.
Sure, it was an ego boost to know that I fucked a superhero, that the guy who fought demons and aliens and evil physics professors had been balls-deep inside me yodeling like a Swiss goatherd, but I wanted Kirk before I knew all that.
Mostly, I was just thrilled that the guy I liked seemed to like me too.
Kurt ran his teeth over his bottom lip.
“I’m gonna be gone over Spring Break, and not for fun. So if I don’t text, just know I’d rather be doing that more than anything. ”
“That’s okay,” I said. “Off to save the world?”
His eyes widened.
“Or you know,” I took a sip of my drink, “whatever it is you engineers do instead of having fun?”
We laughed together, long and hard and bright as summer.
“Nah,” he said, “just dysfunctional family shit.”
Kirk drove me back to Meredith and kissed me like an 18th century sailor saying goodbye to his favorite bar wench. When Bree came home, she found me lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and she didn’t even say anything.
She just shook her head and sighed.
I spent Spring Break glued to the news channel.
Apparently, the professor who tried to bring his mistress back had been… altered, I guess is the polite word for it… when his dimension-busting machine/necromantic ritual blew up at Duke. Now sporting a pair of glowing red eyes, a set of shadowy tentacles, and a very stylish trench coat, he was calling himself Dr. Hades, and he’d turned the entire population of Disney World into his zombified minions to help him rebuild his machine. The Sentinels and the handful of vigilantes they’d recruited to help, Mantis Man among them, fought Dr. Hades for days before they finally captured him. Fortunately, there were minimal casualties. A viral video towards the end of the week showed Mantis Man letting a shaken-up toddler gently touch his wings after the battle, and the smile that baby gave Kirk made my heart grow ten sizes.
I was in love, or something just as potent: heady and strong and sweet, and definitely not something you questioned in the moment.
Then Kirk came back with a girlfriend.
She dropped him off on his first day back at work, all tiny and blonde and perfect, and when she hopped out of her Volkswagen and went up on her tiptoes to kiss him, I swear she hovered an inch above the concrete. When Kirk saw me standing there after she left, his face went white.
“That’s new,” he said, gesturing wildly in the direction she’d driven off in. “New as in, like, yesterday. We weren’t together when–“
I held up a hand.
“What happened last week was just two friends having fun.” I gave him a big, toothy smile for garnish. “I’m happy for you.”
And he believed me, too.
The night Davey got rejected from the Sentinels, he told me that having a little bit of something great was much worse than having none of it at all, and I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes. I loved him, but I didn’t understand how he could’ve been so disappointed. I mean, what did he expect? The Sentinels have a woman who can stop a tsunami with her mind and a guy who opens wormholes to Jupiter whenever he sneezes. Why would they need someone who couldn’t so much as throw a KitchenAid mixer across a room?
But after seeing Kirk’s new girlfriend… I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on poor Davey.
Because, man, what the hell had I expected?
Well, fuck that. School let out in two months, and it was going to be the summer of Roz, baby. I’d paint my nails a new color every week. I’d buy that vintage sundress that had been languishing in my Etsy cart all winter. I’d flirt and dance and fuck, and I’d shake Kirk Kittredge off like a bad cold.
Whelp, you can’t say that I didn’t try.
I started feeling weird during Spring Break, but I chalked it up to nerves. The second week was when things started to get truly, undeniably bizarre. The pregnancy and STD tests all came back negative, and my cycle came and went.. My doctor assured me I was fine, but I knew something was deeply, deeply wrong.
I was eating double my daily calorie intake, masturbating constantly, and running twelve miles before sunrise, but none of it did more than take the edge off of this… fever, or whatever it was, and none of it was what I really wanted. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did I had horrible nightmares about my bones crawling around inside my skin, but I spent every day feeling as if I’d injected Red Bull into my heart with a hypodermic needle.
I remember this little girl I babysat when I was teenager; Ruby was her name. She was about three the first time I watched her, and after a peaceful evening, she suddenly threw herself onto the carpet and started squalling. Nothing I offered her helped. Snacks, toys, TV–she just screamed harder.
“What do you want?” I was on the verge of tears myself. “Just tell me what you need.”
“More!” Ruby screamed. “More, more, more!”
That was the closest I could get to summing it up. Every cell of my body was screaming for something I couldn’t give, in a language I couldn’t understand, and it needed about twenty tons of it.
Bree, God bless her, was the first to notice something was off. She invited me along on a weekend trip to Topsail Island with some friends.
“It’ll be good to get out of town, you know?” she said, placing her hand over mine like a concerned parent. “Just get some fresh air.”
I knew it wouldn’t help, but I said yes anyway.
It was at Topsail that I met… Ernie.
Ernie was a redhead, poor thing, with bulging eyes and a weak chin. But he had broad shoulders and a fat ass, and when he approached me at the tourist trap bar that first night, I realized that I hadn’t gotten laid since Kirk. He bought me a cranberry vodka and asked if I’d like to take a walk on the beach. Ten minutes in, with the moon high and round above us, Ernie tugged me over to a secluded spot between the dunes.
It wasn’t spectacular sex, but it wasn’t bad enough for me to end it.
Until he bit my shoulder. Hard.
“The fuck’s wrong with you?” I shoved him off, and he landed with a thud on the powdery sand, his asscheeks gleaming white as pearls. I touched the place where he bit me, and my fingers came away dotted with blood.
“Sorry!” He wrung his hands all sheepish-like, and I wanted to backhand him so hard his grandkids could taste my hand lotion. “I got carried away. Are you mad at me?”
I opened my mouth to chew him out, and then I shut it.
I don’t think I had an epiphany just then. Having an epiphany generally means that you understand what the fuck is going on.
But, hell, I had something.
“No,” I said slowly, “but…can I bite you back?”
Ernie blinked, surprised, but then he smiled.
“Sure!” he said, laughing indulgently, like I was a preschooler asking for a third pudding cup. “But just one little nibble, m’kay?”
I rolled my eyes and pushed him back against the sand.
While I rode him, I looked for somewhere to sink my teeth in. Biting his shoulder seemed too…obvious. His earlobe, maybe, though there wasn’t any good meat there. I imagined biting right through it, imagined its weight on my tongue, tiny and bloodless as an Altoid.
“Hey, Crazy Eyes,” Ernie panted. “You doing okay–“
I twisted my hips, and Ernie choked himself off with a breathy moan.
Why did I have to choose just one place to bite when there was so much of him just laid out like Christmas dinner? His muscular arms, his powerful thighs, the little mound of fat on his lower belly? How could I have ever thought he was plain? He was perfect, he was heavenly, he was–
The corners of my mouth ripped all the way up to my ears, and two giant mandibles burst out of my face.
It’s a blur after that. Ernie screamed, but for no more than a second. I remember the rich, heady taste of blood and fat mingled, the gristly texture of muscle as it slid down my throat. I remember two lancing pains between my shoulder blades, the sound of something, or many things, ripping. I remember laughing. I remember an orgasm. I remember joy so intense that I thought my heart would burst.
When I came to, Ernie was just a few scattered bits of bone and flesh, and I wasn’t human anymore.
Well, I wasn’t completely inhuman. My arms and legs and torso, though covered in blood and viscera, were still very much a woman’s, but I could see the hard, iridescent sheen of my mandibles in my peripheral, and beyond that, my wings.
Oh god, my wings.
I gathered what remained of Ernie and flew towards the horizon, dropping everything far enough into the sea that none of it would be recognizable as human by the time it washed ashore. When I landed back on the beach, the sun had just started to bleed over the horizon. I didn’t feel scared, or remorseful, or anything other than a surreal sense of peace, though I did wonder, vaguely, how Bree would react when she saw me.
As soon as I finished the thought, my skin began to slough.
When I peeled the last bit of dead skin away, my wings were gone, and when I put my hands to my face, it was perfectly smooth.
And for the first time in over a month, I felt completely satisfied.
Too bad it only lasted a couple days.
My dad wasn’t the best husband or father, but he loved him some Jesus. The night I left for college, carrying only what I could cram into my ancient suitcase, he followed me to my car, screaming that I had a bottomless hole in my heart that only God could fill, and no matter what I tried to fill it with, I’d always be empty.
But here’s the great thing about a bottomless hole, Pops: you may never fill it up entirely, but as long as you keep throwing stuff into it, you’ll always be a little fuller than you were before.
I’m not sorry about the men I ate. Why lie? I’m already in prison; crocodile tears aren’t going to help much now. Besides, you can’t guilt-trip Mother Nature. Raleigh PD might as well go arrest the leopard seal who ate the poor mommy penguin in March of the Penguins if the food chain pisses them off so bad. Whether human, insect, or a monstrous combo of both… a girl’s gotta eat.
And man, I ate good. Raleigh’s filled with men who won’t think twice about following a sweet young thing into an alley if she asks nicely. I didn’t even have to fuck them, god bless, which really expanded the menu.
I transformed with every feeding, and each time I got a little less human. I grew antennae after the third man, a pair of razor sharp forelegs after the seventh, and, after a would-be threesome with two baseball players from ECU, a glittering green exoskeleton. I was growing, too. By the time I ate my eleventh man, my mantis form was ten feet tall, and when I molted, getting out of all that skin was like trying to fight my way out of a deflating bouncy castle.
Each time was better than the last.
It’s funny, even after everything, I still don’t know what Kirk did to me. I mean, okay, he accidentally gave me a bigger, badder version of his powers when we had sex. What I don’t understand is how. Magic, science, alien heritage… I have no idea what Kirk’s deal is. Though Mantis Man worked with the Sentinels a lot, he was still a vigilante, and not required to disclose his identity to the public. All anyone could do was speculate about the origins of his powers. The most popular theory was that he’d been bitten by a radioactive praying mantis, but honestly, whether some pissed-off sorcerer cursed him to turn anyone he had sex with into a monster, or if the supposed radiation was to blame, it didn’t make much of a difference to me. Not enough of one to tell him about my snacking habits, anyway. We didn’t really talk much at work after Spring Break, though he did raise his eyebrows when he saw me easily lift a stack of boxes that no girl my size should have been able to pick up (I told him it was the collagen peptides I’d been mixing into my smoothies).
Though, if Kirk really does have a magical schlong capable of turning his partners into bloodthirsty insectoids, he should probably get that checked out, if only for his little girlfriend’s sake.
Come to think of it, I never saw her again after that one time. Be interesting to see what she’s up to these days.
But hey, not my circus, not my freakshow.
Admittedly, I got a little sloppy towards the end. I didn’t leave much of my victims behind, but my molted skins were another matter. They disintegrated into dust minutes after I shed them, and that dust was a bitch to clean. When the police ran it through forensics, they found, predictably, the DNA of a horrifically mutated praying mantis.
As you can imagine, Raleigh lost its mind. Everyone and the rat under their beds swarmed city hall, demanding Mantis Man’s head on a platter. The day they put a warrant out for his arrest, Kirk didn’t show up for work. After my shift ended, I drove to his apartment building and waited all night for his Neon to pull into his spot, but it never came.
I still can’t fathom how I didn’t realize it till that moment.
Crack open a book about bugs (hell, ask any goopy-nosed kindergartner who’s just discovered Animal Planet): what do you immediately learn about the female praying mantis? She’s bigger than the male, stronger too. After mating, she rips his head off and eats him for the precious nutrients inside his body, and no one but him will do, no matter how many how many aphids and dragonflies and bumblebees she eats to take the edge of her hunger off.
I held my head in my hands for a good twenty minutes. Then, I started laughing.
This had never been a bottomless hole situation. There was a Kirk Kittredge-shaped space in my stomach, and once I ate him, I’d be God herself.
A lot of girls here ask me for tips on going on a gory rampage in order to draw your archnemesis out of hiding. My advice? Just have fun and be yourself.
Honestly, I played the whole thing by ear. I saw a flyer taped up in my dorm’s kitchen for the NC Museum of Natural Science’s annual Bugfest, and I figured it was as good a sign as any. I just showed up downtown the day of, listened to some fair-to-middling live music, tried some of the fried ants on ice cream, and then I ripped the head off the guy nearest me, the geysers of blood from his severed carotids glittering like rubies in the late afternoon light.
I ate fifteen men in under ten minutes, and I grew so rapidly that my skins just kept falling off me like flaccid little party streamers. All those panicked victims, so scatterbrained with fear that they practically ran over all four of my hind feet to get away… I felt like the fucking rat from Charlotte’s Web. The police showed up at one point, firing bullets that just glanced off of my exoskeleton, helpless as pennies, and I ate them all too.
I was having such a great time that I was almost bummed when Kirk finally showed up.
Kirk hovered just above the big globe by the museum’s entrance, suit gleaming like a green star in the evening light. I drew myself up to my full height, which by then was about twenty feet.
“We don’t have to do this,” Kirk shouted, his wings tilting as he flew closer. “If you stand down, we can help you. That’s the easiest way out for both of us.”
I’ve never been good at comebacks, so I just charged him, almost slipping on one of the unzipped bodies by my feet as I ran.
“Okay,” Kirk replied, cracking his knuckles. “The hard way, then.”
I swear to God, no music has ever sounded sweeter than the way his voice shook just the tiniest bit on the last word.
Reader, I kicked his ass.
It’s pathetic, really, how fast he ended up speared through the left leg by one of my forearms, his mask ripped off and his face barely recognizable through the thick tracks of dried blood. He was smaller and (slightly) faster than me, but the blows he landed barely made me stumble. My exoskeleton covered me almost entirely, and the scant spaces between the plates were too small for even his bony little fists to hit.
The blows I landed on him? Don’t make me laugh.
I loomed over him, brushing his hair off his forehead with one of my antennae. I’ll never forget how small he looked then, how human. He flinched from my touch, but he was too weak to struggle.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. At least, I think that’s what he said. His jaw was kind of listing to the side. I clicked my mandibles together like grill tongs, ready to take the first bite.
When I looked up, I damn near screamed.
He was about fifty pounds chubbier, and he’d cut his shoulder-length curls short, but I’d know him anywhere.
Little Davey Lopez, that sweet, nerdy Guatemalan kid from Cary, North Carolina, who was so shy that he threw up before, after, and very nearly during his valedictorian speech, was standing in the middle of the bloody street, his chin raised and his fists balled up by his sides.
“Davey?!” I yelled, the same time as Kirk did.
“Wait,” I dragged Kirk across the pavement towards me, making him howl in pain. “How the fuck do you know him?”
“He’s my roommate!” Davey took a step closer. He was dressed in a white lab coat over jeans, with a thick pair of goggles over his eyes like he’d dashed from his evening chem class. “And I’m not gonna let you kill him!”
“No!” Kirk’s voice was barely a whimper. “You can’t do anything; just go!”
“Not without you!” Davey stretched out his hands to me, palms up like a supplicant. “Please, Rosalind. If there’s any part of you left, let him go.” Behind his goggles, his eyes shone with tears.
“I love him. Take me instead.”
Oh, for the love of God.
But Davey didn’t need me to change my mind; he just needed me to hesitate.
See, here’s the thing about men named David, biblically speaking: they’ve got a knack for taking down giants, and for doing a lot with just a little.
As it turns out, the average tranquilizer dart is way lighter than a can of tomatoes.
I barely saw Davey’s fingers twitch before the first one flew out of his coat sleeve and hit me in the neck, right between the plates of my exoskeleton..
I shrieked and stumbled backward, but the darts kept flying: out of his sleeves, his pockets, the cuffs of his jeans. Every last one found its mark: the joints of my legs, the place where my thorax met my abdomen. I fell, the pavement cracking underneath me, and the shadows at the edge of my vision closed in.
The last thing I saw was Kirk, cradled in Davey’s lap, looking up at him like he was the moon and stars.
When I woke up, I was a girl again. A girl in an ankle monitor, in an ironclad jail cell, with a cherry-red woman glancing shyly over her magazine at me from across the room.
Even in prison, I can’t escape the Davey Lopez show. Oh, sorry, the Hornet’s Nest show. The savior of Raleigh got himself a shiny new title when he was sworn in at the Southeastern Sentinel’s headquarters in Charlotte two months ago, along with a shiny new suit: a glistening full-body armor covered in tiny silver scales, each one razor sharp, removable, and dipped in the same fancy little tranquilizer potion he’d whipped up himself the night I attacked Bugfest.
Fucking chemistry majors, always showing off..
Anyway, he’s everywhere now, from the People magazines the library stocks, to the radio stations that the guards outside my cell play just loud enough for me to hear, to the news channel on the crappy TV in the gym (the only channel it plays).
Curiously, Mantis Man is still going the vigilante route, even though the Sentinels must be begging him to join the team at this point. But then, if everyone knew Mantis Man was just little Kirk from Whole Foods, they’d know that the monster from the Bugfest Massacre was his former coworker. And if our gossipy coworkers realized that my mutation and subsequent killing spree began shortly after our little roll in the hay? My, wouldn’t that be a PR nightmare?
God, it’s enough to drive a girl insane.
But then, prison will make you do daffy shit anyway. The last time Ursa got sent to solitary, I got so bored that I read the ancient encyclopedia in the library just to have something to do. I will say, though,, you can still learn a lot fun facts from the humble encyclopedia. For instance, certain insects can regrow lost limbs during molting periods.
The praying mantis is one of them.
When Slug Woman almost killed that lunch lady a few weeks ago, I pulled her off just in time, and Miss Ellie’s been good to me ever since. She slides me a little extra at dinner, and sometimes even does me favors if I ask politely.
The most recent one? A tiny serrated carving knife, slipped under my napkin at lunch.
Here’s the deal about our ankle monitors: trying to use your powers will get you a nasty shock, but so much as laying a finger on them to get them off will get you fried. The metal is designed to recognize the wearer’s fingerprints, and if it does? Lights out.
Which is a pity, because without mine on, I’d be strong enough to snap Ursa’s off in a heartbeat. And that’s what I plan to do, after she saws my foot off.
I told Ursa about my plan last week. When I showed her the knife, she just about passed out.
“Ever seen Saw?” I whispered, laughing in spite of everything.
Ursa nodded vaguely, then down on the edge of her bed, dazed. I held her and ran my fingers through her hair, telling her that I’d be fine, that it’d be rough to see all that blood, but I grew an entire new body every time I molted, so what was one foot?
“If they catch us before I finish,” she finally said, lacing her fingers through mine, “they’ll separate us. Send one of us off to the asylums in New York or Cali, and I’ll never see you again.”
Fuck it, I really do love her. No point in denying it. I’d crack the whole world open just so she could suck out its glistening red guts like oysters on the half shell. Wall yourself up all you want; you’ll still find creative ways to get your heart broken. You might as well just grab the good shit while you still can, whether you think you deserve it or not.
And who knows? Maybe this time will be different.
See, we’re getting out of here tonight. Not just Ursa and I: everyone. We’ve been cooped up for too long, and I think we all deserve a girl’s night out.
And God, I can’t fucking wait. Today I spent lunch huddled in the corner with Ursa, Slug Woman, and Patty Acid, all starry-eyed and waxing poetic about the first thing we’ll eat once we’re free. Ursa can only eat solid rock, and certain items off the Arby’s menu, and she wants to go to Florence to see if Michelangelo’s David tastes as good as it looks. Patty Acid wants to go to NYC and get one of everything at Veselka. And me? Well, I don’t think it’s any mystery who the first two handsome gentlemen on my menu are.
It’s just a matter of which one I’m shoving into my gullet first.
By Valerie Valdes
Caroline has this to say about the story: When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. I adored all of the characters in their own way, but I was oddly fascinated by Ursula Ditkovich, the shy, kind-hearted daughter of Peter’s landlord who has a very obvious crush on our favorite wall-crawler. I always wondered what kind of role she might have played if she’d been given a bigger part in the series. Last year, while I was rewatching the second movie, I remember thinking, “aw, she’s so sweet.” I also remember thinking, “but what if she wasn’t?”
I liked how this story explored the mundane aspects of a supervillain’s origins along with the more fantastical elements, and how rather than wallowing in guilt or self-loathing, the character accepts her powers, even reveling in them. And in the end, everyone finds love in their own way.
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And our closing quotation this week is from Catherynne M. Valente, who said, “Heroes in motion tend to stay in motion, but villains in motion tend toward mass destruction.”
Thanks for joining us, and may your escape pod be fully stocked with stories.
About the Author
Caroline Diorio’s short fiction has been published in Joyland Magazine, Apparition Lit, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and more. She lives in, and is endlessly inspired by, North Carolina.
About the Narrator
Sandy’s fiction can be read in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Escape Pod, and Reckoning, among others. In addition to writing fiction, Sandy also narrates audio fiction. When not writing, Sandy works as an anesthetist in Georgia. More information and links to stories can be found at http://www.sandyparsons.com/