She tapped her pencil against her lips, not chewing on it. Very purposefully not chewing on it. She’d read the other day that handheld objects, like her beloved writing utensils, once put in a mouth, were the equivalent of licking a toilet.
She was not a toilet licker. She was not a toilet licker. The bite marks on the dull pencil called her bluff.
Her next appointment, scheduled for 2:30 was two minutes late. Normally, that would be a bad sign, a red flag that the candidate was unprepared, uninterested, or unrealistic about workplace expectations. She, however, wasn’t too put off. Villains weren’t supposed to care much about expectations or proper conduct. They were, hmmm, difficult to deal with was a bit of an understatement. They were divas.
The author, the pencil chewing woman who sat in the rolling office chair, had everything for her next work hammered out to her liking. She had a fantastic heroine, full of angst, that still was relatable, funny even. She swore. She drank beer. She wore leather boots with evening gowns. Her heroine had an appropriate love interest who was dark, brooding, and lived to expertly call the heroine on her shit. The world building was done, which added a check mark to the author’s least favorite part of penning in a novel.
The only thing she was missing, a rather big piece, was the villain. The heroine needed to fight someone (besides her inner demons) for the story to flow. She had to stand for something, against someone who was the embodiment of the opposite of all her values. The author had put out a call, an invitation for all bad guys in the area to interview for said position.
So far, she’d been vastly disappointed.
At eight o’ clock a man dressed like an accountant had sidled into her office, sat stiffly in the chair opposite her and gave her his best smolder. It wasn’t a remarkable look. In fact, if the author had been typing away at her computer she would have used the words, “clearly needs laxatives,” to describe it.
“Well, you’re sallow and conventional in appearance. What do you have going for you in the evil department?” she’d asked, leaning back, truly believing he was going to whip out something heinous. She couldn’t wait. Books need bad guys. Authors need bad guys. She needed him to not suck.
He hunched closer to her. She couldn’t really call what he did a lean since his back curved into a droopy c shape with ease. She almost imagined he would tap his pale fingers against her desk for added drama.
“I embezzle!” he said in a mock hiss.
“You said what now?” she asked, hoping she’d misheard. Maybe he’d said, “I grow a muzzle!” and she’d just unfairly attached the mundane word to his mundane outer shell.
“I embezzle,” he said, “I work my way to trusted positions in big companies and, when they’re not watching carefully, I start slowly draining them dry. I’m a shifty Bernie Madoff!”
“You want my heroine, a master at lightning quick Bakom, to fight a man that sits in an office an embezzles money from his betters? How would you defend yourself when she put you in a bone-breaking arm lock?” the author had asked, disgusted.
“Call the police,” he said as though he’d said, “grow steel claws out of my eye sockets and headbutt her with them.”
The author shook her head. “Go, just go,” she said, waving the man toward the door.
Next she’d met an evil queen. Evil. Queen. Pointed, dully metallic crown and all. The woman had a sinister laugh that could kill daisies but would have zero effect on a heroine whose favorite music came from 80’s hair bands.
“And what will you do, give my heroine a poisoned fruit of some sort?” the author had almost laughed, but she’d managed to keep her derision hidden at the last second.
“Poisoned? What? That’s a stereotype! I would curse her to sleep for a thousand years, no edibles needed…although I’d need some paper, some of her blood….” the woman’s eyes had gone starry, like she was imagining all the ingredients needed for a solid hex.
“A nap. You’re threatening my heroine with a nap. She’s in her twenties! A nap is a gift to her,” the author had said before thanking the queen and directing her not to touch anything on her way out.
So now she sat, her posture gone to crap, in her leather office chair, waiting for another would-be bad guy to come strutting in her office. She found herself musing sadly, wondering where all the bad guys had gone. Heroes couldn’t be heroes without someone as equally unbending spreading dissonance and terror. Harry Potter couldn’t be the Chosen One without a Lord Voldemort. Star Wars would be utterly, coma inducing boring without the Darths. Kate Daniels wouldn’t be an ass kicker if Roland hadn’t tried to enslave every corner of the earth. Now those, those were inspired villains. They’d have aced the interview process for sure.
She heard a polite knock on her door and yelled for this next interviewee to come in. Her hopes were low already, and they plunged even farther when a woman in a sparkly, periwinkle blue mu mu came sashaying into the office. She looked like someone’s young grandmother had taken a dip in a glitter pool.
The author slowly, deliberately began to knock her head against her desk.
“What do you do, shoot rainbows out your butt until everyone around you wants to do themselves in?” the author asked, hope dying like a smothered fire inside her. Her book was a goner before it was even really realized. Such a waste.
“No ma’am, though that’s a superpower I’d love to see in action. I pop up at a person’s lowest point and give them whatever they ask for. Just once. No takesies backsies,” the woman said, a slick smile spreading over her cherubic cheeks.
“I think it’s been done before…” the author said, although the wheels started turning.
“Yes, probably. And how did it turn out for that woman?” the interviewee asked like a teacher prompting a student to the right answer.
“She moved to a castle, married a prince, and lived her days in splendor,” the author said.
“Ah, that’s a very bland take for a woman who writes stories, don’t you think? She married a man she’d only just met, went to live with him under his father’s nose, immersed herself in a life she had little training and no education for, and then expected him to be faithful to her despite their vast, nearly incomparable differences. She could have asked for a house of her own, for her stepmother to remarry in a land far from her, for her father to come walking through the door. She could have asked for a career, her own little flower shop at the end of the lane where she gleaned the fruits of her labor and made friends with those who frequented her shop. She could have asked for a position as a king’s adviser. Instead, she became the woman who wanted to go to the ball. I gave her that wish without suggesting the thousands of other doors open to her. I rejoiced in it, in fact,” the woman with the sweet grandmother’s face said.
“You truly are evil,” the author said, leaning forward, her smile hungry.
“Not evil, evil wears face paint and cackles like a lunatic. I’m devious. It’s much more complex,” the woman said, standing and brushing out her diaphanous mu mu.
The author stood too. She presented the woman her hand and said, “I can’t wait to see what my heroine does with you.”
“You really mean you can’t wait to see what I do to her,” the woman said, shaking the author’s hand with glee.
story written by Mandy Nachampassack-Maloney