You’re Not That Special

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For the 2100, June 27th, 2014

Secret Hero, soon before realizing she was one of 2100 of the same human, posted a sign that said, “Needed by the Needy” in front of her DJ booth. “Needed by the Needy” was the title of her mix tape, and the excuse would be advertising this mix tape, but also this was the motto she wanted to plaster on everything as new subtitle to Secret Hero. She put “Needed by the Needy” sat in front of her turntable like a name for it, like knights name horses. The turntable functioned as an exteriorization of this defining power. People shouted at her, she’d tap her earphones. Shrug her shoulders. She’d mouth “Can’t hear you.” It was a loud club, and her job to make it loud and make everyone deaf to everyone else. Nothing she could do. No interaction. Sorry, humanity, out of luck. Keep spinning.

But “Needed by the Needy” was also a hobby in her off hours, as pride driven as big game hunting. The way she’d prey on the Needy Ones developed from simple drink buying. They’d sit at the bar, converse with her. More like converse at her, as unidirectional as dancers shouting up at her DJ booth. Early on she tried to say with her eyes, “I’m using you purely for the self-importance dopamine, so shut up,” but they’d keep yammering. When later at the turn table they tried to talk to, the pain when she pretended she didn’t even see them was delicious.

The problem with this variety of dopamine addiction is the effect wears off too easily. When the simple drink buying failed to feed her like she needed it to, she started the friendship racket. She’d single out the most pathetic ones and say, “You’ve been coming to the club so much I feel like you’re my best friend.” The look in their eyes like witnessing paradise, for Secret Hero this was better than a megahit of any drug. She didn’t do drugs, and she didn’t even drink, but she couldn’t imagine simple consumption could equate to destroying lives.

In the middle of the friendship racket, she’d tell herself over and over as her predatory mantra, “Pretend to Care.” That’s what she was best at. She was the queen of Pretend to Care. If she could have two mottos they would be “Needed by the Needy” and “Pretend to Care.” She’d watch them crumble as they failed to reach her pedestal or get her real attention or know her outside of this. Soon the black ocean when Secret Hero, through force of pure will power, would turn these fake friends into pure nothingness. The total crumbling, from head to toe to soul to will to live, man, it was tasty.

There was this one guy named Arthur she used to know in high school (and she used to know everything about people then) but now not so much and everything she used to know and care about was jettisoned into a waste incinerator in her soul fueled by pure hate. This Arthur guy wanted to meet after this long set for drinks. It’s not like that, he told her. He’s married, he told her. He just wants to catch up, blah blah blah. Turns out after a couple times of Pretend to Care, they’re all of a sudden best friends, and he’s there every night. This would be her masterpiece, almost too delicious.

It got better: his wife beat him, scratched his face until it bled, and Secret Hero was the only one he had in the world who’d listen. He’d come in with scars up and down his body, bruises and black eyes, one time even a broken pinky. “My wife has a bad temper.” Who cares what the ogre’s name was, the more monstrous his stories and scars, the more monstrous Secret Hero imagined her. She delayed and delayed the final breaking, like a great tease artist, but when she cut the tie, ignored him like a nonexistence, it was a masterpiece.

Maybe he killed himself, maybe left his wife, who cares? Secret Hero saw herself as a herd-thinning wolf, killing the weak. If she ever did drive any of her victims to suicide, all the better for the gene pool, but she never cared enough to do follow up research.

But then she swallowed the wrong prey with Eve Eeny. She had the crazed look of a crab snapping but delicate otherwise. When Secret Hero saw that look in her eyes, she wondered if she could finally drive someone to orgasmicly commit suicide right in front of her. Eve Eeny tried to signal “We need to talk,” but Secret Hero was smarter than that (as she was smarter than most things). Later at a picnic table behind the club smoking a secret cigarette (her lone substance addiction she would always only ever do alone and kept secret from everyone for no real reason), Eve sat down beside her. Secret Hero wanted to scream but swallowed it. She’d already hooked Eve with her indifference, and displays of legitimate fear would ruin her hard work.

“Sorry to scare you,” Eve said.

“You didn’t.” Secret Hero looked around for weapons just in case. This could be the karmic consequence of her consuming friendship victims, one wacko she didn’t even know offs her in a back alley.

“It’s just I have…There’s things you need to know.

“Like what?”

Then Eve said, “We are the same person.” She left it at that as if that was clear.

“I don’t follow.”

“We are the same human being.” That didn’t clarify as she only changed one word. “We were born simultaneously. There are 2100 of us. We’re having a reunion.” She gave Secret Hero a flier. “The 2100,” it said. “Reunion of the Co-Born.”

“I don’t understand any of this,” said Secret Hero, giving up the mystique of superior knowledge for the sake of better understanding. Her gut, normally used for optimal predation, told her that this Eve lady was being genuine, and there was some connection between them she couldn’t quite place. “What do you mean we are the same person?”

Eve said, “Do you covet the regard of others just so you can reject them because you get a high?”

Secret Hero said, “Who doesn’t?” as if this was a common practice.

“That’s kind of our signature move. I do it with ghosts. Man, the heartbreak on a rejected ghost, unbelievable.” She was clearly a crazy person, but still Secret Hero wanted to know more.

She wanted to go to the reunion of the 2100 if only to solve the mystery of its existence. She made a mixtape for the occasion called “Myriad Stolen Night Cars,” decided to bring her boombox in her backpack, just in case demonstrating a singular skill could give her any advantage.

For many years, Secret Hero had worked on isolating this one pure sound she heard in a dream. She spent hours every day on that one note. She wondered if isolating this pure sound was her life’s mission, why she’d been given the fuel of misery. In the small part of herself that regretted all her destructiveness and delight, she wondered if this elusive purity could compensate for anything she’d done.

Most of the people at the 2100 reunion (and Secret Hero had noticed only the humans at first) remained isolated with those judgmental eyes Secret Hero must’ve given everyone. Imagine a meeting of vampires who are only capable of interacting with victims. The first step is to find the weak and open. To prey on an equal parasite would be a contradiction to the essential principles of soul destruction. But outside of this, there was nothing there, the 2100 were too untrusting of nonvictims (in this way “bestfriend” was less a lie and more complicated than the prey ever understood).

Eve Eeny was somehow different. This distrust seemed absent. This may be what real kindness looked like, but Secret Hero would never fall for it. Eve introduced Secret Hero to two friends (or “friends,” who knows?) sitting at a table together unlike anyone else there. “This is Dr. Havelock.”

Secret Hero said, “What are you a doctor of?”

Dr. Havelock said, “Just a doctor.” Good one. No hierarchical comparisons plus mystery plus she could go crazy on you any minute. Secret Hero regretted not thinking of that.

Eve said, “Show her your zombies.”

Dr. Havelock said, “Okay but brief background: are you familiar with the singer John Denver?”

“Yes” and Secret Hero rolled her eyes. They were both slipping into subtle habits of soul crushing. She tried to stop herself, certain the other versions of herself must know her tricks.

Dr. Havelock said, “John Denver has tiny people living inside him. Or used to. When he died, I dug him up and stole his tiny people. I made them all zombies.”

She was crazy. They all were crazy. But then Secret Hero saw the first proof that maybe there was a little more to this than some mass mutual insanity. Dr. Havelock pulled a breath mint can out of her pocket and dumped the contents on the table. Zombies. Tiny zombies. Hundreds of them stumbling all over the table as Dr. Havelock gently wrangled them. “I love these guys.”

“I named them all after sitcom characters. There’s J.D. and Dr. Cox. This is Donna and Donna (Donna Reed and That 70s Show).” And so on.

Eve introduced her to another friend: “This is June Einstein.”

June said, “I’m a world traveler. I develop relationships with buildings that become sentient.” She started showing wallet photos of her world travels and the sentient buildings as if anybody cared. “I started out with movie houses, gas stations. Boy those waitresses were pissed when I brought the restaurant home. Here’s me with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

Secret Hero said, “That seems painful.”

June said, “I’m sure he’s still recovering.”

“I’m glad you three are nice,” said Secret Hero. “This whole concept seemed like a terrible idea. Who would even propose this reunion? I mean knowing what we’re like. I mean you bring together a lot of people who define themselves as special and above everyone. What’s the point?”

Eve said, “It is possible to get over this sickness of our shared being. I used to have a ghost addiction, and I’m over it.”

Secret Hero said, “That can’t be common. The only purpose I would imagine for a meeting like this is kill us all. Whoever planned this wants to kill us so she could be the last remaining special one.” With this declaration, Secret Hero may have won the table. Just being a DJ seemed so far below creating tiny zombies, Secret Hero needed something beyond them. She’d be smartest by pointing out what seemed to be an obvious murder plot (but she saw obvious murder plots everywhere). They were silent. They changed subject. There was nothing else to do. “So I hear the monsters and superheroes are coming up soon.”

They spent the following half hour sharing techniques like a professional conference: “My favorite technique is the intervention. I corner the prey and tell him just how wrong and weird he is for his own good.” At “for his own good” the whole table howled with laughter. The old Pretend to Care line. “We should mail each other all our techniques.”

Then it was time for the parade of monsters and superheroes. They came into the convention center accompanied Led Zeppelin music. They probably thought they were original. Superheroes mostly chose “Kashmir.” Monsters mostly chose “When the Levee Breaks” or “I Got a Girl Who Can’t be True.” Most of the superheroes and monsters were males, surprisingly.

There was one called The Wound with a gaping chest wound. The Wound sort of created an “i” with a split through the body from the sternum all the way down so he had long legs and too many joints.

There was one called The Ring who had a shimmering gold ring inside of which everything was indelible and inviolable. Anyone who blasphemed that scared ring was cursed to deteriorate into nothingness to a barrage of “How. Dare. You.” Say, for example, The Ring placed a random fork inside the sacred circle, and even if you joked “Let’s outlaw spoons,” The Ring would say, “How. Dare. You.” and made the blasphemer collapse into a tiny ball until soon there was nothing left. Secret Hero’s table saw this happen. “Serves him right.”

Then there was one called Schadenfreude who was all gray scraggly stone in monstrously strong gorilla proportions. Schadenfreude had porcelain fangs and strapped on his back a sword and a hammer bigger each than most humans present. All his old man wrinkles had humans inside them engaged in trench warfare. “I love Schadenfreude,” Dr. Havelock said and gave a wink like this love was the worst variety. “He’s a Promusaurifex like John Denver. That means he has tiny people inside him.”

Secret Hero said, “But we’re all the same person. That seems incestuous to love yourself like this.”

“Loving ourselves is kind of the whole point of our existence,” said Dr. Havelock.

Next the Lava Popes entered to “Misty Mountain Hop,” the obviousness of which became clear when they formed a lava mountain. Lava Popes were very literal. An army of popes made of lava erupting from the ground. One wall collapsed. But it seemed like a work, like the wall had been gimmicked to collapse this way. All the lava that splashed them was cold. “It’s only bodily fluid. Pretty gross,” said Eve. They formed a mountain so tall, they also disintegrated the ceiling.

Then Secret Hero saw something far above them descending like a meteor. She guessed this is the one who gimmicked the ceiling for this entrance. “My guess is this flying self would be the murderer,” Secret Hero said pointing upward to the meteor.

“That’s the Mountain of Screaming Mako Sharks,” said Dr. Havelock. He was another literal one, a man shaped giant of black stone filled with sharks. The screaming seemed to emit a sonic blast that scattered members of the 2100 to atoms. Witnessing the death of multiple selves hardly elicited any emotions, and Secret Hero was shocked by how cold she had become. She was right about the murder. She loved being right, but she hated being right. The Lava Popes were wiped out first. They collapsed into cave-like wounds. The Wound and Schadenfreude fought valiantly, but they had little defense against the sonic screams and inevitable atomization.

Secret Hero suddenly found herself jealous of this miraculous heroism. If only she could be like that. Of all the feelings she could have felt at this moment, jealousy was the most surprising.

The Ring put the ring around herself and made herself indelible. Secret Hero could understand this.

Secret Hero ducked behind a table with Eve and Dr. Havelock as if this could do anything to save them (June skipped out when business got real).

Eve suddenly started laughing. She said, “‘All the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!” and I’ll look down and whisper “No.”’’” Eve laughed an even louder and crazier laugh. “Somebody had to make that reference,” she said before dissipating as atoms along with Dr. Havelock.

As Secret Hero ran away and ducked into the kitchen, she remembered a story Arthur told her during her friendship racket and the Pretend to Care. He and his wife were going to see Watchmen with some friends. The wife wanted to sit near the aisle because of bladder problems. When the two friends arrived, Arthur stood to let the two friends have the aisle seat, and the wife in rage dug her claws in so deep she drew blood all the while smiling. Four beads of blood remained on his arm even later when he saw Secret Hero. She refused to save him like she refused to save anybody.

Now she put her mixtape in her boombox and fast forwarded to the pure note she found. This was her purpose. Stop the Mountain. Save the 2100. But it didn’t do anyting. Maybe she had to get closer, hold the pure note aloft against the sonic screaming. Maybe it did little good to hide away in the kitchen now. She looked at the door going into the ballroom and the door going out to safety. She could get away so easily, out to a world where there was no more 2100. Except maybe a handful of survivors who would know better now than to have a reunion. Then there was the Mountain of Screaming Mako Sharks who may seek her out some day, but she was so small. Why would he care? Why would he put the effort into finding little her?

The choice was simple really. She tucked her boombox under her arm and got the hell out of there.

Erzsebet Foldi

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For the 2100, June 27th, 2013

Secret Hero discovered at a young age she could make her little lavender plastic record player play just by wanting it enough. “Everything is nothing if you got no one,” she heard it play and then it stopped. Secret Hero was frightened when this happened the first time.

She decided to want it again. Long silence. Long staring. Then the record player gave a slow demon mumble, then, “You came walking in,” slow mumble, then “the real thing.” And so on.

“Oh my God,” she said. She looked down out of her window at the other kids playing across the street. It was hard to get them to do anything by wanting and this relationship with a lavender record player was so much more rewarding. The distance away from the kids felt good. The cold wood of windowpane felt good, far better than human play. She crouched in the corner so no other kid would see her and kept wanting music, wanting it and wanting it over and over until she played full records this way.

Secret Hero as an adult DJed in a lot of clubs, including a singles dance club called Guys and Dollys owned by a sentient teddy bear named Struggles. He told Secret Hero he built the club for her, but he was always saying ridiculous things like that to make her laugh.

“This club was here long before I met you,” she told him.

“I willed it into existence because I knew you needed the perfect place.”

At least it had her beloved elevated DJ booth to keep her above the terrible dancing people and their sweating hairy human bodies. She could stand back in most shadow like the entity the music turned her into.

But then Struggles did his dumb dances and made her laugh, invited her onto the floor to dance as well. She would never ever come, but Struggles might be the only one to make that happen.. Their whole friendship was this laughing denial.

Then one day while Secret Hero played her set, she saw Struggles came in with his three hulking bodyguards in fuzzy coats the deepbruisepurple of pimps. Those bodyguards were in truth all fuzzycoat and muscle from top to bottom. They had no necks or faces or any other sign of humanity but stood a head and a half taller than all other patrons. Sometimes seeing the fuzzy pimp coat heads was the only way Secret Hero knew Struggles was in the building. He was so small he drowned in the ocean of dancing people. She wondered if he started those wacky dance circles only so people could finally see him and he could be in the center. Or maybe it was only so Secret Hero could see him. One bodyguard pointed to Secret Hero, and then he pointed menacingly to the loft behind her. Struggles had never been mad at her in all the years she’d known him, but this seemed like angry pointing.

She extended her set as long as she could reasonably get away with. The uncertainty of what an angry Struggles would be made Secret Hero want to delay the experience, but soon her time ran out.

The glassed loft behind the DJ booth, built to be her lone retreat, was set up like a second bar. They sometimes used it for private parties, even a little elevated turntable for her to play, plush couches all around, now creepy in its emptiness in contrast to the crowded club. Struggles sat in a booster seat at a small table and lifted his whiskey glass with both of his tiny teddy bear paws. Since his insides were only plush, this made him wet and stinky. The khaki colored fur of his chest, dark and whiskymatted, could’ve lit on fire easily if Struggles decided to pretend to smoke. He was made of more burnable stuff than humans. “Secret Hero, come in and sit,” he said. “Want some whiskey?”

“I don’t drink.”

“I know, but boys can dream,” he said with the random creepiness of someone who imitates humanity.

“You’re not a boy.”

“Indeed.”

Struggles tapped his fuzzy paw against the table, a nervous tic or a method a tougher guy might use to make a menacing sound in the silence, but the table patting did nothing. “So…been busy lately? Still DJ down at the Mouse Factory after hours?”

“What’s this about, Struggles?”

“You think this is about something? Does it have to be about something?”

“You took me off the stand. I’m guessing it’s not to chat.”

“We used to chat. We used to have long chats. Is it so unusual I’d want one now?”

“…Yes.”

“Fine. It’s about the tapes. I sent you tape after tape after tape, and you didn’t respond.”

“And you don’t know why?”

“Of course I don’t know why.”

“Seriously?”

“Should I?”

“You wanted me to do music for your rap career…”

“Is it so wrong to want a rap career?”

“But you called yourself St. Rapes.”

“You see, it’s like Saint Rapes and Street Rapes and Strapes, like strafes and stripes. Because I strafe over other rappers. Also, I like stripes, and I can wear stripes in my performances.”

“Yeah, but on the tapes you say stuff like ‘St. Rapes raping across the countryside.’”

“So you listened to the tapes? That’s wonderful.”

“You’re missing my point.”

“You don’t like my word play?”

“No, I don’t think rape is funny.”

“Why didn’t you go by Struggles? That’s a fine rap name.”

“Struggles is my given name. That’s awfully hypocritical of you quote unquote Secret Hero quote unquote. Nobody knows your given name.”

“It’s Erzsebet Foldi.”

“Oh…I didn’t know that.”

“You never asked.”

“Oh. I thought I knew you a long time.”

“No problem. Not a lot of people care to.”

“I don’t think you know how personae work in performance. As St. Rapes, I’m a douche. I’m arrogant and stupid because that’s hilarious. Rape is wrong, sure, whatever, but in my St. Rapes persona, I don’t know that. I act like I think it’s cool. That equals hilariousness.”

“I really can’t be friends with you if you think that’s true.”

Silence.

“Oh…I didn’t realize…it was like that.” He was trembling. He liked to pretend he was drunk when he drank, but this was involuntary. “That’s not a big deal. I…I make friends so easily, I can hardly keep them all straight. I sometimes even forget we’re friends. My best friends are these three guys. They’re Cuddle Monsters. They’re only golems you buy at the store. But inanimate objects only come to life if you give them love so they must love me, right?”

“I don’t think it works that way.”

“Me and the Cuddle Monsters, we have long conversations you wouldn’t believe.”

“Cuddle Monsters have no faces and no mouths and ears.”

“I didn’t say it was two sided.”

Silence.

“Look, I’ll do the music for you if you do one thing for me.” She pulled a book out of her satchel and handed it to Struggles. “It’s called Teaching Men Not to Rape.” Struggles had difficulty holding it in his little paws. He said, “Condescending title. Like all men rape and need to be taught not to.”

“We use it at the crisis center.”

“Why? For you to feel superior?”

“Write a song based on these ideas, and I’ll help you make the music.”

“That would turn St. Rapes into the wrong kind of asshole.” Secret Hero stared at him with the sort of cold severity she hoped one day could cause legitimate combustion. Struggles, in a weird sort of terror, said, “That’s…okay, I’ll do it.”

Secret Hero knew he would. She wanted to say, “After that, climb on the roof and jump off. After that, climb in a blender, push on.” He’d do it. She only wanted him to do this because it would be the most satisfying way to humiliate him.

Like the idiot he was, Struggles opened the door separating the loft and the club and shouted above the music: “Party in the Champaign room! My bff is still my friend!”

He put a record on the player in the smaller room that competed psychotically with the music in the bigger room: “Baby when I met you I found a peace unknown, I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb.”

The whole room, she suddenly realized, was amazingly the same lavender as her childhood record player.

“Stick around,” Struggles said. “We can hash out the song details and our practice schedules and all that.”

She did stick around, but she sat in a booth alone as Struggles danced with a hundred people he essentially paid to like him, nearly as humiliating as the blender image. Struggles tossed money and pretended to be drunk because he so needed others to think this meant something.

The afterparty lasted so long only sleeping people remained on couches and Struggles alone dancing with Cuddle Monsters. Secret Hero in the same spot all night found herself slipping into sleep when music got slow and quiet and dancing got repetitive.

She woke up when she felt Struggles humping her leg. She kicked him across the room.

“I’m drunk,” he mumbled in his heap.

Secret Hero stood and walked away without saying anything.

Struggles shouted after her: “Just gonna leave like that? You know what your problem is?” She stopped and waited to hear what her problem was. She didn’t know sometimes. But he had nothing. He staggered in his pretend. Or maybe she’d just kicked him that hard.

“Well?”

“No, seriously, you know what your problem is? You’re frightened. Too scared to be you. That’s why I’m your only friend. Because I can’t hurt you, and you’re too afraid of hurt to have any other type of friend. I’m just somebody you can stomp on and he keeps coming back for more stomping. You have to think you’re better than me to feel okay at all. When you squeeze all the evil joy out of me you can get, you drop me like a dry husk, some lonely pathetic shit you used to know. The problem is you’ll always be afraid and you’ll always think you’re too good for me or anyone like me and you’ll never feel. And you’ll never love because assholes who only care about their own fears can never know how to love!”

“Are you done?”

“I think so.”

“You can keep the book. I hope you read it.” She left. She didn’t come back to that club.

She thought about Struggles every once in a while only to laugh. He called every day for the first week, but then he stopped and never called again.

She liked to ride the elevator to the top of the tallest building in the city at a height where the sky looked lavender, stand back in the concrete corner of the observation booth, feel all the cold of it. In this way, Secret Hero was able to make things okay, at least in that moment.

Nintendo :oR: Multiply the Screaming by Millions

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(for 2100)

 Benny gave birth to Nintendo because she hated everything, but Charlie hated everything too, so they could hate everything together.

 Charlie made or modified all those Easter dresses  because she never wanted anyone to wear them (all the unworthy and jealous legions) (and Benny was the only one who knew this about her intent) only to sit on dummies in museums made just for Charlie’s legacy so Benny could be there hosting tours and say, “Ha ha, you dumbass. This is not for you. You’d make a dress like that stink too bad to wear.” Benny would be there with her every afterschool in the little shop Charlie made out back of her house, and Benny would be fiddling with a little needle and string like anything she did did anything to the dresses, but at least she’d get to say, “These are the dresses we made,” and feel a little less like she lied it. When the other kids called her weirdo, she always had the future worship of Easter dresses from God’s own patterns to laugh at those fools in secret.

 Her greatest addition to the birth of Nintendo came from a mask given to her by providence. In her honest history she’d only confess to biographers on her deathbed, she stole the Nintendo mask from a girl in shop class everyone hated, Greta, the girl who tinkered with all the rejected machines like she cared and believed in something (idiot), and everyone on the planet made fun of her for it (everybody may’ve made fun of Benny and Charlie likewise, but at least they weren’t as low down as Greta).

 Benny: “What’s this dumb machine you’re making, Greta?” This machine was a mask Benny put on (because why not?) that covered her face from forehead to chin with a flat mirrored surface like Cobra Commander.

 Greta: “It’s a mask” (because maybe she thought obvious statements weren’t a total waste of time).

 Benny: “Why would you waste time making machine masks?” As she spoke, she saw (the mirror was one sided) a pixilated face like old fashioned videogame faces appeared on the mask and spoke with an autotune voice.

 Thus, Nintendo had a forgotten third mother (but once Benny made the mask hers alone, Greta was so gone forever from this business she’s hardly even worth mentioning) and the mask now was only something she found by chance in the middle of nothing. The magic of Jesus delivered the mask via thunderbolts of heaven to facilitate their destiny to go hardcore apocalypse on all of existence (or whatever). That’s around the time Jesus magic let her find the rainbowcolored Tasselactor wig in an old abandoned grown over park below an arch of chipped off gold like Jesus, in his cultural closemindedness, got the whole leprechaun gold and rainbow set up backward.

 Then Benny saw the Easter dresses Charlie turned into drag dresses in her free time. The Easter drag dress Benny put on first to model was blue like Easter egg dye and patterns, like Paas made dresses, so it became the Paas Dress in their personal legends. It hung fine at the top but pooled below her like the whole thing melted into puddles (like fitting ever mattered for anything).

 Charlie: “You’re too small to be a drag queen. Maybe I can corner the market on a line of short-and-small drag dresses.”

 Benny: “Close your eyes.” Benny reached into her bag to pull out the Cobra Commander mask and rainbow wig. “Open your eyes.” But this greatness got no response at first. “What’s the matter?” The face came up the happy pixilated face on the blank mask, the electronic voice. “Don’t you think I’m pretty?” She stroked the long straight rainbowcolored hair. “My name is Nintendo. I always wished to be a real girl, and here I am.”

 Charlie laughed.

 In this manner, Benny became famous.

 Because Nintendo in this personal legend embodied all the most awful qualities of popularity and popular music (compounded with Benny’s conviction to delight the only one who knew the joke) she became the most famous pop star on the planet.

 When Nintendo was a brand new creation, she played drag clubs where Charlie sold dresses. Soon she was in local papers and on talk shows as a musical oddity where she had to relate her origins anew to each interviewer.

 Nintendo: “I was born a Nintendo. I wanted to be a real girl. If you dream hard enough…” And so on. It was that easy.

 It was pop music created by people who hated pop music and hearts and love (Benny, at least, hated all music and made music only to show people they should hate themselves). To Benny, Nintendo’s music and the amount of people who loved it, nothing but hilarious. The songs weren’t hard to make, mostly beat presets in the too complicated computer system what’s-her-name put in the mask for no good reason. Add this to repeated uplifting pithy aphorisms in her computer voice like, “If you dream hard and your heart is big, you can have anything you love come true, true to you, true to you,” that sort of thing, random blather (like hearts and truth ever mattered for anyone but idiots and dumbasses).

 Charlie plugged away at all the Nintendo dresses for every show she got booked in which seemed like every show that existed. She was there for Benny all that summer (like they’d always been there for each other’s summers).

 Until she wasn’t.

 Charlie: “I got this offer to go to Paris.”

 Benny: “Why would you want to go to Paris? It’s awful.”

 Charlie: “I kind of want to study design. Some people say my designs are good.”

 Benny: “Who’s ever said that but me?”

Charlie: “A lot of people. Teachers. Then there’s also the people who offered to pay to send me to Paris. They kind of think my stuff is good.”

Benny: “They’re just having a joke on you, right?”

Charlie: “But you told me my dresses would be in museums one day.”

Benny: “When people stop sucking and we make them better.”

Charlie: “By doing what? Making fun of them?”

Benny: “By making them want to be like us. You and me represent the only non-sucking portion of the population.”

They had the whole summer before Charlie decided Paris was stupid (because of course she would, right?) (because anything like that had to be stupid, right?) but Charlie disappeared a lot (like a crazy person who just goes off and leaves loved ones for days) (it could only possibly be insanity). It started with the off and on no shows like Benny might expect her to be at a fitting for a pop festival Benny planned to destroy or a press junket or whatever where idiots would write her lies, but soon Charlie was only a void. She stopped being a real girl and became Benny’s eternal waiting.

Nintendo then went on stage in the same battered Easter dresses as always, including some nights the overworn Paas Dress from Nintendo’s birth, torn in secret absences never to be known in the mystery of Nintendo’s origin, but all the songs became about the awful inevitable failure of loving anyone, and her fans loved it because they’d had their heart broken like this, in the simpler but more incredible ripping away that leaves an unhideable hole, a heartbreak more intense and acute than any other possible pain, and Nintendo, as the hate monster she’d become, embodied all they needed. Nintendo didn’t hide her feelings, and her fans were people who couldn’t hide their feelings, who wanted to hurt along with others in the intensity of their openness, especially with the most open sentient computer who even had clothes disheveled by her misery.

But then Charlie came back.

Benny: “Where did you go?”

Charlie: “I don’t know. I go places sometimes.” She had a girl tagging along like some stray she picked up, face obscured by black hair, toes turned inward like eternally curled into shadow. “This is O. She’s going to be my assistant.”

Benny: “Your little orphan can go away. No one will be offended, and everyone will forget it happened.”

Charlie: “You’re having me make a lot of dresses. I need a hand.”

Benny: “When’d you find time for charity cases? You encounter a lot of crystal babies in whatever magical world you got kidnapped to?”

Charlie: “Okay, to be honest, as long as you promise to drop it, I’ll tell you where I go. I go to motels sometimes. I just find a motel and check in and stay there alone for days. I don’t tell you because I just want to go to motels, and I don’t tell anybody. But I go because, I don’t know, it’s quiet, and I meet people who don’t know me. I met O there and taught her a little bit about sewing. She seemed like she wanted to learn.”

Benny: “I can learn to sew.” (Why hadn’t she thought of that before?)

Charlie: “Don’t worry about it. You’ve got your thing. You’re the pop star. Go be the pop star.”

Benny: “I’m only that because you thought it was funny.”

Charlie: “Yes, you’re hilarious.” (There was no mirth, only tones of some new girl who sneaks off to motels and teaches random little bitches to sew.)

Benny wanted to walk away, but it would be so far and weird. They were on the stage for that night’s show, and the stage was covered in giant rainbow-colored stuffed animals, so big even the feet were taller than Benny. The rest of the theater was empty but Benny and Charlie and that new girl (who seemed to suck away any presence anyway like black holes). The empty sound of some machine click echoed. That girl remained (despite stares supposed to make her have multiple heart attacks) (she was only some lump of black hair, silence, and nothing but still refusing to be anything but solid).

Charlie: “We’ve got to go work on your outfits for tonight. You’ve got to practice.”

Benny: “I never practice. Because I hate it. We both hate it.”

Charlie: “You can’t hate all of it. I think the Easter drag dresses are great.”

Machine click echo.

Benny: “Me too.”

Charlie walked away with that girl. Off to sew. Or whatever.

But Benny had nowhere to go (alone and made microscopic by gratuitous animals) so she went to the sewing room and made her silence as offensive as possible.

Charlie (like everything was suddenly okay again): “O and I bonded because we both had dreams of being crucified in bloody and terrible ways. There must have been a thousand screaming voices in those dreams.”

Benny doodled O’s burning corpse on the fake set list for tech as she babbled vague lyrics for the nonsense she’d sing tonight (something about burning love and burning hate and crucifixion) (she hoped/wondered/didn’t care if crucifixion lyrics offended delicate ears) (something like, “hope you enjoy your crucifixion” (or whatever, didn’t matter)).

Benny: “Dream as in ambition or night vision?”

Charlie: “Why would we have ambition to be murdered?”

Benny fiddled with a flat pincushion pushing the pins through until they made a nail bed on the other side (she could make things as good as anybody made them) (they always called her the creative type) (creativity is a good name for things like nailbeds for torture).

Benny: “How’d you know she dreamed that if she’s a mute?”

Charlie: “What makes you think she’s mute?”

Benny: “I guess it’s only that she seems so, I don’t know, lacking in something.”

Charlie stepped out a moment to get whatever sewing stuff people like her needed, and Benny put her miniature nailbed down in front of O.

Benny: “Charlie said to put your hand on this hard until blood comes out. For sewing.” Benny grabbed her hand when she failed to respond, but O resisted. “Come on. She said it’s to fulfill a dream.” But Charlie came back before she could bring this creativity to completion. “We’re just bonding.”

Then later over the radio she heard about the Greatest Pop Star on the Planet Contest, created by the Electric Youth, an organization that does some stupid nonsense for pop music and some dumb charity for kids (like at this point in history anybody but Benny needed charity). She would win the contest, and Charlie and O would see her glory and bow down in supplication begging forgiveness for the great crime, whatever that great crime was.

So Benny ordered Charlie to make the dress the world’s greatest human would wear, and Charlie complied without complaining and brought her little grunt worker along.

Charlie: “O had a great idea for a dress for the Greatest Pop Star on the Planet contest.”

Benny: “Sounds terrible.”

Charlie: “You haven’t even…never mind.”

Charlie turned away, and Benny was sick of that sort of turning away, how dare she? Like she’s the one to be offended. She couldn’t let her get away with it.

Benny: “What is it then?”

Her real voice was always more innocent and desperate than she wanted it to be these days (like that fake Nintendo vulnerability had become a virus corrupting her real vocal chords).

Charlie: “Refurbish the old Paas Dress from back when we started.”

Neither one said a thing then or made a move to leave (though every muscle of everybody seemed ready to flee like prey animals). Charlie sat down to sew because all the shows gave her too much work to do to just up and leave like that (like lazy cowards). Then she started chitchatting (like that was something they still did).

Charlie: “Supposedly your big competition is this girl out of Korea called Met Gala, haven’t had time to look her up.”

Benny: “Why would you? This music is terrible. If I win this contest, I’m only winning at being terrible.”

Charlie: “There was a time when you liked some things. Remember that?”

Benny: “Yes. I remember that.” And Benny let her sew in peace (and left the room because she was the only one who had the power and right to leave).

For the Greatest Pop Star on the Planet contest, the whole stage was set up like a mini-Hoover Dam made of woven funhouse mirrors making all performers big and weird behind themselves.

Coquettish Korean teen pop star Met Gala was the first night headliner. She was a flaming black wall, six feet by six feet. When she approached the mic, the overwhelming sound, nearly blowing out the speakers, was a dozen screaming voices. The background music was still the regular pop beat. Here and there the mechanical beat would break and dulcet background refrains would counterpoint a “yeah yeah” but mostly the screaming.

The audience went nuts like this was the greatest thing, and Benny measured it against her own dumb audience (like screaming people can be anything but stupid).

Benny: “Oh God, not this crap again.”

She made sure Charlie could hear her jaded and highly intelligent dismissal for some reason.

Nintendo called her Greatest Pop Star on the Planet Contest song as the second night headliner “The Single Sustained Note of Resurrection to Mend All Broken Hearts,” and in the elaborate costume Charlie and O designed to win the whole contest based on the refurbished Paas Dress from their beginning, Nintendo entered, played one note on the piano, let it reverberate for a good three seconds, and she left. There was no way to compare the audience reaction to Met Gala’s (because Benny wouldn’t give them that power).

Charlie: “What the hell was that?”

Benny: “Exactly what I said I was going to do in the title.” Benny gave a smirk Charlie couldn’t possibly see (but she should know it was there anyway) (because she was her and they were them). “Sorry if they didn’t stare at your dress for forever. I know how long you and what’s her name worked on it.”

Benny and O gave each other death eyes (at least Benny assumed O was giving them back under that black hair) (Benny could hardly tolerate weak people who hid their faces that way).

The final headlining act of the Greatest Pop Star on the Planet Contest was the river. The concert organizers gave no indication of what this meant, but everyone presumed they meant the nearest river, the Nagsissy.

On the night the river was supposed to perform, the cameras were trained on the Nagsissy River, waiting for anything. After hours of waiting (audience silent and tense like any great moment in music where silence leads to some even greater ecstasy) part of the river lurched from its banks like a worm lifting and wiggling its head out of a hole (the crowd gasped). Half a mile of the river jerked out of its banks and onto a nearby city street, jerking forward like a worm, knocking cars aside. Its head was a thousand writhing tendrils of water. It arrived at the stage for the Greatest Pop Star on the Planet Contest and took up the whole stage, tail trailing out the door. Its music was a thousand screaming voices, deep bass rumble screaming, the sort of voices that get right inside of you and vibrate all your matter away to replace with its own being, far more intense than the flaming wall or anything else possible in music. The audience degenerated into spasms of ecstasy, frothing at the mouth, eyes rolled back, orgasming simultaneously.

It was clear who won the contest.

Benny: “Please. Give me a break.”

Benny, wearing her Nintendo mask, watched from atop a sheer silvery mirrored Hoover Dam wall behind the screaming river. Charlie came up behind her.

Charlie: “You don’t have to do this.” She had come to apologize for what she did. “I don’t know why you’re acting like this, but killing yourself is stupid.”

Benny: “I am not Benny. I am only Nintendo.”

Charlie didn’t laugh like she was (maybe) supposed to.

O was with her, and she approached like she was going to save her from suicide and everything would be better, and everybody would be great heroes forever, but they were all too dumb to realize maybe Benny wanted to be alone and watch her own embarrassing uselessness play out on stage below. O reached out a hand to lift Benny up, but Benny jerked too hard and pulled O off the side of the wall, and down she fell (to death if Benny remained lucky) but Benny tried to stand up, lost her footing likewise and fell.

The damndest thing was Charlie didn’t reach out a hand for either one. Not even an arm jerk of a deep need to save her friend like her lifelong friendship wasn’t even worth instinctive responses.

Benny and O fell together through nothing. Maybe they were going to die together, break into a thousand bloody pieces indistinguishable in the final mess of carnage. An amazing final pop star act that might be the only way to equal the river.

But, no, they fell safe into the river water that covered the stage now. (Maybe Benny knew that would happen. Maybe Charlie did too.) (If that made anything okay, who knows?)

The audience in spasms of ecstasy followed the plummeting Nintendo into the river to take their ecstasy to the only possible place, inside the body of their new god.

Hundreds of people drowned.

It was the greatest pop concert ever.

Despite everything, Charlie went to Paris. O disappeared and nobody cared that the whole world forgot about her.

Benny only had herself now and nobody ever knew she was Nintendo. The Nintendo mask, once it hit the water, became no longer usable forever, and Benny didn’t even try to fix it.

She prayed every night for the sun to fall into the ocean and for all the world to die precisely the way they wanted to and deserved.