The pizza place was unusually quiet, for a Saturday. He didn’t mind. He slid into his usual booth and waited for the others to show up, blinking against the light that shone through the multicolored lampshade over the table. He was used to working in the dark.
A shadow fell over the table, a shadow that wavered like the rustling of trees in a summer wind. “Greetings, Wombat. I trust you are well?”
“Hey, Ron. Yeah, I’m okay. You?”
“I have been communing with the forces of nature in Madison Park,” Ron intoned as he planted himself in the booth opposite. “Listening to the beating heart of the ecosystem.”
“Didn’t know they had an ecosystem in Madison,” the Wombat said. “What’ve they got, squirrels?”
“Exceptionally communicative squirrels,” Ron said solemnly.
The Wombat had never yet been able to determine if Ron Raven had a sense of humor. Gaseous Girl said he didn’t, but then she wasn’t always a barrel of laughs herself. Further thoughts along that line were interrupted as the superheroine herself appeared, smelling faintly of ash. “Hey, Ron, Wombat. How’s the burrowing?”
“Fine,” the Wombat said. “You know there’s giant rats in the eastside sewer now?”
“Lovely,” Gaseous Girl said. “Doctor what’s his name again, isn’t it.”
“The squirrels have said as much to me,” Ron interjected. “I could go and attempt to commune with the unusually large rodents.”
Gaseous Girl rolled her eyes. “Sure. Commune with the giant ravenous beastie that wants to eat your head. I’d just as soon flame ’em.”
Ron rose from his side of the booth in high outrage. Before he could unleash his wrath, however, the fourth member of their small group arrived. The Green Moth glided elegantly into the seat alongside Gaseous Girl. No one was entirely clear about the nature of the Green Moth’s powers. When asked, she would explain languidly that they involved “manipulatin’ the quantum polarity matrix that underlies the fundamental order of the universe, bless its heart.” Gaseous Girl privately thought this was all bunk, but she wouldn’t have been so rude as to say that out loud.
The usual waitress appeared then and took their drink orders. As she left to get Gaseous Girl’s root beer and Ron Raven’s herbal tea, the Wombat asked if anyone had fought anything more interesting than giant sewer rats. “The Tree Killer stuck again,” Ron Raven growled. “Cut down a nice sapling at the edge of the park. I had harsh words with the squirrels about it.”
“Shame,” the Wombat said. “There’s not nearly enough trees these days.”
“Tell me about it,” Gaseous Girl said. “It’s all malls and chain fast food places. You can’t even get a good abandoned warehouse anymore to fight the bad guys in. You know where Crudmuffin was the other day? Wal-Mart. Yeah. Cleanup on aisle five, right?”
The Wombat laughed, and even Ron Raven’s glower lightened up ever so slightly in as close to amusement as he ever got. The Green Moth said nothing. She continued to say nothing as the talk turned back to the giant sewer rats. She had powers, all right. Phenomenal powers. Powers that would make the others sit up and take notice, they surely would. The trouble was, no one had ever emerged as a nemesis for the Green Moth. The Wombat had rats and The Hummingbird, Gaseous Girl had Crudmuffin, even Ron Raven had Tree Killer. The Green Moth? Nothing.
She sighed as the waitress returned with their drinks. No one noticed her sigh.
No one ever noticed the Green Moth.
In Flander’s fields, the Igor lay,
She’d had a very trying day.
Her boss had tried to steal her brain,
But in the midst of storm and rain,
She had got quite clean away.
The farmer, Flander, asked no pay;
He said to her that she could stay,
She lied, and said her name was Jane,
In Flander’s fields.
She stayed until the first of May,
She hoped the doc had gone away.
And Flander, who still called her Jane,
Had never asked her to explain,
Why she had been, that rainy day,
In Flander’s fields.
The Malevolent Med-Student assumed he would have to break himself out of the asylum. He was already working on a plan. It involved explosive dental floss, which he had concealed on his person. He wouldn’t need it. The Malevolent Med-Student was just getting ready to do something awkward when a fist smashed through his cell wall. “Hi,” said Gaseous Girl tiredly. “I’m breaking you out. Shut up and hang on.”
She grabbed him by his white lab coat before he had time to protest. As they soared away into the sky, sirens wailing below them, the supervillain finally ventured a question. “Why?”
“Remember the time machine you had? The one I smashed?”
“I need you to fix it.”
The Malevolent Med-Student didn’t say anything else until they had arrived back in the forest. The smouldering metal bits of the time machine still lay on the ground. “You’d think they’d have cleaned this up by now,” Gaseous Girl said. “My tax dollars at work. Okay, well, get going.”
“No,” said the Malevolent Med-Student.
Gaseous Girl grabbed hold of his coat and shot up in the air again. The lights of Edison City glimmered below them. “Let me sum things up,” she said, shouting over the roar of a passing jumbo jet. “There’s a kid, in the hospital. He’s there because I didn’t keep my mask on, and some idiot figured out my identity and tried to blow me up. The kid…might not make it. So. You’re going to fix your time machine and send me back, or I’ll drop you right now. The ground’s pretty far away. You won’t survive.”
The ground was very far away. The Malevolent Med-Student couldn’t fly. That decided things quickly for him. “Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll try.”
The process of rebuilding the time machine took several hours. The Malevolent Med-Student complained mightily all the time, insisting that if he had his loyal minion Candystriper with him, he might be done with the work much faster. Gaseous Girl didn’t even glare at him. She didn’t move at all. He kept working.
When it was done, he pulled open the metal door, revealing the big red button inside. “So, what, I just push that?” Gaseous Girl said.
“That’s it,” the Malevolent Med-Student said.
“Now, I only need to go back about a week or so. You got that set, right?”
The supervillain shrugged. “It’s hard to pinpoint this sort of thing exactly…but yes, you should arrive somewhere around last Tuesday.”
“Good enough,” Gaseous Girl said. She stepped into the machine and slammed her fist on the button. She had a feeling she was going to regret this.
There was a blinding flash,and a wild topsy-turvy feeling, as if she had just launched a rollercoaster. When the flash cleared, and the world steadied around her, Gaseous Girl realized that she was standing next to a horse. It twitched its ears at her. “Um….” Gaseous Girl said.
Then, in the distance, she heard a high, quavering yell. She ran through the trees towards it. thinking perhaps it was a civilian who might need her help. The trees suddenly opened out onto a wild field, dotted with golden flowers. Across those flowers, a crowd of men in ragged grey uniforms were charging at a line of men in blue uniforms. Gaseous Girl had never got round to reading Gone With the Wind, but she quickly worked out what had happened. “Oh, crap,” she swore. It was the last time she would ever trust a supervillain with a time machine.
I never knew “Do si do” was a dance step. I knew it was involved with square dancing (“Swing your partner, do si do!”), but I assumed that this was some sort of patter, like King Louie and Baloo in the original animated Jungle Book movie. When I finally figured out that do si do was a dance step, and actually learned how to do it, I never would’ve imagined I’d be doing it at a Catholic parish hoedown, in the undercroft of a cathedral. Life is funny that way.
I could go into the specifics of how I came to be there, theologically speaking. I could tell you how after a good deal of soul-searching, I found a new church home, and how being formally received into it at the Easter Vigil was one of the most moving spiritual experiences I have had. (Side note: make sure to take your sandals off if you’re stepping into a baptismal font. You will splash. Also, try to ignore the ominous gurgling noise when the water drains out of the font while the ceremony is still going on. You will laugh, and that could be embarrassing, especially with the Archbishop being there and all.) I could go into all of that, but I am not a theologian. So let’s skip all that and get to the square dancing.
Our parish had a hoedown type event announced. I and my wife decided to attend. I own neither cowboy hat nor boots, alas, but I had a Zorro hat from a Halloween party last year, and a red plaid shirt. And so, Canadian Zorro rode valiantly to the hoedown.
At the hoedown, there was, of course, square dancing. I had never square danced in my life. But a little voice inside my head said, hey, why not? And so, I did. It turns out that square dancing is ridiculously fun. You hold hands with your partner, move about in various circles and steps, switch hands with someone else, and yell “Whoo!” at appropriate intervals, all while laughing hysterically. (At least, that was how I did it.). Do si do, I discovered, means that you start off facing your partner, then move in a circle around them, without (and this is the tricky bit), turning around yourself. I somehow managed to accomplish this without knocking my partner down. I’m not saying I’m Lord of the Dance or River Tam in the “Safe” episode of Firefly or anything, but….
It was fun. It was unfiltered, purely happy fun. I haven’t had fun like that in some time.
I mean to do it again. And I mean to learn more square dancing steps. Today: the do-si-do. Tomorrow….POLKA.
Candystriper fluttered anxiously about the underground bunker. “Well, I don’t know, do I wear the dress with the poofy sleeves? I don’t like poofy sleeves, but I don’t want to wear the curtain ones, I mean really, curtain dresses are so-“
A dirty grey jacket flopped onto the floor in front of her. “We’re not going to a tea party!” the Malevolent Med-Student bellowed. “We’re going to infiltrate the Army of Northern Virginia! We’re going to be crawling around in the muck and the mire! This isn’t an occasion for white tie and tails! Or poofy sleeves!”
Candystriper sighed. That didn’t sound promising. “Why are we doing this again, sir?” She had an idea of the answer, of course, but she was setting him up for a monologue. He did not disappoint.
“We’re linking up with Confederate Connie to travel back in time and give laser rifles to General Robert E. Lee and his army, as they prepare to launch their second invasion of the North. With the help of the laser rifles, Lee will smash the Union army under Meade, march on Washington, capture President Lincoln, and win the Civil War for the South, thereby changing the very course of time!” The Malevolent Med-Student struck a very dramatic pose as he finished his speech. Unfortunately, Candystriper was so engrossed in the plan that she failed to turn on the background music. A moment of awkward silence ensued.
“Sir?” Candystriper ventured at last. “My great-grandparents got married after the Civil War. This won’t, like, stop them from meeting and keep me from being born?”
“Of course not,” the Malevolent Med-Student said grumpily. “The time machine’s got a causality-paradox inhibitor chip, hasn’t it? You’ll be fine.”
“Yay!” said Candystriper, and tugged on the grey jacket. It smelled badly, and was clearly not intended for someone of her gender. She glanced at her boss; he was in the process of donning an extremely neat grey uniform, complete with epaulets, sword, and a wide-brimmed hat with a jaunty feather in it. “Sir?” she asked. “Aren’t you, um, worried about the muck and mire?”
“I’m an officer,” he said. “I’ve got to look it.”
“Oh.” She said nothing else as they climbed out of the bunker, out into the deserted forest, and to the clump of trees where the Malevolent Med-Student had hidden the time machine. She had seen it once before. It looked like an old-fashioned phone booth, only with no windows. Now, however, as Candystriper approached the trees, she smelled a distinct crispiness to the air. “Sir?” she said again. “I think it’s broke.”
The Malevolent Med-Student rushed forward. Sure enough, all that remained off the time machine was a heap of slagged metal and smouldering circuitry. “It’s her.” he snarled. “Always her! But how could she possibly-“
It was just then that Candystripher’s invisible friend, Marcia the manatee, materialized over her shoulder. In a short burst of song, Marcia suggested that this was the time to make a quick getaway. “Right, Marcia!” Candystriper said, and started running. She stopped when a black Starfleet-style boot hit her face.
“Hi there,” Gaseous Girl said. The minion did not return her greeting, as she was passed out on the ground. The Malevolent Med-Student burst out with a torrent of inappropriate words.
“Confederate Connie says hello, by the way,” Gaseous Girl said, as she knocked the Malevolent Med-Student into the ruins of his own time machine. “Or she would, if she were conscious. That happens a lot to you guys. Go figure.”
When you’re a superhero, sometimes you let the little things slip. If you’re trying to stop Confederate Connie from sending laser rifles back in time to General Lee, for example, you might not care so much that you didn’t put your soft drink can in the proper bin. This is especially true for flying brick type heroes. Gaseous Girl, for one, had survived a bus thrown at her head. She had understandably skipped her flu shot that year. Who needed a flu shot when she could breath fire?
In the same way, she had never been incredibly careful about her secret identity. So what if someone found out her real name? Her family wasn’t a problem. Gaseous Girl had come by her powers honestly. Her mom could resurrect in 17 seconds, and her dad was an A-level pyrokinetic. They could take care of themselves. She also didn’t have to worry about a supervillain using her lover to get to her, because she didn’t have one. There was an upside to being between relationships. Even her job wasn’t an issue. She wasn’t secretly competing against normals in the Olympics, like, oh, say, Speedfreak. She was a freelance crime investigator. She got along well with the police already, in both identities.
So, some days, when she was in a hurry, she didn’t make sure that she had her mask on before she flamed up. Tuesday had been one of those days. Behemoth Bob had been spotted in downtown. Gaseous Girl dashed out of her apartment, charged down the rickety wooden steps, and was clear out into the parking lot before she remembered the mask. She tied it on with practiced speed and soared away.
There was this kid, however. Sam McClain. He was eleven, and just developing a crush on Madeleine Smith from next door. He was quite startled when he saw her flame up and blaze away. Sam still had the presence of mind to snap a picture with his phone. Then he Instagrammed it. The picture of Gaseous Girl, maskless, went moderately viral. Even Crudmuffin, not the most technologically savvy of superheroes, noticed it. He also noticed the street sign in the background, and deduced that she must live in the area. Crudmuffin promptly sent over a drone loaded with explosive biscuit bombs.
Madeleine, being a good neighbor, visited Sam in the ICU. She lied, and said he was sure to come through okay. “‘Course I will,” he said. “You’re Gaseous Girl. You’ll save everything.”