The Lord of the Flies was a different person from Stanley. He wasn’t interested in repeating arguments with Angela. He wanted to prove the scope of his genius; transforming himself into a monster made him feel decades younger and he wasn’t going to stop there.
The Lord of the Flies is under house arrest, sitting on the couch in pinstripe pajamas with a John Le Carre novel in his hands. His neck hurts from the weight of his gigantic fly head and the super-hero is outside his door again. “Stanley,” she says. “Can I come in?” She never barges in without permission, even though he’s the prisoner. “Stanley. I brought your groceries, Stanley.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Fine,” she says. “Your lordship. May I come in? The ice cream is melting.”
“Fine. In and out.”
A migraine flutters against his frontal lobes as Everywhere Girl materializes out of white noise. Everywhere Girl is big, powerful, wearing an electric-blue babydoll dress and carrying a pair of yellow No Frills bags. Her blonde hair has been sculpted into a towering beehive, her eyes are hidden by those trademark turquoise sunglasses. She materializes already turning her head like she’s checking the cramped bachelor suite for evidence—something in the wastebasket, maybe, or in the potted herbs on the windowsill. Maybe the curve of the sconce is going to incriminate him.
“This isn’t a crime scene.”
“Didn’t say that it was.”
“It’s not like I can do anything.”
Everywhere Girl doesn’t flinch in his presence anymore, doesn’t bat at the flies. He can’t remember the last time he had her full attention. Maybe it was the thing with the de-evolution ray. Everywhere Girl flickers like a channel being changed, dress switching from electric blue to a wild pattern of multi-coloured cats. Months ago, she mentioned moonlighting at the cat cafe. Everywhere Girl clears her throat and raises the bags. “Can I put these away?” She doesn’t wait for an answer, though. She’s standing in front of him but she’s also in the kitchen, emptying fruit into the fruit bowl. Most of the food will go to waste, because having a gigantic insect head brings certain dietary restrictions with it and Everywhere Girl has never really been able to wrap her head around them. Her dress dissolves into radiant turquoise with a demure pattern of seashells. “How’s the book?”
“The same as the last twelve times I read it.”
“I can pick you up some things from the library if you want.”
“Whatever,” he says.
Everywhere Girl is in the kitchen, putting things into cupboards, but she is also perusing the ratty bookshelf in the corner, brimming with yellowed paperbacks. She picks up a framed photo of his ex-wife in the back garden at their old house, awash in sunlight. “You know, I could ask her to come visit you,” she says. Everywhere Girl asks about Angela periodically, like there is even a slim possibility that Angela would want to see her super-villain ex-husband again. He doesn’t like when she brings up Angela, partly because she’s the reason Angela kicked him out.
They’ve gone through this before, so he asks, “Where else are you right now?”
“Oh,” Everywhere Girl says, setting the photo back down on the shelf. She is sitting beside him on the couch. “I’m hosting a book launch on Main Street,” she says. “I’m stopping a cop from shooting a mentally ill man on Hastings.” She leans back against the headrest and expels a long breath. “I’m—there’s a bank robbery on Broadway.” She sounds almost fond, probably because bank robberies are classic. The Lord of the Flies has always found them tedious. “And I’m putting away your groceries.” In the kitchen, the fridge closes. “Where would you go?”
“If you had my super-power.”
“Oh,” he says. “The diamond glaciers of Uranus. The edge of the universe—”
“It gets old,” Everywhere Girl says, and it occurs to him for the first time that she may actually have gone to the edge of the universe. “The silence.” She pauses, chewing at her lip until the turquoise lipstick cracks. “After a while you just want to be around other people again.”
There were forest fires in the interior, the summer the Lord of the Flies fought Everywhere Girl for the first time. Smoke drifted down to the coast and left them in perpetual dusk, orange-tinted and stinking. Stanley—because he was still Stanley back then—had been arguing with Angela nonstop about absolutely everything. Being able to press a button that turned him into an insect-headed monstrosity felt like a relief, like he was one of his brother’s action figures when they were kids, the kind with swappable body parts. Pop his head right off and leave it in storage somewhere, along with all the anxiety and confusion and rage.
He got the idea watching Vincent Price’s The Fly.
The Lord of the Flies was a different person from Stanley. He wasn’t interested in repeating arguments with Angela. He wanted to prove the scope of his genius; transforming himself into a monster made him feel decades younger and he wasn’t going to stop there.
He started by stealing BC Place, whisking it into a pocket dimension like slipping a stick of gum into his coat. Shoplifting. He stood in the empty space where the stadium used to be and waved his death-ray around, trying to get used to the crackling of inhuman vocal cords.
The first thing Everywhere Girl ever said to him—smelling like a campfire, superimposing herself onto the scene like a ghost signal gradually gaining strength—was, “I’m going to have to stop you.” She’d sounded giddy. She had a portable police scanner next to her ear. “Jesus,” she said. “When they said robbery in progress, I wasn’t picturing an actual super-villain or a stolen landmark. This is like Carmen Sandiego.”
He was in the middle of a soliloquoy when she materialized. “All shall look upon this empty space and understand the oblivion that awaits them if they—” He stuttered to a stop. “Excuse me,” he said. “I was in the middle of something.”
He raised the death-ray but she was suddenly on his left and on his right.
“A real super-villain,” Everywhere Girl said—both of them—and then there was this humming that he didn’t recognize, nothing to do with his insect head or the flies. They were standing in an empty lot where BC Place used to be, the curve of the viaduct overhead, only it was beginning to fill: three of her, four of her, five, six, seven, until she threatened to drown him.
He’s sprawling on the pull-out couch—massive head resting on a pillow to give his neck a break—the next time she knocks on his door. When she comes inside, she’s wearing a bright purple dress covered in mermaids and drinking an iced coffee. She leans on the couch’s arm rest and says, “Super-villains are the worst.”
“Isn’t that the point of us?”
Everywhere Girl gives him a look. She flickers, dress settling on a pastel yellow. “The Charlatan formed an alliance with the Topiary, Mister Enjambment, and Lazy Susan.”
He recognizes the Charlatan—a two-bit huckster, a weasel known primarily for sweet-talking bored Shaughnessy housewives into giving him all their worldly possessions with his super-hypnosis. He doesn’t recognize the other names. “In my experience, super-villain team-ups rarely last, if that’s any consolation.” He doesn’t quite understand why she’s here, telling him about this.
“It’s fine,” she says. “I’ve dealt with worse.” Like you, she doesn’t have to say.
“What was their big plot?”
“You don’t want to know,” Everywhere Girl says. Her dress flickers, pastel yellow strobing pink and then purple and then peach. He waits. Eventually, she says, “BC Place.”
“I heard you.”
“I mean,” she says. “It’s the Charlatan. He’s never been very inventive.”
He wants to ask her if people even remember him stealing BC Place. Wants to ask if there was some acknowledgement, if this was considered a proper homage or if that little dingus has developed into a full-blown rip-off artist. His fingers ache from being balled into fists. Is this his legacy?
He isn’t sure when Angela figured it out. Doesn’t know if—like in some prestige TV series with plenty of secrets and lies—she pieced it together over months, threaded red yarn between points on an evidence board and grew cold navigating the waters of suspecting but not quite knowing. It’s not like they sat and watched the news together; she was spending more and more time in the garden that summer like: Yes, this is something I control.
And then one day she came in with mud on her clothes, pulling caked gardening gloves off and leaving them next to her shoes. “Explain it to me,” she said, the words drawn out, brittle. They were standing in the kitchen. Stanley was cutting cucumber for sandwiches. There was hummus on the counter next to him. He’d been thinking about—well. Probably crime. Probably he was plotting some ridiculous crime, like locking the mayor in a time loop or stealing Science World.
(What would he have even done with Science World? Played with the whirlpool machine all day and then ended up watching garbage movies in the IMAX?)
“Explain it to me,” Angela repeated.
He tried. It didn’t go so well.
If Angela was still here, she’d tell him that he has to let it go, that no good can come from dwelling on what a pack of no-name super-villains with names like the Topiary thought about him. But if Angela was here, he’d end up shouting But it’s the principle at her and then they’d get into a fight.
Either way, he can’t stop thinking about preserving his legacy, about committing the crime of the century—of the millennium—of eternity—
And he can’t do that without escaping first. No one imprisons a mastermind of his caliber behind a simple lock. It hurts to approach the door. Whatever physics hold him, there must be a way to undermine them. That’s the real boundary between villainy and super-villainy: being willing to break the very laws of nature. And then he thinks about Everywhere Girl asking him what he’d do with her super-powers.
Something has changed when Everywhere Girl shows up the next time. She stops by two or three times a week; she could be there more often, obviously, but probably wants to maintain boundaries, like with the knocking before coming inside and otherwise acting like she’s visiting her ailing uncle.
Tonight, though, the Lord of the Flies leans into it. He shuffles around the apartment in slippers with his hands threaded together behind his back. Makes small talk. Listens to her run the water in the bathroom and in the kitchen, settles in the hallway while she scrubs at the floor. Everywhere Girl comes to clean his apartment when something’s bothering her.
“Are you still working at the cat cafe?”
“You know—International Village—”
“Did I tell you about that?” She puts down the scrub brush and then leans back against the tub. “Uh, yeah, sometimes. I find it kind of soothing,” she says.
Maybe he could replace all the cats with animatronic bombs. That doesn’t really help him steal her super-powers, but it would be useful to know what happens if she gets injured in one place when she’s elsewhere at the same time.
Everywhere Girl starts working at the grout again.
He asks, “Do you want to talk about it?”
The faucet in the kitchen turns off. “No,” she says. Like: you’re my archenemy, not my therapist. Like she doesn’t expect him to talk about his feelings to her all the time or anything. She sighs, though. She flickers again, and she’s wearing a bright red dress with her hair pulled up into a pompadour. He watches her with his unblinking, compound eyes and she’s watching him right back, like some part of her just remembered who he was. “Just—weird day, okay? Sometimes when I go to sleep, I wake up in strange places.” The Lord of the Flies has never considered that she might need sleep. “Places that don’t exist,” she says, and loops her fingers around.
The past doesn’t exist. His marriage doesn’t exist—the last time he spoke to Angela, it was a terse call reminding him to sign the divorce papers. “You have to sign,” she said. She was probably pacing back and forth in her parents’ living room. “You have to sign your real name, Stanley.”
But: imagine not being bound by space and time. Imagine going to sleep and drifting through dreams back to that old house with the squeaky cabinet doors and the toilet handle you needed to rattle. Back to Angela, getting stoned on the back porch when her husband crawls out of a seething cauldron of white noise, fly-headed and warning her about what could be. “Unless we stop it,” he’d say. “Unless we stop it.”
He isn’t allowed to have anything that could help him escape—no television, no computer, no phone, no radio—but they still give him things that he doesn’t need anymore, like shampoo and blankets and toothbrushes. He’s an evil genius. The things he can do with a toothbrush—
Why he’s never escaped baffles him. He walks around the perimeter of the room. He spends days pressing himself against the wall and feeling something like electricity. It pools in a way that makes his antennae ache.
Did she do something to his mind? Or was captivity an excuse to give up?
Opening a magical cage door using only a toothbrush brings with it a certain mix of delight and shame; once the web of electricity dissolves, he freezes, not quite believing in his success. He opens the door slowly, wary of creaking hinges and more than a little certain that he was going to find her on the other side of the door.
Only the hallway’s empty.
The Lord of the Flies makes it half a block before he realizes he doesn’t actually have a plan, hasn’t stopped long enough to think about what to do on the outside. You’re only as good as your last crime, and it’s been years since he locked the mayor inside a time loop. He’s in no position to steal Science World or anything, has no weapons beyond the sheer horror of his face.
Unsure of what to do, he walks to the JJ Bean at the end of the block, hands in the pockets of his blue tracksuit. As he passes alongside the windows of the coffee shop he catches sight of himself, his monstrous head and paunch. He should have worn a hoodie. He feels a sudden, unsettling sense of loss. People watch him, but it’s out of curiosity. They aren’t afraid of him. If he wants to truly be a super-villain again, he needs to dream big. Build a new death-ray, forgo his human body completely, steal Everywhere Girl’s powers—
“Can I help you?”
“You were ranting, sir,” says the barista.
The Lord of the Flies has his hands up, like he was caught in the middle of conducting an orchestra. This is the moment, this is his chance to remind the world who he is. Only he can’t seem to move or even speak, the monologue has dried up and the barista is watching him less out of fear and more out of impatience.
A hand presses into the small of his back. Everywhere Girl shimmering in a mint-green dress covered in ice cream cones. All around them, customers have taken a breath. “Stanley,” she says.
“How did you know that I was here?”
“Everywhere-vision,” she says. She’s asking the barista for an iced mocha like nothing is a big deal. “I’m going to walk you back to your apartment and make sure everything is working properly.” Like there’s a problem with a drawer, the microwave, whatever. Like he isn’t a dangerous, escaped convict. She doesn’t even offer to get him something.
Along the way, Angela threw him out. She stood on the front porch with an iron skillet and he had to resist the impulse to crack a joke about disgruntled housewives because that might have ended with him having brain damage. He stood on the grass with a cardboard box full of books and a gym bag of clothing. “This isn’t supposed to be your lair,” she said.
“No. You can’t talk your way out of this,” she said. “You can’t hide in the basement and hope I feel differently in a few hours. You’re going to end up in jail. I keep having these dreams where you’re in a perspex box or something at the bottom of the ocean.”
He didn’t argue with her. When he tries to remember this moment he doesn’t know if he was Stanley or the Lord of the Flies. He doesn’t know which head was in storage. He’s starting to forget what Stanley looked like.
After the coffee shop incident, the super-hero is wary, which delights the Lord of the Flies. He threads his fingers together in his lap to stop himself from gesticulating. This is the first time Everywhere Girl has ever looked—well, Angela would have said bone-tired, even if it is clear that the super-hero is trying to pretend like she isn’t.
“Your trading card,” she says. She flickers and then she’s holding it up—a rectangle of card-stock with foil on the edges, catching the light. An illustration someone had done of him in the old days, pinstripe suit on and death-ray in hand. He remembers signing some kind of licensing agreement in jail. “It was in a shoebox under my bed,” Everywhere Girl says. She flickers again, dress strobing wildly through patterns and colours. “There’s a couple cards commemorating our biggest fights, too.”
“I used to collect hockey cards,” he says.
“I mean I hated hockey but the cards seemed like a sound investment—”
“Did you really want to get caught knocking over a JJ Bean?” Everywhere Girl is staring at him; she flickers, disappears, reappears. “I thought we were making progress here,” she says. Flicker. Her dress is red fading into yellow. “I keep trying to remind myself that relapses happen.” Flicker. Flicker. Each time, the migraine bats its wings. Where else is she right now? “Of course being locked up is going to rankle you. That’s you.”
He actually laughs. They’re both surprised; the sound is a crescendo of buzzing that almost tickles. This is supposed to be a point along his journey toward redemption. He asks, very carefully, “Where are you right now?”
Only she makes a small noise and then says, “Well.” She flickers again, dress strobing through colours. No patterns? She settles briefly on a black cocktail dress. The Lord of the Flies has never seen Everywhere Girl in black. “I’m currently evacuating three or four hundred kids out of a concentration camp—” She’s almost breathless, leans over to press her hand to the wall to brace herself. Flicker, flicker, flicker. He’s never wondered about her upward limit before, has never imagined Everywhere Girl not being able to be everywhere at once.
“Then why are you—why come here on top of that?”
“You deserve to be rescued too.”
The Lord of the Flies can’t stop thinking about what he needs to do to defeat Everywhere Girl. After he’s escaped once, escaping again starts to feel like a nervous habit. He breaks out a second time and heads to the hardware store down the block, because he needs supplies. His resources are limited; he tries not to think about what the other villains will think when he starts running around with garbage built out of hardware store parts. He pulls up the hood again, like it will make him magically invisible to everywhere-vision. The old woman behind the counter freezes when she sees him; is it just that he looks like a monster, or does she recognize him? He used to have a trading card, after all. “Are you—” She takes a breath. “We don’t have a lot of cash in the till,” the woman says.
The Lord of the Flies is surprised. He hadn’t thought of robbing the place; there is still money in his accounts, hidden away from prying eyes. But then he thinks that if he’s going to be a super-villain again, he’ll need to get back into practice. He’ll need to stretch those muscles, even before he steals himself super-powers. “I’ll take it,” he says. “What you’ve got in the till.” He hates how he sounds. He holds up the red basket. “And all of this, too.” He sets it down on the counter and waits. The cashier waits too, and then he remembers that he’s supposed to say something. Threaten her. There’s a process. There are social norms. So he adds: “Quickly, or I’ll disintegrate you.” It’s not like this woman knows every terrible super-power he might have.
He sounds like he’s reciting from a teleprompter.
She doesn’t move quickly, maybe because they both know he doesn’t really mean it but don’t want to be the first one to say so. She pulls out a paper bag and empties the bills out of the register into it. She counts as she moves it, then nods to herself. Afterwards, she takes each individual item out of the basket and sets it gently in the bag with the money. She is methodical to the point where he is inclined to offer her a job as his lab assistant, his minion, but how would he pay her? And will he even need minions when he’s stolen Everywhere Girl’s super-powers? She sets the paper bag down on the counter in front of him and says, “Here. This is everything.” She is caught somewhere between the warm smile of a retail person and the stunned grimace of a hostage. The Lord of the Flies finds something oddly nostalgic about the idea of choice; flies aren’t known for having a range of expression.
The super-hero has never stayed for dinner before. She looked surprised when he offered, not suspicious. The Lord of the Flies is making her a sandwich of ham and cheese on white. He can’t eat most of the food that Everywhere Girl brings him when she drops by, subsists on the rotting fruit instead, but at least he remembers the idea of cooking. He asks if she wants yellow mustard and then squirts it unevenly onto the bread. Everywhere Girl sits at a narrow two-seat table next to the kitchenette. She doesn’t think of him as a threat at all, but she should. He will sit down at the table and then he will do it; he will steal those super-powers from her.
There is a fly crawling along the wall and he imagines plucking the wings off of it.
“This is very nice of you,” Everywhere Girl says.
“It’s really no bother,” he says. “Consider it a thank-you.”
“You’ve never asked me to stay for dinner.”
“It’s not like it’s an inconvenience for you.”
“No,” she says. “I guess it isn’t.” She flickers, vanishing and returning, her dress strobing from dragons on seafoam to unicorns on blue. “Maybe it’s a sign. You know, a new beginning—”
“This is about me becoming a super-hero.”
“You could consider it,” she says. Because he will never be a normal person again. “You could help me defeat the Charlatan and his weird jerk friends.” He’s sitting across from her with a plate of rotten food in front of him. They are meticulous about trying not to watch each other eat, even though he can see in all directions at once and can’t close his eyes. “Everyone loves an antihero, apparently,” she says. The Lord of the Flies doesn’t remember Everywhere Girl ever sounding bitter before.
The thought of becoming a super-hero disgusts him. It’s now or never. Without thinking about it, he produces a metal rod with a bulb at the end—a magic wand, metal thrumming in his hand. She isn’t sitting across from him anymore.
“Oh, Stanley,” she says from the kitchenette. “Really?”
“You’re not going to marvel at me assembling this right under your nose?” He swings his arm around but she’s already yanking it out of his grasp. And then she’s gone.
She’s gone but she’s also sitting cross-legged on the couch. The wand is gone. She looks like she’s meditating, taking deep breaths in through her nose and out through her mouth. “In the old days, you’d rattle off some ten-minute soliloquy before you tried to—what? Kill me?”
“Steal your powers.”
“Well, that’s a new one.” She breathes in through her nose and out through her mouth. “I left it on the event horizon of Cygnus X-1,” she says. Like he couldn’t reassemble it out of bits and pieces if it came right down to it. “Honestly, I should leave you out there too.”
“Why don’t you?” The Lord of the Flies stands up, hand on the back of the dining room chair. He remembers their last real confrontation, remembers standing across from her in his lair. Not a grubby apartment with floorboards that creak and cabinet doors that don’t stay shut. Giant supercomputers and death rays. He wants her to say that he isn’t a threat, a trading card in a plastic sleeve in a binder at the back of someone’s closet. She keeps disappearing and reappearing, and it’s suddenly so exhausting to him that she isn’t here, isn’t completely here, isn’t paying him her full attention. He has to clear his throat to gather his thoughts; once upon a time, monologuing came to him like breathing. He’s grown rusty. “Lock me away on Mars or deep within the core of the Earth or in your secret fortress—”
“I don’t have a secret fortress,” Everywhere Girl says. “I have an apartment with a crazy landlord who keeps trying to renovict me.” She disappears from the couch and stands in front of him, galaxy patterns pinwheeling across her dress. “I thought maybe you didn’t have to be a super-villain. Like, one day we’d go bowling and you wouldn’t be an asshole. Sometimes you want your enemies to be complex people and not just cartoons.” There is something brittle in her voice. “You talked about exploring, when I asked what you’d do if you had my powers. Is that really what you’d do with them?”
He thinks about Angela. “Yes,” he says, even though they both know he’s lying.
Everywhere Girl wraps her fingers around his wrist.
“What are you doing?” He’s about to say something else, about to repeat his question, only at some point between blinks they’ve moved. They’re in space. Below them—below?—the angry red eye of Jupiter churns. The Lord of the Flies panics, twisting and gasping.
Everywhere Girl says, “They think the storm down there is starting to collapse.” But they’re in the middle of space. They should be dead. He shouldn’t be able to hear her speak. And he’s here, floating in the airless vacuum but he’s also still in his cramped apartment. He can still hear the clicking of the radiator. “It will be gone within twenty years,” she says and it takes the Lord of the Flies a moment to track what she’s talking about exactly. The storm. The great red spot.
“This makes no sense—” He should be frozen. “I’ve never been to space before,” he says.
“What, really?” She says it with the same heat as finding out he’s never seen Twin Peaks or something. Titanic. The Lord of the Flies imagines the Titanic drifting through the void, imagines it with the strange rush he gets whenever he imagines a truly super-villainous crime. “You never had, like, a moon-base or whatever?”
“I could have sworn you had a moon-base.”
He resists the urge to feel cowed by that, the implication that Everywhere Girl has mixed him up with some other member of her rogues’ gallery. “So, is this it? Are you leaving me out here? The Lord of the Flies, imprisoned in outer space?” He isn’t sure if he’s joking or not. He’s dangerous. He tried to steal her super-powers. He should be punished—
“You think—I’m not leaving you out here,” the super-hero says.
It is exhausting to always be the bad guy, to always jump to the wrong conclusion, assume the wrong thing. “So what’s the point?”
Everywhere Girl lets go of his wrist.
The Lord of the Flies panics. The Lord of the Flies stumbles backwards, not pedalling his feet in the emptiness of space; just tripping over them on a creaking hardwood floor that is too solid when he ends up flat on his ass, looking up at her. He keeps waiting for her to flicker and disappear—is she still out there right now, in space?—but she doesn’t. She holds out a hand to him.