New Villains

When I came back into the auditorium, Troy Brewster was sitting on the edge of the stage, looking like someone had just clipped him on the back of the head with a lacrosse stick.

It wasn’t that remarkable. In truth, Troy always looked kind of like someone had crowned him with something heavy and now all his thoughts and feelings and vague, unarticulated suspicions were spilling out of his cranium. It was kind of his default expression.

“On your feet, tiger,” I said, clapping my hands like I was Coach Klein, calling the C Team players in from the practice field.

thread

Troy raised his head, but didn’t change expression. “You said that they liked me. You said they’d be fighting over themselves to elect me. That I’d be an automatic.”

The way he looked at me was plaintive and the truth is, I did say that, but the other truth is that I lied. I invented this impossible, shining reality from purely imaginary cloth, and I take full responsibility for that. But honestly? It wasn’t even my story.

The real lie had started—oh, years ago—back when Troy was just a mean, ungainly eighth-grader with a growth-spurt, whose main hobbies were breaking people’s glasses and pinching girls in the halls. But he was good at sports and at knocking people down, and so everyone smiled because no one wanted to invite his wrath by not smiling. If fear is love, then yes, they loved him. Because the truth is, love under duress is complicated, and sometimes a lie is not a lie.

Sometimes, with enough attention and enough cultivation, a lie is just another name for that thing you always wished was true.

*****

Three weeks ago, when I came around the corner of the auxiliary gym and found Troy methodically keying cars in the teachers’ parking lot, I would have told you that there was no hope for him.

That maybe there was a place in the Villain Hall of Fame for those crafty brutes who exhibit an exceptionally creative sadistic streak or a particular genius for psychological torture, but Troy would always be totally and unequivocally a flunky—one of those slow-moving goons who are only there to make the hero look good by comparison. The ones who never even get a name tag.

I stood by the double doors to the gym and watched him. His graffiti was mostly two-word imperatives and childish-but-obscene drawings, but the way he scratched out the shapes and letters was thoughtful and kind of meticulous.

He labored over each line, and it was his very dullness that made me stop and watch. His commitment to mindless destruction spoke of untold possibilities. Call it inspiration.

“Hey,” I said, as he moved along the nearest row of cars, toward Principal Leonard’s Honda.

When he glanced around and saw me standing against the side of the gym, his eyes narrowed to angry slits. “You want to keep your mouth shut about this.”

It was a remarkably inelegant statement, and only made me more determined to try my hand.

“Oh, I’m not going to say anything,” I told him. When I stepped away from the wall and crossed the blacktop to him, his gaze was wary, but not truly concerned. He moved forward to meet me when he should have backed away.

“Why are you doing this, Troy? I mean, what’s the point of vandalizing cars?”

Troy studied the key in his hand, like it might have the answer, then turned, gesturing at the long row of sedans. “They’re all a bunch of tools anyway.”

I could only assume that he meant the teachers, not the cars.

“But what’s the point? So, you defaced some property—so what? It’s not power when no one knows it’s you.”

Which is pretty much the biggest lie of all.

I smiled confidentially and moved closer. “Look, if you really want to stick it to the administration, you need to be a little more sophisticated. I mean, you already have all the necessary resources and you’re not even taking full advantage of them. How come you’re not already in charge of student council? You practically run the school anyway, and everybody loves you.”

Troy’s expression was dully hopeful, and I understood that on some unconscious level, even he could see the falseness in what I was telling him, but sometimes the wish is enough to float you over every obstacle and complication. It can be so much stronger than the lie. “They love me?”

“Of course they do,” I said, and smiled my biggest, brightest smile. “What’s not to love?”

*****

The Brewster presidential campaign was about what you’d expect—short and loud.

If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that Troy Brewster would become deeply obsessed with student government to the point that a school election would dominate his every waking moment—that it would break his heart—I would have denied the very possibility. (Then, quite naturally, I would have dedicated myself to finding a way to make it happen.)

By the time the final assembly rolled around, Troy was in top form, shouting over the other candidates, demanding that people stand up and perform the school football cheer in the middle of the dress-code debate. He was amazing, and I said as much after it was over.

“Troy,” I said with an elation that was wholly unfeigned, “you were incredible! You were magnificent.”

The presidential defeat of Troy Brewster was a strategic masterpiece. An early birthday present to myself. When the votes were tallied and the results were announced, the winners declared, I could almost see the disillusionment rise up inside him and shine bleakly out his eyes.

He watched Ainsely Hammond prance up to the podium with her ponytail swinging and her cheeks radiating pinkness, ready to give her acceptance speech.

The election was a landslide, of course. They always are.

*****

When I came back into the auditorium, Troy was sitting on the edge of the stage, looking like someone had just clipped him with a lacrosse stick.

“On your feet, tiger,” I said, clapping my hands like a washed-up football coach.

“You said they liked me.”

And I nodded, smiling placidly, so reassuring. In his eyes, geometric shards of rage were beginning to crystalize. Longstanding aimlessness made suddenly vengeful. And it was beautiful.

“This is just a speed bump,” I said, smoothing the air with my hands. “A minor setback. It’s just what you need. But now, it’s time to go out there and make it very clear to them who owns this school. And Troy? You’re going to be amazing.”

The lie came out like a silk ribbon, the way I always tell them, bright and good, shimmering with possibility. So real and soft you can almost touch it.

Because sometimes, a lie is not a lie.

Sometimes it’s just the hidden door to what happens next.

Our common prompt for February is the short story The Emperor’s New Clothes .

Photo by laura.bell

25 thoughts on “New Villains

  1. … I really loved this. I’m a bit worried about what that implies about my personality.
    It’s funny, because I have SUCH a clear picture of the main character in this. He’s attractive, and charming, and not too high profile. And also, he’s completely evil, in that awful sneaky way some people can manage. I can see his face in my head, his mildly cool clothing, his hair (strategically in need of a cut). He’ll end up getting a business degree and handling large sums of mildy dirty money for men without souls, and he’ll be very good at it.
    My dear lady, you just wrote a clinical psychopath. Congrats. Sociopathy is hard to make entertaining.

    • I can see his face in my head, his mildly cool clothing, his hair (strategically in need of a cut). He’ll end up getting a business degree handling large sums of mildy dirty money

      Okay, so. You read my mind! Seriously, you just described him exactly, when I never even said it was a guy. But yes, he’s that mostly-unobtrusive pure-devil type, slickslickslick—so slick you don’t even notice, because he looks like velvet!

  2. That’s strange, because when I read this I got the feeling that the anti-hero, as it were, was a girl.

    Though you never said it, I felt the way the revenge was taken was almost a stereotypical high-school girl revenge: not direct, like dumping someone in the garbage can, but making the victim defeat themself.

    For some reason I felt that she was, not an ex girlfriend, perhaps, but someone who might have been mistreated by him in the past, or used to like him and was trampled on. Because the lies were believed so easily, I felt like he would have believed an “adoring” girl more than he would have a guy.
    But that could just be me.
    I love how ambiguous it is. Thinking stories are the best kind. 🙂

    • For some unknown reason, I am so attracted to writing first-person narrators who can be read in a billion ways! There’s just something fascinating to me about a fill-in-the-blanks character—someone who doesn’t let you in on the big picture and only shows their true feelings in small (possibly-accidental) ways.

  3. Very cool and calculating, he.

    Also, I love that I can now almost always tell who wrote the weekly story (on LJ, it doesn’t say who posted it). 😀

  4. Fabulous and I love the characters here and the role of narrator. Lovely descriptions of the lie and the power of hope.

    • Thanks! These kind of tailor characters have always fascinated me—not just in the Emperor’s Clothes story, but in pretty much every political drama ever. (Maybe I just like this idea of making fictions into agreed-upon reality …)

  5. Awesome.
    I loved The Emperors new Clothes as a kid and seeing it in the Point of View of the ‘tailor’ is amazing.
    🙂

    • It’s funny, when I was little the story bothered me a lot because literally almost *everybody* was lying! (I hated stories where people broke rules or did bad things, so I was stressed out by pretty much all fairytales ever)

  6. I love the way you described the lie – that’s exactly the way it feels when you know you’ve made something intangible tangible. It’s such an intoxicating feeling.
    I love that you sort of switched the roles as well – so the “Emporer” as it were, is actually a kind of victim; whilst the advisor (while seeming innocent, helpful) is heedless of the damage they’re doing, or else they don’t care.

    • that’s exactly the way it feels when you know you’ve made something intangible tangible

      Beautifully put! (Also, when I read back through the archives of my Merry Fates stories, I realize more and more just how often I write about people who don’t care about the damage they do.) (Or sometimes, they just like killing people.)

  7. The lie came out like a silk ribbon, the way I always tell them, bright and good, shimmering with possibility. So real and soft you can almost touch it.

    Wow – what a way to make lying sound like so much fun.

    • I have such an ambivalent view of lying, so I think I tend to romanticize it! On the one hand, it’s a bad, dishonest thing and I can’t do it. On the other, it’s just so fascinating 😀

  8. I thought the narrator was a girl, actually. My thoughts immediately went to Bananach or Pansy Parkinson… Is that odd?
    Honestly, Troy’s the good guy here, I feel like narrator was toying with him.
    I liked it, I liked how there are so many forms of lies. Lies are officially fun.

    • I feel like I consistently come back to ambiguous narrators—I don’t really know why, except that they have a very special kind of voice.

      Honestly, Troy’s the good guy here

      Absolutely! Now, going forth from this, I’m pretty sure he slips into tool-overdrive, but until the catalyst, I think he probably fell into the category of mostly-harmless.

  9. I once read a story on here (I think you wrote it, but I read it a long time ago so I’m not sure) about a fairy who kept switching the signs at the college, just to mess with the students. A girl finally took a picture of the signs on her cellphone, and the fairy followed her and eventually drove her insane. This narrator reminded me of that fairy. Both fascinating characters I want to read more about, even if they aren’t the good guys.Although this narrator seemed MUCH less evil than that fairy. I mean, Troy definitely had it coming. Still, there was a similarity that struck me. I love these stories on here. I do have a question though (if you don’t mind) Is there some kind of trick to writing a great short story? I’ve never been able to manage it. They always get away from me and get too long. Is it just a practice makes perfect sort of thing? Or is there some sort of formula you’ve learned to follow?

    • Oh! I know exactly the story you’re talking about, and now I feel doubly stupid because I can’t remember if Tess wrote it or if Maggie did—it was like this perfect amalgamation of stuff they each like. (Also, I do love a good evil fairy myself.)

      As far as tricks to short stories, this is actually kind of hard. My writing style has changed a lot since we started the Merry Sisters, but I still tend to write shorter by nature (my whopping epic for March is a definite exception).

      I think the main thing is, starting a story with an idea of where it ends. You don’t have to know the specifics, but if you know what you’re aiming for, that makes it easier to stay self-contained and not go spiraling out or chasing tangents. Other than that though, the thing that’s made the biggest difference for me has definitely just been practice. I feel like the more you do it, the more you develop a kind of instinct for the pacing and the structure.

      (Also, sorry this took a year and a day for me to respond to. I recently had knee surgery, and I promise you wouldn’t have wanted the answer I’d have provided in my post-op haze. Although it might have been hilarious. In a sad way.)

  10. Wow, I kind of want to see the foil to this villain now. Every villain needs someone who foils their plans (no more puns in the rest of the comment, please don’t stop reading.)

    These are actually the kind of villains I’ve always liked, the ones who don’t need to actually hold a position of power (student president, or even physical strength) to do what they want. Also, you made me feel bad for Troy, when he clearly is a bully, so well done you! Great writing. =)

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    • Wow, I kind of want to see the foil to this villain now.

      I’ve actually thought a ton about this—I originally cams up with the Tailor specifically because I have another character I want to write about (eventually, someday) and I needed a villain! So, without giving too much away, I think the foil is forthright, but lacking in social graces, high-minded, but slightly aggressive, perfectly willing to overthrow a corrupt system, but not necessarily adaptable 🙂

      These are actually the kind of villains I’ve always liked, the ones who don’t need to actually hold a position of power

      Me too—I’ve always been so fascinated by the idea of “the power behind the throne,” because the puppeteer can reap the rewards while taking almost none of the risk. It’s so despicable that it’s elegant!

      • I have another character I want to write about (eventually, someday)

        Looking forward to that. =)

        I do like your foil character – I love the idea of a confrontation between these two. I can see the’ hero’ being at a disadvantage because of the social akwardness, actually! Difficult to get people to do what you want when you can’t get them to like you.

  11. I also had a feeling the main character was a girl. I think this is because people always have that “Girls always want to change the bad boys” idea, which maybe they do. Just to prove they can.

    But yeah, loved this story. The main character reminds me a little of myself, in probably a bad way… does things they shouldn’t just because they can, just to see what happens. I think boys are better at the obvious revenge, too. Where as girls can emotionally wreck someone without the need to ever touch them. It’s brilliant. Wish it was a full blown novel, I really liked that Troy guy. I wanted to see him crushed like a bug, then build back up again to how the main character wished him to be.

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