“I knew I recognized her,” says one Husband to another. He points at me. “That’s the girl we offered to the demogorgonzola, remember?”
The other Husband goes wide-eyed. “Oh, my God—she killed Kenny!”
(Did a handful of notes from the South Park theme just play over the PA?)
“You’ve got a lot of nerve showing your face around here after what you did.”
“Nah-ah,” I say, folding my arms and furrowing my brow to match the Husbands. “Your stupid demogorgonzola did all the killing.”
“You interrupted the sacrifice.”
“Excuse you? That’s what people do when they’re kidnapped and offered up as monster bait!”
Jan nudges me in the ribs. “Uh, maybe you shouldn’t provoke them—”
Ignoring him, I fold and furrow a little harder. “What are you going to do? Feed me to the demogorgonzola again?”
The first Husband glowers at me. “Not this time, kid. No, this time we’re going to do…” He leans in. “…something much worse.”
He reaches into his satchel.
—we’re going to die.
And pulls out…a cell phone. Holds it up. Takes our photo. “You are hereby banned for life from Thrailkill’s Garden Shed Crypto-Carnival. Any Bloodcoin earned will be reclaimed immediately and returned to the ledger. If we catch you here again, we’ll turn you over to Thrailkill herself.”
“Bring it!” I dare. Fold, furrow, and so forth.
Jan maneuvers behind me. At first I’m assuming it’s because he’s decided to do the post-chivalric thing and use me as a human shield, but the way he’s twisting his hips out of the way makes it even more obvious: he’s trying to hide the wad of suffrage tickets stuffed into the drawstring of his loincloth. It’s too little too late, though. One of the Husbands confiscates the tickets, shoves Jan forward. Me, too. All the way back to Bagu at the cave entrance. While two of the Husbands hold us with our hands behind our backs, the third helps Bagu update the drivers for the crusty Epson printer beside his desk. Then the two of them print out our headshots so that now it’s me, Jan, and Tommy Carlton on Bagu’s Wall of Shame.
“There,” says the Husband.
I raise an eyebrow. “Why did you have us watch you put those up?”
“To make a point.”
“What, that your cheap printer needs a color ink cartridge?”
Jan stomps my foot.
I stomp him back.
The Husbands bring us back up to the garden shed. Jan pleads with them along the way, more than once pointing out that being banned from mining Bloodcoin is in itself a form of suffrage, and so should be worth compensation. But the Husbands aren’t listening. They stand us in front of Thrailkill’s ThinkPad, return us to Jan’s darkened living room.
He glares at me in the phonelight. “Thanks for that.”
Before I can get a word out, he sends me home. I stand dumbfounded in my bedroom. I’ve never known Jan to be upset at anyone. But that look in his eyes just then…he was pissed. I did him a favor getting him banned, and he’s treating me like I stabbed him in the back. This is so messed up!
Even more messed up is me, showering and dressing down for bed and afterward lighting some candles and flexing in front of my full-length mirror because I need to know if any aspect of my physique might somehow fit Jan’s definition of hot. I’m athletic, flat-chested, narrow-waisted, somewhat muscular, yeah—but I’m not rippling, not vascular…not Jan’s cup of protein powder. Probably all the other boys at Boca Linda shun me because I’m not feminine enough (and am woefully underage). Jan’s not into me because I’m not masculine enough.
I lie in bed and imagine Ernie sitting bloated and pregnant in front of his computer. I picture Theo doing bench presses and entering strongman contests. I recall Jan at that stupid moving simulator booth. And I think to myself, what has happened to the Runt Squad of my youth?