The new girl stood at the wobbling table, adding sugar to her weak tea, looking for any further excuse not to turn around. The room was small and smelled of dead feet and floor polish; there was one closed window that was so dirty it banished light.
She could feel the others staring at her, their eyes burned holes into the back of her head like laser beams. She wasn’t good with new people. Get a grip on yourself, she thought. You need to do this…
She turned. There were more empty seats in the ‘circle’ than occupied ones, so she headed for the closest to her. No one said a word. They just stared.
She sat opposite a small anxious woman wearing a deep purple twin set and pearls and had snow-white hair tied into a bun. The woman quickly averted her pale grey eyes away from the new girl, lost in a fog of her own thoughts. She mumbled under her breath, occasionally twitching and biting her left thumbnail like a self-mutilating squirrel, spitting out the splinters on the floor.
To her left there was a bald gentleman with perfectly trimmed facial hair, wearing a perfectly tailored pinstripe suit, and a light blue silk shirt with a red cravat folded artistically inside. He wound his expensive wristwatch, smiling as she caught the attention of his deep green eyes. He was the tidiest person she had ever seen…everything about him said ‘classic’.
The third stranger was a long, lean and pale-looking man that gave the new girl the deep creeps…He wore a long black over-coat; his dark hair was scraped back and shone with pomade. His black eyes glared out at her through his dark-tinted glasses as if she were a spider in his jar. He did not move a muscle.
She had never tried so hard to deliberately ignore someone in her life.
To her relief, an overly enthusiastic man grabbed his attention away from her as he bounded in through the door. He was wearing a mint green tracksuit zipped up to his fit neck, and gleaming bright white training shoes. “Hey-ho and how goes it people!” He waved to everyone. “Are we ready to turn those frowns upside down!”
The group collectively groaned.
“Hey-hey!” The enthusiastic man headed straight toward the new girl, like Tigger on steroids. “You’re new!” He pointed, as if to the obvious.
“Hey…” The new girl willed the floor to open up and swallow her, but unfortunately, it didn’t work.
“I’m Jim,” Said the man, pointing to his chest. “You can call me Big Jim, Gym-Jim or Jimarama!” Jim hopped from foot to foot, smiling a perfectly genuine smile. “Totally your choice!”
She stared at him for a while. “Hey Jim. I’m Nancy.”
Jim shook Nancy’s hand so vigorously she thought her shoulder might dislocate.
“Welcome to the group, Nancy! Hey everyone, how about I count to three, and on three, we all shout HEY NANCY!”
“Oh please,” Sighed the creepy man unable to contain his discomfort for a moment longer. “Sit down bubble butt! This might come as news to you, but no one here is interested in having a yabba-dabba do time!”
Jim sneered. “I’m just being civil, Everett! Maybe you should try it sometime!”
“No. I don’t think I will. So sit down before I do something you regret!”
Jim deflated like a popped balloon. He looked to the rest of the group for support. Fat chance. “You aren’t going to bring me down this week, Everett!” Said Jim, rallying to his own defence.
“Oh Jimarama,” Said Everett with a condescending wave of his hand. “No one could bring you any further down than you bring yourself! You flatter me, but seriously, I really think that from where you are standing, the only way can be up!”
“I’m in my happy place!” Shouted Jim, verging on the hysterical, covering his ears. “No downers and no frowners allowed! Sticks and stones may break my bones…”
“Will break your bones…”Corrected Everett
“La la la” Said Jim, closing his eyes. “Not listening! I’m not listening!”
“Have it your way.” Everett smiled a serpentine smile of victory.
Jim sat down, and rocked. Nancy looked around the ‘circle’ at her new company. This was beginning to feel like a really big mistake.
They waited in silence for what seemed like hours, but what only passed as minutes, when the door finally opened and a fat flustered man rushed in. “I’m so bloody sorry everyone. Got stuck in traffic, someone really ought to do something about the one way system in this town!”
“I could, Bernie,” said the classic gentleman, the FM radio-tone of his voice was as charming as it was authoritive. “But I was under the impression that that sort of thing would be, you know, bad.”
“Thank you Toby,” said Bernie removing his coat and joining the group. “I wasn’t actually suggesting that anyone in this room should sort the problem…it was a figure of speech.”
“A poor one, in this case.” Said Toby disapprovingly.
“Yes.” Conceded Bernie. It was going to be a long meeting. He sat in a chair two-removed from Nancy and smiled. “Oh, hello. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise we had a new member.”
“What is your name?” Bernie’s voice was smooth, and steeped in a non-judgemental tone of kindness. He had practiced perfecting it for many years. No one was born sounding so patient.
“Hi Nancy. Welcome, have you met everyone?”
“She has met Jim.” Said Everett with disdain.
“OK, well, as we have a new person, perhaps we should all introduce ourselves before sharing. I am Bernie, this is my group.”
“Hi.” Said Nancy, forcing a smile.
Bernie nodded to Everett, who said nothing.
“I’m not introducing myself to her. I have no idea who she is!” He folded his arms in petulance.
“Now Everett, we have been through this millions of times. This group is about sharing, and that includes sharing with new people.”
“If you think I am telling anything to this nobody from nowhere…”
“Now, hang on a minute,” interrupted Nancy, in no mood to be bullied. “I don’t know who you are, pal, but you got no right to talk about me like that!”
“You see!” said Everett raising himself, “I knew it the moment she walked in the door! She is a bad apple! She has been sent by the enemy to disrupt the group unity! I say we –“
Something weird happened.
Nancy pointed and suddenly Everett’s lips were moving, but no sound was coming out. It was as if Nancy had just ordered his volume down, and so it was. The group stared at Everett for thirty seconds as he threw a mute tantrum, and then slowly glided their attention back to Nancy in awe.
Jim started to clap. “I like the new girl!”
Bernie stared at Nancy. “I take it this is one of your special ‘gifts’?”
Nancy was horrified. “I am so sorry. Should I leave?”
“No way!” Said Jim, bouncing on his seat. “Can she stay? Please let her stay!”
Everyone was staring at Everett, who was acting out like Marcel Marceau on the verge of going nuclear.
“Yes.” Said Bernie smiling. “You can stay. But as you are new to the group I think this would be a good time to go over a few rules. First, we never use our powers, no matter how tempting, against each other. This is a safe haven.”
“OK,” said Nancy, hanging her head. “I’m so really sorry about that.”
“And the second, and by far the most important rule, is that you must never, under any circumstances, reveal the identity of anyone in this group. Anonymity is absolutely crucial to sharing.”
“I understand.” Said Nancy.
“Just out of interest,” asked Bernie staring at Everett who was now screaming silently in Toby’s highly amused face. “How long does this ‘spell’ usually last?”
“For as long as they remain annoying, usually. As soon as he says something that won’t annoy me, you will all be able to hear him again.”
“Outstanding!” said Jim.
Bernie tried hard to conceal his smile. “OK, so, lets all ignore Everett for a while and get on with the meeting shall we? Doris,” Bernie motioned towards the anxious woman. “Why don’t you start?”
“OK,” Doris sat on her hands and took in a deep breath. “Hi, my name is Doris, and I’m a super villain.”
“Hi. As you all know it had been almost three years since I last became Ms Direction, but…” Doris began to shake. “I am so ashamed of myself!”
“Doris? Oh dear, what happened?” Asked Bernie.
“I don’t know! I was doing so well! I thought I would be able to handle the temptation, so I turned on the news and thought…”
“IS EVERYONE DEAF?” Everyone turned to face Everett, who sat down quickly. “Welcome back,” said Bernie smiling. “We have moved on to Doris, but thank you for your input Everett.”
Everett glared at Nancy. Nancy winked.
“Oh Doris, dear woman” said Toby shaking his head. “You turned on the news? How could you be so foolish?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head desperately. “I thought I was in control! Just one news snippet, I told myself. Just five minutes of update on current events and…” She began to weep.
Bernie moved towards her with a fresh box of tissues. “It’s OK Doris, we all understand the daily temptation of wanting to end the human race…you are obviously carrying a heavy load, I think it would be good for you to share what happened.”
She took a tissue and blew her nose hard. “I was watching the reports of war, and holocaust, and hatred and then the nostalgia for the old days just took over. My cravings for universal dominance just got the better of me, I suppose, and…”
“And?” Said Toby, gripped to the edge of his seat.
“I fell off the wagon and onto a POWER TRIP! Over the last 48 hours I’ve started a coup in Venezuela, a revolution in Botswana and set the Middle East peace talks back 75 years!” She sobbed inconsolably. “I was one step short of constructing an evil lair under a volcano until my conscience got the better of me, so I came to the meeting instead.”
“Well done you, Doris!” Said Bernie. “That was not easy!”
“Not easy?” Said Everett dismissively. “All she did was destabilize a few countries, in my day we called that bad government! Next she will be telling us that she captured some British spy, but gave all of her secrets away with a pointless self-indulgent monologue instead of killing him on the spot!”
Doris sobbed harder. Jim ran to her. “Why do you have to be such a, such a, BIG MEANY to everyone EVERETT!” He embraced Doris.
“Er,” said Everett looking around. “I’m a super-villain, dumb ass! Have we met?”
“OK. That’s enough,” said Bernie cutting in, staring sternly at Everett. “Everett, I think you owe Jim and Doris an apology.”
“You cannot be serious!”
“Say sorry to Jim for calling him a bad name, and say sorry to Doris for mocking her attempts to bring evil and distortion into the world…”
“We are all waiting, Everett…” said Bernie uncrossing his legs.
Everett played with the buttons on his coat, and mumbled “Sorry.”
“For the group to hear!” Insisted Bernie.
“I’m sorry, OK!”
“Is it OK Jim?” asked Bernie.
Jim let go of Doris. “I suppose.”
“Yeah,” she trembled.
Bernie nodded. “Would you like to share anymore Doris?”
Doris shook her head.
“OK. Does anyone, who is not Everett, want to say anything to Doris?”
There was a moment’s reflection.
“Were you planning on hiding your evil lair under an active volcano?” Pop quizzed Toby. “Because, in my experience, that can really damage equipment.”
“Er, no,” said Doris, drying her eyes. “It was more of a hollow mountain really…but it had a waterfall entrance.”
“Any sharks?” Toby enquired further.
“Oh…” Said Toby, slightly unimpressed.
“Anyone else?” Asked Bernie hopefully.
Nancy couldn’t find words.
“I would just like to say,” said Jim, sneering at Everett. “That I think it was treble-super, and double-difficult for Doris to come to the meeting instead of invoking a worldly holocaust! And although some of us are jealous meanies, I think she did good!”
“Bravo!” echoed Toby.
Doris smiled. “Thanks Jim…Toby…”
“Yes. Well done Doris.” Said Bernie. “OK. Let’s move on then. Everett, as you have so much to say, why don’t you share something with the group.”
Everett sat up in his chair. “Hi, my name is Everett, and I’m a super villain.”
“It’s been 22 years since I hung up the cloak of Captain Autonomy, and gave up my membership to I’m Nasty International…”
No one applauded.
“I miss it sooo much!” Said Everett, wringing his hands. “The good old days, bringing rise to the free market, free trade, ruling the World Bank and unleashing the hounds of Capitalism, pure evil rising out of every Western stock market, McDonalds opening their first branch in Moscow…it was all mine! Ah, I am a beautiful, evil, economic genius! I maybe here, but at least my legacy will live on…”
“Er,” said Bernie intervening. “We are not here to glorify villainy, Everett. We are here to reflect on our misdoings, and make amends to those we may have hurt. The first step towards accepting personal evil is knowing you are the problem!”
“Yes, I know, Bernie!”
“OK. How are you coming along with that, Everett?”
“Well, I’m busy making lists and writing letters of amends to every occupant of India, Africa and other nations I successfully conspired to economically rape and destroy…but it’s a long process. So far, no one has got back to me.”
“Keep going!” Said Bernie smiling. “Well done!”
“Whatever.” Grumped Everett.
“Do you have anything else you would like to share?”
“Does anyone want to comment on Everett’s progress?”
Unsurprisingly, no one cared.
“OK,” said Bernie, moving his eyes about the group. “Jim! Your turn.”
Jim sat up like an attentive puppy. “Hi, my name is Jim, and I’m a super villain.”
Nancy found this hard to believe. Her interest soared.
“It’s been nine months today since I masked up and lashed out on the world.”
There was a ripple of applause.
“Thank you. Thank you.” Said Jim, beaming.
“Hang on,” said Nancy shuffling in. “Can I ask questions?” She turned to Jim. “Is that, you know, cool?”
“Fire away!” Said Jim smiling.
She could not hide her disbelief. “You are a super villain? Like, what did you do? Optimise people to death?”
“Well,” said Jim smirking. “Yes! I was born with an incredibly positive and overly motivated attitude. I’m different from everyone else. My grandfather was born this way, and his father before him. It skipped dad, but it got me. Long, long, long story short, my Mum found my boundless up-beat energy too much to cope with. I drove her crazy!”
“Go figure,” added Everett. One look from Bernie was enough to silence him again.
Jim continued. “Mum begged me to stop giving her life advice, to be more helpless like other kids, be less relentlessly positive about everything, but I couldn’t help it. So she left when I was 11. My dad always blamed me, well, lets just say we didn’t see eye to eye. I reminded him of his father, and he hated his father.”
“That’s really sad,” said Nancy. “But, you did nothing wrong.”
“No. I never went out of my way to be evil; somehow it just worked out that way. Dad kicked me out as soon as was legally possible, so I moved to California and decided to show him that I could fit in with the world, and if not, the world was jolly-well going to fit in with me! So, I started to give a few motivational seminars and talks about my life, and before I knew it, I was attracting millions of people! They followed me like I was a messiah! All I had to do was reduce life into a couple of positive yet meaningless slogans like locate your inner light switch to turn on your smile, and they threw money at me! Pretty soon I didn’t care if what I said worked, I just wanted the money, and the power and to make thousands of people jump to their feet shouting my name!” His eyes glazed over. “They needed me!”
“Wait a minute,” said Nancy catching up. “Are you trying to tell me that you were, like, an evil life coach?”
“I coined the term!” Said Jim flatly. “I motivated America to consume on success, to drive big cars, want big houses, watch bigger TV’s. I told them that everything their greedy little hearts desired could be theirs…for a price! My power opened the door for thousands of under qualified charlatans to start calling themselves experts; thousands upon millions of vulnerable people looking for answers were duped and ripped off because of the ball I started rolling! Uri Geller would be a total unknown if he had not met me! I am, in my own way, pure evil.”
Nancy couldn’t argue with that.
“But that is the past,” Said Bernie confidently. “Isn’t it Jim?”
“It sure is!” Said Jim putting up two thumbs. “I gave away all of my money to charities, stopped writing shit books, stopped insisting people whoop when I enter the door! I’m stronger than my need for attention!”
“Excellent. Anything else you would like to share with us Jim?”
“No. Everything is as hunky as dory could be!”
“Excellent.” Bernie shuffled in his seat. “Does anyone, who is not Everett, have anything to say to Jim?”
They all shook their heads.
“OK. Toby, we haven’t heard much from you this session. Perhaps you should go next.”
Toby frowned. “Hi, my name is Toby, and I used to be the Dark Ruler of the Known Universe!”
The group waited for Toby’s next comments. They did not come.
“Toby?” Prompted Bernie. “Is there anything on your mind?”
“Well, yes, there is actually Bernie. It’s to do with the steps…”
“OK,” said Bernie. “Go ahead…”
“Well,” continued Toby thoughtfully. “I have no trouble admitting that I am the problem, I mean, I destroyed 48 solar systems, crushed millions of peaceful civilisations and brainwashed thousands of billions of otherwise decent folks to fight for me in my intergalactic Empire, but…”
“I’m finding it hard to admit that there is a power greater than mine. I mean, there isn’t, not one that I’ve met! I’ve slain and conquered the Titan’s of Jupiter! And they are massive! I can melt planets by pointing at them! I put the craters in the Moon! I can travel to any point in time I wish and change any history I care to.”
“Hmm…”said Bernie earnestly. “Have you been working with your sponsor about this?”
“Yes. But Dark Troll Lord has been stuck in the mountains for the last few weeks, apparently we are experiencing some extreme weather for this time of year.”
“Ah, that might be Carol’s doing,” said Everett nonchalantly.
“Really?” Toby leaned forward.
“Yeah, she fell off the wagon three weeks ago, Dark Spells is back at large! It’s been raining frogs in Belgium for nine weeks. ”
“Oh…” said Toby. “Well, that explains that then.”
“We all must remember that this is a process. “ Intervened Bernie. “It’s not an easy thing, when you have an alter-ego the size of a sun, to submit to humility. I think we have all been in your dilemma Toby. The good thing is, you have not acted out any frustration…have you?”
“No,” said Toby sighing. “I haven’t created so much as a black hole in over 700 Earth years.”
“Good for you!” Said Bernie. “Everyone, I think Toby deserves a big WELL DONE from us all!”
“Well done!” Said the group. They all admired Toby. He was old school.
“Does anyone have any advice for Toby on how he could accept a greater power than his own?” Bernie asked the group.
“I just skipped over that step.” Said Everett.
“Me too.” Said Jim
“And me,” conceded Doris.
“Oh,” said Toby hopefully. “Well, that might work…”
“Er,” said Bernie unable to hide the concern from his voice. “People, we have a five-step programme, not a four step and a skip programme!”
Everyone looked at the floor.
“OK,” said Bernie breathing deeply. “Can we all promise each other that we will talk with our sponsors about accepting that we are not the most powerful being in the universe? Toby, if you cannot meet with Dark Troll, you can always reach me at the office or at home, OK?”
“We can share next week on this subject…OK?”
They all nodded coyly.
Nancy had a terrible feeling it was her turn next. She was right.
“Nancy?” Said Bernie, recomposing himself.
“Er, yeah, Hi. My name is Nancy, and I…um…I think I have the potential to be a super villain.”
Nancy stared at the group. “I don’t know what to say next.”
“It is customary to share our backgrounds, what makes you believe the potential is there?” Said Bernie.
“Well, I used to be normal, but, I started to change about three years ago and now…well…its getting quite out of hand! I even thought of a name for my alter ego the other day, and well, I need help before I do any real damage”
“You are in the right place Nancy,” said Bernie. “Well done!”
“What was your name going to be?” Asked Doris out of curiosity.
“Cool.” Complied Doris.
“No,” said Nancy shaking her head. “Not cool! I have the power to remove freedom of speech from the world! Not cool at all! I have the power to silence anyone, or anything. I could bring down the inter net! Last night I was one thought away from dismantling a TV network…”
“That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing…”said Toby.
“Are you crazy? I mute people!”
“As we all saw,” said Toby smiling in Everett’s direction, ‘I actually think you have the potential for a fine superhero! At the very least you could get a bloody good job in Korea.”
“Or America.” Added Jim.
Everett scowled. “Actually, apart from almost everything Toby and Jim said, I agree with them! Stop being a pussy, come out of denial, and admit you think your powers are cool!”
Nancy felt her fists clench. “You really think it’s a good idea to call me a pussy when I could silence you forever, and wipe every memory from your head?”
“You can wipe memory? Wow! This is just getting cooler!” Said Everett, his eyes ablaze with mischief. “I wish I’d met you 25 years ago!”
“Everett,” said Bernie. “Remember what we spoke of last week, about only reinforcing positive qualities in others…”
“Being cool is a positive quality…”
“I think you know what I mean…Nancy is asking for help and encouragement…”
“I am encouraging her…”
“Again, I think you know what I mean!”
Bernie turned to Nancy. “Can I just say how brave I think it is for you to admit that you are a problem, and for sharing so honestly with the group; you have taken one of five important steps towards freedom!”
“What are the other four?”
“ Step two is to admit that there is a power higher than your own,” Bernie glared around the group. “Which we will be covering next week.” They all avoided eye contact. “Step three is to pledge to avoid all forms of media broadcast. It is imperative, as super villains, for us to stay away from any form of evil power that may tempt us into action. Therefore, any form of media broadcast, watching news or buying newspapers, is a big no-no.”
Doris hung her head.
Bernie continued, “step four is to write lists of and make amends to the parties/nations/world’s or solar systems you may have offended during your evil reign, and five is to support other super villains who are struggling to escape from the trap of perpetuating their own form of egotistic tyranny in the world.”
“What is your success rate?” Asked Nancy.
“I’m sorry?” Asked Bernie.
“How many super villains have you cured?”
“We are never cured. That is why we come together for support.”
“But, there is still evil in the world. What are you doing to stop it?”
“Well,” said Bernie, rather on the spot. “By not adding to it, we sort-of reduce it.” He checked his watch. “Gosh, time is almost up. Does anyone want to say anything, we have a minute.”
No one volunteered.
“OK. Nice session guys, I think we all did really well. Again, sorry I was so late, we will have more time next week!”
Nancy’s eyes widened as the group dispersed around her.
“I really-really-really hope you come back next week Nancy!” Said Jim, before jogging out of the door.
“Censor is a cool name,” said Doris without making eye contact, leaving soon after.
“It was a pleasure,” said Toby, nodding courteously. “I hope we do make acquaintance again.” He left.
Nancy was one shell short of shock.
“You did very well,” said Bernie putting on his coat. “The first meeting is always the hardest.”
“You didn’t say anything about yourself,” she said. “What’s your story?”
Bernie smiled. “I will tell you if you come back next week. Deal?”
Nancy shuffled her feet. “Well, I really don’t know if I need this kind of help…you know. They are all, well, mad.”
Bernie chuckled. “Yes, no denying it, we are a bunch of misfits. But, you made a few new friends tonight! That is something to think about…isn’t it?”
Nancy chuckled as Bernie turned off the light, and they left the meeting together.