Miss Piggy stands from her position on the throne, her bouncing blonde hair towering and spilling across the television screen. I glance around my living room and take a deep breath. My family and I are all waiting for the biggest announcement we’ve yet to hear. I sit by the chimney on a quilted blanket with my younger sister, Elmira, and our stuffed rabbit, Mr. Daisypants. I hold my breath now in anticipation. My mother clutches the side of the sofa. Father takes a large gulp from his bowl of chowder and my older brother continues to text his girlfriend. Well, I think to myself, let it be. He’ll just be missing out on history. This is the moment we find out who our new ruler will be, and it is so, so nerve wracking I can hardly eat another beetle. There’s a bowl of them sitting on the blanket beside me from last week’s Beetle Hunt, but I feel sick. Miss Piggy waves her wand in the air and we gasp; as soon as that wand hits the ground, we will know our next royalty.
The wand strikes out in a wave of purple and stark blue, leaving trails of stardust behind it, but then the crowd is silent. Father has dropped his chowder and now the whole living room reeks of it. I cover my nose and look at the television through clouded eyes. Who? Who has been chosen? My mother screams. My head hits my palms and I know the worst has happened. Our next ruler must be the most stupid, ignorant person alive and I want to cry just thinking about it, what will we do now and… But then I realize the worst is not what I think. It’s even worse than I imagined. My brother. I stifle a sob and stuff another beetle in my mouth. My brother. He hasn’t even noticed it yet. My brother. Oh no, no, no.
My brother is the next king, and he hasn’t even changed out of his sweatpants in three weeks. I can tell none of us will be sleeping tonight, least of all me, because I know something no one else in my family would ever dare to guess.
When I was seven years old, my brother told me he wasn’t human, but that instead he was a supervillain named Butthrad. I laughed at him and poked him in the chest with a pool noodle. My brother was always a joker. I knew that and I couldn’t believe he thought I would fall for his silly antics again. A villain named Butthrad? What kind of stupid idea was that? I forgot all about him saying that to me until a few years later, when I was walking to my first day of middle school and a guy named Starch stole all the buttons off my backpack. I had been walking with my brother, whose real name is Frankie, and when he noticed that Starch had knocked me down and was running away with all the buttons, he flew into the air, kicked him in the throat, grabbed my buttons, and came soaring back, delicate as a golden snowflake in December.
“Frankie!” I stared at him. “Are you actually a villain?”
“Yes.” Frankie glared at me. “But you can’t say that out loud. That’s stupid. Do you know what people would do if they found out about this?”
“I guess they would do experiments on you.” I looked up at my brother, Frankie or Butthrad or whoever he was, with my wide eyes and he frowned.
“No. That would be if I was an alien. Supervillains get sent to jail. Do you want me to go to jail, Heidi?” And I didn’t want Frankie to go to jail because he always ate my brussel sprouts when we had Brussel Sprout Thursday.
“No, I guess not.” We kept walking to school, though nothing was quite the same after that happened. For starters, I wondered what made my brother such a villain if all he had done was kicked somebody in the throat when they stole something of mine. Wasn’t that warranted? Isn’t that what you get for stealing? There was that thought, and then there was the awful matter of trying to keep it all a secret. I wanted to tell my friends and my parents and my grandparents and the mailman and that lady I saw sometimes when we went to Walmart at three in the morning for walnut cream pies… Well, anyway, I wanted to tell the whole entire world. But I never had. I knew it would be best for my brother if it was kept a secret like he wanted me to. I never thought that him being a supervillain would change much, until he was elected as the next king. I had to tell someone before the monarchy was ruined; before the collapse of the kingdom rested on my shoulders. Today, six days after my brother got a big sparkly load of responsibility on him, is the day I’ve pulled up enough courage to tell someone what I know about him. I know it seems a little over dramatic considering I only mentioned seeing him fly once, but the thing is, it didn’t only happen once.
The second time I knew it was true, that my brother was really a supervillain named Butthrad, was when I went out for pizza with my boyfriend, Lewis Feiffer. I’d met Lewis at this little underground sandwich place called The Underground Sandwich Place. (Gosh, I wish I had that kind of originality when it came to naming things.) Anyway, though, I had met Lewis at the sandwich place about three weeks after my youngest sister was born. I was tired of the incessant crying; my father’s crying, not the baby’s, and eventually just walked out and went in the first place I happened to discover by falling down a drainage pipe. Bonded over the wonderful fact that we were both unfortunate enough to fall into said drainage pipe, Lewis Feiffer and I really hit it off. We traded numbers and got matching baby whale tattoos on our lower calves… It was super romantic. Which was why, when he called me the week after to ask if I’d like to go to shop for ceiling tiles with him, I said, “Absolutely,” and we went shopping for ceiling tiles but somehow ended up at the used mattress store.
I had found this gorgeous mattress with hardly any stuffing coming out of it and was checking the price tag to see how hard it would be to change the numbers a little, when Lewis asked me if I would like to continue shopping for household appliances with him for a long time to come. So that was how we were dating, and how come we were getting pizza when my brother the supervillain decided he would rob the place. I was staring into my glass of root beer, when Lewis touched my arm and I looked up to see a villain who looked an awful lot like Frankie floating in the center of the pizza place.
“I am Butthrad! I am the best supervillain this town has ever seen, and I want all the, um, money this place in the register!” He flew awkwardly over to the counter. “Hand it over, bucko!” The waiter behind the counter emptied out the register and handed Butthrad the wad of cash. “Haha! Butthrad wins again!” And then he zoomed back out the window. Lewis fainted and hit his head on the cinder block display case behind our table.
The ambulances came a little too late, and Lewis died on the very unsanitary floor of the pizza place, his sliced open head pooling blood onto the fabric of my second hand jeans. It was then and there that I vowed to tell the world about Butthrad, even if I didn’t know when or how I would do it. It had never been a question of that before. I always told myself that I wanted Frankie to stay home with us rather than rot in jail, but I knew now that every supervillain had to have a countering hero, and I am now that hero.
My toenails click along the kitchen floor. It is midnight, June 12th of the year my brother Frankie’s rule, and I have set out to expose him once and for all, before we are all flown to the capital city for his coronation. Sleep is hard to come by for those who bear secrets.
The floor is cold and rough against the bare soles of my feet, but I keep walking. There is nothing else to do but walk anyway. My brother has thrown me in a dungeon after I exposed his secret identity as Butthrad, and I have been living here since June 13th, a Friday and a rotten one at that. There are no rats in this dungeon, which could seem nice to some people but not to me because it makes me all the lonelier and hungrier to boot. There is no paper or light or ink to write with, so I scratch what I want to say, what I have to say so my brain doesn’t implode with pressure, onto the rubber walls of my cell with a spare toothpick. One day the historians will find this dungeon and they will finally see that their king is a bloody culprit and murderer, but for now no one knows, no one listens, and no one cares. I sit in a tub of lard and crack my wrists together violently, thinking of my wicked brother Butthrad. They call him a king, and I once called him my friend, but the truth is that he will bring our kingdom to ruin if he is not stopped. The only thing worse than a supervillain is a supervillain in charge of something, especially a whole kingdom that follows him blindly. I shift in the tub of lard and scoop some of it, like ice cream, with a cupped hand. I want beetles, but not even that delicacy will be brought to such a low criminal as myself. That is how the kingdom’s citizens see me now; as a bad wench who only wants to kick her benevolent brother off the throne and would stop at nothing to see it happen. But I don’t want to be queen. I want revenge for sweet Lewis, the cinder block massacre victim. I want to ensure that Butthrad never hurts anyone as much as he hurt me and Lewis that day, but the only way I can do it is if I bust out of here, which hasn’t proven to be very easy at all.
I tried to befriend one of the guards the other day. He was a fat fellow, with a soft belly that slunched over the sides of his hips and reminded me of a cupcake in the store window. Gosh, what I wouldn’t do for a cupcake right now. I greeted him kindly when he walked by the metal bars at the front of my cell, hoping he might return the wave, but instead he stared at me with hollow black eyes and kept right on marching. The next day, I asked him his name and he told me to mind my own business if I knew what was good for me, young lady. So I told him my name and tried to tell him again how my brother was a supervillain named Butthrad. I sounded crazy; the only consolation was the fact that I had seen lovely Lewis die in my arms. Here comes the guard now with a tray of food. I can smell the spoiled stuff almost a mile away, and I can tell you for anything and a duck there are no cupcakes on that tray. “Hey, hey.” I lean against the metal bars of my dungeon cell and grin toothily at the fat guard. He’s nice to look at, mostly because I’m starving and he really, really looks like a cupcake, unlike the skinnier guard who comes by and reminds me of a delicious radish casserole. “Buddy, what do you say I tell you a story?” I lean more forwardly and let my hands drift to his pockets, where he keeps his keys. “Hmm? What about it?”
The guard rolls his eyes and unlatches the window made for handing over the food I get once a week. It is, to my brother’s credit, very filling though it tastes like chimney ash and smells like burnt tires. “No stories today or ever, young lady, but I thought you might like to know your brother is giving a speech today on television.” I jump at the notion, clattering the tray’s balance and sending my bowl of chimney ash burnt tire sludging across the floor.
“Can I watch it, please?” I pick up the whole tray and toss it into the lard tub where it sinks and I don’t have to look at it anymore. “Please? I’ll stop pretending you’re a cupcake, really I will.” The guard looks at me curiously and shrugs.
“I don’t see why not. Maybe you’ll come to your senses and admit you were guilty of treason.” Treason is what they call it when you call the king a supervillain, even if you are right.
“Good! I’ll see you there, um…” I trail off, still having no clue what the guard’s name is.
“Ptzarlick.” I blink. That is one strange name. “You can call me Zarli, though. All my friends do. They can’t pronounce it the other way either.” He smiles and I realize that he reminds me of Lewis when I first met him in the sandwich shop only Zarli must be at least thirty seven and Lewis was sixteen, like me. The bubble of disillusion pops abruptly with that thought, and I scramble back to the lard tub. Zarli nods. “I guess I’ll come get you when the program comes on, then.”
“Sounds FANTASTIC.” I slap the rubber wall with the backs of my hands until they sting, and then I find the tray of food and eat lard and chimney ash burnt tire porridge until there’s none left to be licked up.