How To Remove Glitter From A Polyester Dress
rating: +35+x

Ella "El" Romero had been about 16 when she'd joined the Line of Sisters. Theresa Petrucci had been the one to initiate her into the collective, and in that time El'd practically hit the ground running. The future of Feminism in the BackDoor rested on young women like her, those who rejected the post-modernist TRA agenda and fought for the true liberation of (true) women.

Or maybe she'd only stuck around because Theresa had been her e-liquid dealer. The end result suited Theresa just fine.

Theresa stood before El's latest mural. The piece, depicting a multitude of women (faces conveniently indistinct in the depicted scale) struggling against a wave of nauseous pink, was impressive enough. That El had the guts to draw it against one of the Kosher Nostra's poisonmonger fronts was a work of art in of itself.

"Terry?"

Theresa turned around to see El, standing around in the alleyway. "Hey, El."

Realistically, El should have been happy. To anyone else this was a magnum opus, a masterwork at the top of a portfolio. El wasn't anyone else; she was nineteen, with the rest of her life ahead of her. Even if you ignored the difficulty she presently had with faces, she was top notch. Theresa would kill to be as proficient as El at the age of twenty-seven, let alone the Theresa of eight years past. So why did she look so fidgety, so certain of the unseen jaws of the crocodile?

Theresa pulled her e-cigarette from her back pocket, taking a brief hit before extending it in offer. "Cheer up, El. You did really good."

El glanced at the e-cig, before looking back up to Theresa. "No thank you, Terry."

"It'll calm you down."

El stood silent, alternating between keeping eye contact and glancing to the e-cig, before taking it with shaky fingers. "Th-thanks." Her own hit was just as brief, though extended by a coughing fit. It was honestly a little pitiful, enough that Theresa felt the need to mistcraft her vapor cloud into something prettier.

She handed it back to Theresa, who wiped it down before taking another hit. "You feeling alright, El? You can tell me anything, you know. We're friends."

"Thanks, Terry. I…" El fidgeted with the hem of her shirt. "I've been thinking."

"Yeah?"

El opened her mouth, but the words came only a little later. "… I'm sorry, it's just that I've been feeling awful. There's… you know, I've been trying to lose weight."

"Huh." Good on her. Optics were an important part of radical feminism. "You're not doing anything drastic, are you?"

"No, no. It's… " El scratched at her head, removing her canvas bag but not doing much more than fiddling with its zipper. She drew a deep breath and looked down both sides of the alley; but it was ridiculously easy to play off graffiti in the BackDoor, so what else could she have been so worried about?

Theresa took another hit of her e-cig, mistcrafting the resultant cloud into a question mark. "I can't help you if you can't tell me, El, and I really do wanna help you. You're important to me, you know?"

"All… alright." El pulled back the zipper she'd been fingering. "But… be careful, alright? And don't tell anyone."

Looking around one last time, El pulled something pink and squarish from her bag, and Theresa bit her lip to keep from shrieking in pain.

In El's hands was a magazine that literally hurt to look at. Its cover was an eye-searing background array of pinks, more shades than Theresa had a name for and jumbled together like fifty printers conspired to print each shade at the same time onto the same space. On the foreground, clad in more pinks, was a thin blonde baker; if Theresa looked into its eyes for too long, she swore she could feel something push through the front of her mind, like a ravenous crown of thorns. Most peculiar was what the baker held: a tray of heart-shaped cookies that killed Theresa's appetite to look at. That they weren't even disgusting had to be the most troubling part of it all; in any other magazine, Theresa felt like she'd have been salivating.

Impulse kicked in, and Theresa knocked the magazine out of El's hands. It landed in a puddle of rosewater that had to have been rainwater a second before.

Theresa looked back up at El. "What the hell do you think you're doing?! Anyone else could have been killed by that, El!"

"I'm sorry, Terry!" Obviously El was bending down to pick up the magazine, but it brought the motions of a pangolin to mind. "I… I've been trying a new diet."

Theresa furrowed her brow, taking another hit of her e-cig. "Yeah?"

"So… so this magazine, 'Just Girly Things', has a bunch of recipes for dieting. There's… well, obviously my biggest weakness is empanadas, and Abuela loves…" El stood back up, shoving the magazine back into her bag. "Look, I've been eating too much meat and sugar, and JGT… helps with that."

"Meat? Isn't it sugar that makes you fat?"

"Well," El scratched at the back of her head. "JGT says I shouldn't be eating red meat."

Theresa grimaced. "Bigger issue, you're taking dieting advice from a memetic hazard, and while it's good to be cutting down on your sugar, I doubt this… 'just girly things's recipes are any better on your body."

"No, no, they work." El smiled as her eyes screamed. "It's just… I've been doing it for two months, minus the occasional…" El trailed off to zip her bag shut. "… 'cheat', and it definitely works. I just—"

"Look like you're a minute away from passing out?" Theresa took a long drag of her e-cig. "El, I'm proud of you for trying, but you don't look happy about all this. I'm really going to need you to rethink this decision, alright? Do you think you can do it for me?"

El paused, then smiled.

"Yes. Anything for you."

Her eyes said 'no'.


"So she said… so she said 'no', and oh my god, the catharsis! The catharsis, girls!"

Theresa stared at her drink (cold water) as Caryn prattled on in a drunken haze. She had a tendency to do that. Caryn, her internal narration meant — certainly, Theresa wasn't drinking. But Caryn was just that kind of drunk, which wasn't helped by her propensity to get drunk, so Theresa supposed that was why she'd been the eternal designated driver of the Big Sisters.

Hellen laughed in turn. "Honest, she dodged a bullet. The Kosher Nostra can get crazy." Was the sloshing of drinks her own drink? Theresa wasn't looking. "I hear the bootlegging doesn't even make them money. Just… pure ideology."

"Maybe it's, like… a sarkic thing." Robin was going to pass out if she drank too much more, and because Theresa was stone sober, she'd be the one who carried her back. Again. "Or kidnapping? Somethin'."

"Girls, girls! Can't we just… can't we just exultate? The poisonmonger Weilstedt are… they're consequating. People're taking notice… of their evil. The evil and… and they're acting, y'know?" Caryn made a sound that was probably gleeful. "Month out from the Wombyn's March, too! Gonna be a big boost."

"Cheers!"

Glasses that were not Theresa's clinked.

Theresa closed her eyes, and tried to clear her mind. Looked for something for her brain to chew on. Tried to sort the-

"Terrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry~. You okay?"

Theresa looked up, and the other three Big Sisters looked back: Caryn with worry, Hellen with confusion, Robin with that disgusting inquisition she did so well.

She blinked. "… sorry. I'm thinking."

Hellen squinted. "Something the matter, Feather? This sounds like your kind of story."

Theresa opened her mouth, then looked back at her drink. She needed a quick gulp of water before getting into this business, which she subsequently took. "… do any of you know what 'Just Girly Things' is?"

Hellen squinted harder, and Caryn furrowed her brow. "I'm not sure what that means, Terry."

"I…" Theresa sighed, taking another gulp of water and palming at the e-cig in her pocket. "I just heard of it today. El mentioned she was subscribed to their magazine… or, technically, that she received the magazine two months back."

"Messed up." Robin took another gulp of her own drink in turn. "All this commodification of womanhood."

"I mean, it's…" Theresa smacked her lips. "You know how she's been trying to lose weight?"

"She's fine how she is." And Theresa sniffed bullshit the minute she looked back into Hellen's eyes, because they were all just as much in the respectability game as Hellen actually put down her drink. "How do magazines fit into this?"

"Memetic hazard. It's a memetic hazard." The grip of her e-cig was smooth, only a little warmer after however long in Theresa's pocket. They wouldn't let her vape indoors, no, but with a death grip on the handle the urge receded just the slightest bit. "This magazine is… just looking at it hurts you, you know? Makes you want to vomit."

Caryn clicked her tongue. "Like… what's this gotta do with El?"

What a vacant, meaningless stare. Caryn was good at those.

Theresa wetted her lips. "So does a literal teenager taking dieting advice from a memetic hazard not set off your alarm bells?"

"Feather." Hellen tilted her head. "Couldn't you just confiscate the magazine?"

"I…" Yes, she could have. So why didn't she do it? "… that's not the point, Hellen. It's just… I mean, what are we celebrating for? Somehow, our best artist got ahold of some magic rag telling her to starve herself, and we're just… what, basking in petty relationship drama? Shouldn't a radfem collective… you know, combat this?"

Vacant, drunk stares.

"I mean," Robin shrugged. "That sucks, yeah. But just take it from her, yeah? You got her young, she'll trust you."

Theresa furrowed her brow. "What about distribution? I can't just… 'groom' is a dirty word, but I can't play mentor to every teenager in the BackDoor. How do we fight this on the streets?"

Eyes less occupied by the second, hermit crabs in a sea of booze shrinking into their sockets. Was Theresa speaking Greek?

Hellen coughed into her hand. "I appreciate it, Feather. But we should table this until we're sober."

"Yeah, and what about the Wombyn's March?!" Caryn slammed back her drink. "We've got so much, like, planning we gotta do. We gotta plan, Terry, we gotta. Who's gonna… who's gonna go to some half-baked march we didn't plan? The TRAs play constant war, Terry." Caryn slammed her empty mug onto the table. "Constant!"

Unbelievable. "And the magazines don't? I hate the TRAs as much as you, Caryn, but be honest, who has the bigger reach? ED isn't something you can kill by reaffirming womanhood. That's before you mix actual memetic hazards into play."

"Terry?"

Theresa's gaze settled on Robin. Something built, a storm of breath and aerosolized mucous and stale air and the horrible, horrible scent that pervaded the BackDoor like a ghost. Swirled around aimlessly, air currents in miniature. A tightrope waiting to snap. Maybe tear through a head on its recoil.

"Eyes on the game, alright?"

snap


She blinked. In her hand was a mess of broken electronics, stinging lemon-scented fluid, and fresh blood.

Theresa licked her lips. "I… I need a smoke. Be right back."


Welcome to the BackDoor, the worst city in NYC! | #bdshoverflow | No skippers. Period. | the dragon of soho is a little bitch
Topic set by Anton on Tue Mar 03 2009 14:22:05 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

Theresa: Hey.

Soprano: hello! are you new?

Theresa: I guess they know my name, now. I was-

Sharon headbutted at Theresa's wounded hand as she tried to type. If there was anything good about today, it was that Theresa's bastard cat was doing better. What a watermark in her life, huh?

You learned to adapt to the good and the bad, Theresa had realized, and her apartment was proof of that. With none of the universities hiring, much of the space was taken up by notes, utensils, and DIY art and chemistry supplies; her free time was channeled into maximizing productivity. The abundance of paper also meant Sharon had an abundance of space to puke her heart out, and because the contrast was so much greater, Theresa had an easier time finding the mess.

"Come on, Sharon." Theresa picked Sharon up and gently deposited her onto the floor, before going back to her work.

Theresa: I guess they know my name, now. I was actually looking for advice.

PromiseMeNed: get an eVePN, sell your blood to the weilstedt for cash, and don't trust anything painted purple

Theresa: Not that kind of advice.

PromiseMeNed: its good fucking advice

Theresa: I live here, PromiseMeNed. I know.

Theresa: Sorry, this is my first time in the IRC.

Mary: get a load of this chick

Theresa grimaced. The internet was a cesspool, and that didn't change when it came to the DarkNet. SoHoIRC shouldn't have been any better, she supposed.

Theresa: Does anyone know what "Just Girly Things" is?

PromiseMeNed: Theresa shoo. back to tumblr

Soprano: don't be rude, lye.

PromiseMeNed: Soprano legit if i have see those infographics one more g-ddamn time

PromiseMeNed: "when you dress like an indie film and have shit taste in men, hashtag #justgirlythings"

PromiseMeNed: stop calling me out

Anton: That sounds like a "you" problem.

PromiseMeNed: its a problem for everyone cause the world doesn't need more mes

This was stupid, actually.

Theresa sighed, rising from her chair to pace around the apartment in frustration. It didn't help her think, no; indeed, the sound of her feet against paper could have very easily been distracting her. But what else was Theresa going to do?

What a joke to think SoHoIRC could help her; nobody just… sold memetic hazards in the open. Even if they did, it was probably the Kosher Nostra or the Triads. What the hell could Theresa do against mafia that didn't even need to breathe? Even when it came to the Line, the most they could do was petty vandalism. Too impotent for anything else.

Theresa had better things to be doing, grants to apply for and equipment to replace. Sitting back down at her computer-

JGTBot whispered: Tired of all the hubbub? Get back to basics with Just Girly Things, the magazine written by girls, for girls! Learn more at justgirlythings.zgn

Theresa blinked.

A quick whois on JGTBot returned nothing; it couldn't have been the "eVePN", because it worked when Theresa tried PromiseMeNed. Moreover, JGTBot wasn't on the user list, and there were no quit or join messages between Theresa's last message and this whisper. Was she a server bot, then?

Realistically, she shouldn't click on the link.

Theresa sighed.

It was easy enough to build a rudimentary psychic containment unit around her computer when nobody had use for the spare beryllium-bronze wires. If that didn't work, at least she had her antivirus.

Theresa still braced for trouble as she clicked on the link.

Was something wrong with her internet? The website was taking quite a while to open.

Alright, there's the pop-up. Loading…

After entirely too long, the website loaded into… typical. Why did Theresa expect anything more?

Just Girly Things, according to their mission statement, was founded in 2006; this was in stark contrast to their eye-searing design, which couldn't have postdated 1995. That it supported Vista was an actual miracle.

Thankfully, her antivirus hadn't gone off, and her eyes didn't water any more than they normally would at this shade of pink. Then again, why would it? There wasn't much more than an advertisement for the magazine, along with payment information and a

P.O. box in Williamsport, Pennslyvania.

Theresa blinked.

That… wasn't much more than a seven hour round trip. If she could go there on a weekend and sort everything out, she'd have ample time to prevent El from sinking too deep.

… "sort everything out." Easy, right?

… right?


This wasn't right.

Theresa's GPS told her she was getting closer to the Just Girly Things P.O. box. From the looks of it, however, she was driving further into a suburban residential zone. That didn't necessarily mean JGT did home printing; it did mean Theresa felt dreadfully out of place.

Was it her crappy sedan? In NYC, you rarely had to drive somewhere. Maybe, then, it was her… peculiarities, her half-shave and her city fashion and her gangly frame and her freakish height of 196 centimeters. But those followed her everywhere, no? Could it have then been Theresa's ill-formed intentions? That begged another question: what did Theresa plan to do? Maybe she already had the answer. Perhaps, given the bandana, camera, lighter, and propane canister, what she planned to do was merely hard to admit.

Theresa was certain that, had she taken her eyes off the road, she'd find everyone staring.

So she didn't have a plan of action. Perhaps she'd thought one might come up during the four hour transit, but it didn't. If anything, that was time spent deepening her doubts. Obviously, JGT couldn't be allowed to keep doing what it did, but how did you deal with it beyond violence? And yet… guh! This was stupid.

And then the GPS declared that Theresa had arrived, and her time was up.

A look at the P.O. box did not suggest it belonged to a printing press, or anyone who cared for it. The box (really just another staked mailbox like everything else on the street) was crooked, its paint flaking off to reveal the dull metal beneath it. Its flag was up; that the box was stuffed to bursting suggested it had been up for some time. As for the house itself…

Theresa blinked. Before her was a veritable nightmare, a dilapidated mess of dirty bricks and sagging roofwork, its surface in the process of reclamation by creeping vines. Lawngrass dominated the front yard; what few lawn ornaments Theresa spotted were nearly drowned by the creeping green. The first-floor windows had been boarded up with distressingly clean planks, and none of the lights were on in the second-floor windows. Whoever owned this house was either dead or trouble.

… but damn it, it'd been four hours.

Theresa grimaced, stepping out of the car and doing some stretches. Her camera and bandana went around her neck, her lighter went in her pocket, the heavy tank of propane…

***

Damn it. Theresa needed to work out more, if this winded her that much.

Theresa collected herself, staring wearily at the door before her. The wood was… "warped" was one way to put it. "Of alien texture" was another.

It was with great reluctance that Theresa knocked on the door.

… silence.

Maybe she'd held back from the wood. Theresa grimaced, knocking again with greater certainty. "Hello? You've got mail. Uh, lots of it."

Still no response.

Theresa groaned, looking about for a doorbell. The good news was that the house had one; the bad news was that the mere touch of Theresa's fingers were enough to knock the rusted frame off the wall, leaving a dirty bell and dangerously exposed wiring.

This was stupid, actually. This whole trip was a stupid waste of time, chasing a dead end lead by an IRC bot of all things. Theresa could expect her Clown Of The Year invitation any time now from Circus Idiot Magazine, maybe promotion to CEO for being such a goddamn—

Theresa kicked the door, and much to her surprise, it opened.

Something like rotten meat wafted from inside.

Theresa might have said the entryway was just as ravaged as the outside — but that wouldn't be accurate, would it? Time had ravaged the outside, like rivers cutting rock. The insides, however, had been ravaged in deliberation, as if interior decoration were a weapon. The walls in the entry hallway were plastered to bursting with jagged papering, pinks and ponies and patterns to be broken by tears, stains, electric tape across the eye of the beheld. The floor was littered with the remnants of shattered wood, fallen wallpaper, vermin corpses whose deaths implied violence. What little furniture stood in the hall was cutesy, crudely built and pastel-painted and strangled by slithering bundles of electric cabling. A droning purr emanated from the house.

If this wasn't the printing house of Just Girly Things, at least it was proof that someone needed help. Theresa pulled up her bandana and dragged the propane inside.

She closed the door, and a presence seeped into the air. There was a… "current", to the house. An intangible flow of something purposeful. A breath. Something that could have been inviting, had Theresa been someone else. It settled in her stomach like a rock, and weighed upon every step she took.

None of the lights were intact; at best, a shoddy nightlight lit its surroundings in a dirty pink glow, and thin cracks of sunlight snaked across the surface

Theresa grimaced, and turned on her phone's flashlight.

The entry hall lead into what might have been a living room. It wasn't a living room. The well-dressed mannequins on the furniture left no room for the living. Bookshelves lined themselves with naught but humming plastic boxes and cobwebs, literal and cable-crafted. The speakers were too pristine to have been an audio system for the upended analogue TV that lay among a broken stand.

Why was it so hot? The AC had been set the lowest it went, and surely some of the purring had to have been its function.

The den lead into the kitchen; where the living room had been a chaotic mess, the kitchen was eerily clean, with pristine tabletops and all the amenities one might expect. Even the fridge, plastered with silly drawings that hurt to look at, hummed with power. Minus the shattered light fixtures, this could have been a kitchen to be proud of.

That illusion dissipated when, with great curiosity and greater apprehension, Theresa opened the fridge.

The smell was enough to knock Theresa onto her ass; the view wasn't much better. Rows and rows of what might have once been baked goods littered the interior like putrid moss, barely recognizable underneath the ecosystem of wicked fungus and the swarm it nurtured. No doubt shaken by the light of the fridge, an angry cloud of misshapen pink insects swarmed outwards.

Theresa screamed.

There was barely enough time to back away from the swooping cloud of pink terror, less still to get to her feet and run. Down the hallway was a dining room, where sparse illumination gave flashes of seven plastic boxes and a rail-thin mannequin, with naught to fight the screaming cloud of death behind Theresa. She saw even less of the hallway after that.

Theresa wasn't sure where she meant to run, only that A) it was hard to see anything before her and B) she'd just tripped over a stray cabling. Her phone went flying, and with it, her light.

Theresa didn't have time to stand up before the violet cloud fell upon her like a sea of razors, cutting and biting and striking against every square inch of her. Every minute injury coalesced in her mind, projected itself a piece in a mosaic of palpable inhuman anger, the clear image of a thing of glitter and glass that hated. Attempts to right herself degenerated into a blind flailing.

It could only have been a just god that decreed Theresa's blind fingers would touch smooth, familiar steel.

Theresa clambered to her knees, twisting the plastic cap of her propane tankard and mistcrafting the gas outward. Holding her breath, she fumigated herself with propane, and the dying cries from the insects were almost enough to make her a Christian again.

The screaming died down, subsumed by humming and hissing, but Theresa didn't stop. How could she? She had the house right where she wanted it, filling with a bubble of propane only Theresa could control, ready to burst in glorious flame at the drop of a lighter.

"Hear that?" Theresa growled through the encroaching circle of propane, cool in the chill of her air pocket. "I killed your bugs! I killed your stupid, ugly bugs, Girly Things! You have anything else for me?!"

Every step was a thousand tiny slices through the wounds left by the violet cloud, yet Theresa stomped on, tromping through the pitch-pink labyrinth of JGT's printing house. None of anything else was inhabited by the moving. Cowards, the lot of them.

The house swarmed in fear away from Theresa. Shimmered. Like black flies. Like that song she sang in Ontario. It was the

propane

and theresa knew it

but to knot now it was to confidence boost

You go up the stairs.

When you go up the stares

The speakers will cackle at all once. cackle like feedback

and laughter

she says it's funny/ she says i don't have the full picture

she calls me a larva

keelee tells me of her cocoon at the top of her steps, down the hallway, plugged into the wires, a deadened mass of useless chrysalis, the brain of the great pink butterfly

you're the heart, theresa

the larva is the heart of the species. it knows not what it is, nor what it will become. but it knows that, like clockwork, it will become the imago. there was never any other way this could go

but terry pressing on

until she pǝddoɹp

u ʍ o p

.ʇuǝlᴉs puɐ


theresa dreams in hues of pink and violet


Theresa woke up to the overpowering scent of rotten meat and mildew.

The room was dark; her only light was a blinding square of white across from her on… on a low table? She couldn't see much, no, but Theresa didn't recognize the room, nor did she remember falling asleep in a chair built for a child. Theresa certainly didn't remember the eerie stuffed animals seated around the table, nor did she remember putting out… tea…

Theresa sighed. "I'm screwed, aren't I?"

Something giggled. "Relax, darling."

Theresa shot up from her seat, or at least attempted to and fell over as she slammed her knees into a table. That thing had to have been bolted into the floor.

"You know." The voice was silky, regal, refined, filtered through a tinny static. "I think it might help to relax, Theresa. You wouldn't want to pass out again, would you? You're lucky to have avoided a head injury."

"Where are you?" Theresa crawled back into sitting as she let her eyes adjust. "I don't appreciate the roundabout."

The voiced tutted. "The screen, darling."

Theresa squinted, letting her eyes adjust to the glare of the screen, and furrowed her brow.

On the screen, sitting in a well-lit pastel bedroom, was a supernaturally beautiful woman. She might very well have stepped out of a painting: porcelain-white fitted a slender and graceful frame, draped by cascades of platinum-blonde curls. The woman wore a lovely silk dress, a regal femininity punctuated by an elegant china tea set from which she sipped… tea? It had to have been tea. What else might this woman consume but tea?

The woman laughed like a noble, an innocent giggle too practiced to be natural. "I have been told my beauty can be distracting."

"Yeah, you…" Theresa pursed her lips. "… what am I saying? Why… look. I have better things to be doing than shooting the wind, alright? Are you Just Girly Things?"

The woman smiled, took a practiced sip of her tea. "You flatter me, dear. Tragically, I am not. You would be looking for Keelee."

"Again, I don't appreciate the roundabout. Let's…" Theresa groaned in frustration. "Can we start with your name, and your relation to Just Girly Things?"

There was something to her smile, an imparsable abnormality when filtered through the screen, though nevertheless conspicuous in its presence. Like a mannequin practicing emotion; a child meeting the new pet; dogs from the eyes of wolves; flags filtered through red glass; just another distraction.

"Where are my manners? Silly me." The woman did what might have been a curtsy. "My name is Madeleine von Schaeffer. As for my 'connections', shall we say, well, 'investor' is such a dirty word. How about 'good samaritan'?"

"I might actually set this house on fire if you keep doing that."

Mrs. Schaeffer tilted her head, so gracefully as to be unnerving. "'That'?"

"The runaround." Theresa braced herself on the table and grimaced. "The riddles. Refusing to give me a straight answer on what the hell is wrong with you, this house, and… and whoever the hell KeeLee is! Is that so much to ask?"

Mrs. Schaeffer sighed. "Very well. Ask, and you shall receive."

"Thank you!" Lord help Theresa if KeeLee was as difficult to get an answer out of as Mrs. Schaeffer. "Alright, alright. Question one: Where am I?"

"Well," and Mrs. Schaeffer smiled. "You are, depending who you ask, either in the Just Girly Things Headquarters or the residence of one KeeLee Auburn. I would apologize for the mess, but, well, I don't live there." She sipped her tea.

Theresa rolled her eyes. "Alright, alright. So… so this is where this… 'KeeLee' lives. But it's also the HQ for JGT?"

"As they say: behind every successful enterprise is a garage and a good idea." Even over the screen, her teeth looked supernaturally white. "And maybe a sprinkle of funding from a wealthy benefactor."

"Good, thank you. Now: what is 'Just Girly Things'?"

At that, Mrs. Schaeffer dropped her smile, set her teacup on the table before her. Tilted her head in the other direction. All of this stood out to Theresa, and as with everything else she couldn't quite say why it did.

"Theresa, dear. Are you saying you broke into KeeLee's residences before you were privy to the nature of her work? Or am I to believe dearest KeeLee has gotten herself into another enterprise?"

"You say that like she's a busy woman." Theresa wiped her brow. It was still far too hot for March in Pennsylvania, but she had too many questions to work through. "Look, my… my friend, El, is subscribed to your magazine, right?"

Mrs. Schaeffer nodded. "Tell me about her."

"She's…" Theresa sighed. "Look, her life story's not important."

"Can you blame me for my curiosity, dear? You did technically burglarize KeeLee's home."

"And what else was I supposed to do?" Standing up provoked a two-pronged feeling of ache and pins-and-needles, but better standing than sitting at a table with creepy dolls. "You put yourself in my shoes, Mrs. Schaeffer: say your… best friend, your best friend is taken in by a memetic hazard that makes her lose weight. Good for her that she's dieting, but she's not doing it in a healthy way, and there's no indication the arbitrary point that may or may not be her final stop is a healthy weight. How do you get accountability? What's to be done, Mrs. Schaeffer?"

Mrs. Schaeffer… 'cracked' over the mic. There was no other way to put that noise. "Do you believe she was subscribed to the magazine against her will, Theresa? That presents a problem for both of us."

Theresa furrowed her brow. "How so?"

"Well," and Mrs. Schaeffer sighed. "Despite what you seem to think, we're rather similar, Theresa. Normally, if one were to subscribe to Just Girly Things, such a woman must be in crisis. You must understand, Theresa: we deal in female empowerment."

"Oh, screw off with that." Theresa paced the room, fumbling in the dim light for whatever they'd been using to spy on her. "Where's the empowerment in starving to death? Where's the empowerment in basing your office in a…" She groaned. "All these buzzwords. All this obfuscation!"

"Theresa, dear—"

"And how the hell do you know my name?!" If Theresa's jaw got any tighter, she was certain her teeth would crack. "Why did you blow all the lights out?! Why does every single thing I see and hear out of your fucking company feel ripped off of Franz Kafka?!"

Once more, Mrs. Schaeffer went quiet. Picked her cup back up and sipped her tea. Only now was Theresa aware of how Mrs. Schaeffer sat so very still. When finally she looked back at the screen, Theresa swore Mrs. Schaeffer was staring right through her.

"Tell me, Theresa: why does one diet?"

"Look, if this turns into another one of your sophist—"

"Because they want to lose weight." Mrs. Schaeffer's cup went back down. "They want to get thinner, Theresa. It is always a matter of 'want'. When you tell yourself you're going to lose weight, and follow through on your actions, you are performing an action of want."

Theresa blinked.

"If I may make one thing perfectly clear, Theresa: Just Girly Things does not manipulate its customers into something they don't want to do. As a magazine, it cannot manipulate its customers into something they don't want to do. What it does do, what we spent years perfecting its capacity to do, is to empower our audience."

This was… this was absurd. "Empower."

"Empower. To infuse one with power. Of choice, Theresa. You would rather have her weak of will?"

"So now it's 'empowerment'? This—"

"So what else do you call it, then, when you impart the will to power onto your audience?" Mrs. Schaeffer leaned forward, something that inexplicably stuck out to Theresa. "Would you rather we control their every move, Theresa? Force our desires onto them? Dictate their every single thought? I do so wonder who exactly that sounds like, Theresa. Certainly not what you're to march against in the coming month."

It felt… physical, when Mrs. Schaeffer took her eyes off of Theresa. Almost a relief as she closed her eyes to sigh again. "But if she was wrongfully subscribed, that presents a problem. That would imply a bad actor abused our services for malicious purposes. So leave this issue to us, and we'll be certain to resolve it in the coming week. Is that alright?"

Theresa closed her eyes. None of this made any sense, not the house, not Mrs. Schaeffer, not… certainly not whoever this KeeLee was. What was to be done?

… at this stage, probably not too much.

"… fine." Theresa sighed, and opened her eyes. "But how did you know my—"

Everything was silent, and once more, Theresa stood alone in the dark, with only a malformed lead to guide her steps.

… Lord, Sharon probably missed her.

Theresa's phone was nearly out of power, according to the battery, but she had enough to turn her flashlight on and get out of the house.

From out of the only door into the room was a hallway. Two other doors stood on the opposite wall, slightly ajar with a mess of cables that ran down to the door at the end of the hall, to Theresa's right. To her left, the hallway turned a corner. Theresa could barely spot a window through one of the opposite doors; the sun was setting.

Theresa turned to the door at the right, and began walking. Her advance was stopped by an inexplicably familiar and deeply harrowing feeling in the back of her mind. Theresa turned to her left.

She saw no one on the way out of the house. No real sign of habitation. Nothing but trash, and pretty pastel furniture, and trash, and complex sound and video systems, and trash.

So why, as she exited that empty shell of a house, did Theresa feel as if she was being watched?


The light was already on in Theresa's apartment when she arrived. Someone had entered her apartment. Great. Just… great. Just great things from here on out. That's what JGT meant. "Just great things". Always be JGT.

Who was she kidding? If she couldn't burn down JGT, a home intruder was well beyond her capabilities. Better to get it over with now.

Theresa trudged up the stone steps to her apartment, approaching her door and reaching for the handle. Sensibility stayed her hand, however, and it retreated back to Theresa's side, where it stayed for a minute of deliberation until directed to knock twice upon her own door. Better not to alarm the burglar, right? Take the path of least resistance.

The door cracked partially open, motion accompanied by a distressingly familiar voice: "You should come back later, Theresa can't—" Hellen stopped herself. "… Feather?"

"Hellen." Theresa didn't bother with a customary smile. "What are you doing in my house?"

"Well," Hellen's roots were beginning to go auburn, a detail accentuated by the way she ran her fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry, Feather. I… I got worried about Sharon, and you weren't answering the landline. She's delicate, you know?"

"I have a cell phone, Hellen." Theresa crossed her arms. "You could have called me."

"Well, I… I did, Feather. Or I tried." Hellen broke eye contact, stepping back and allowing Theresa back into her apartment. "The calls didn't go through."

"Was this around afternoon? I'd been driving for four hours, you wouldn't believe what employers are making me do." Theresa collapsed onto the couch, Sharon's cue to sit up from her spot on the floor and rush Theresa's lap as if Theresa's internal monologue had allotted her a new paragraph. "I want to think the future's in phone interviews, Hellen, but it's not coming fast enough."

"I'm sorry, Feather." Hellen took her seat across the couch, and Sharon eyed her considerably less bony lap with interest. "You'll get the job soon, I'm sure of it."

Theresa grumbled something in the rough approximation of a "thanks"; otherwise, she remained silent.

She shivered; Theresa was certain Hellen had messed with the thermostat, except it was exactly the same as it had been for the past… who knows how many weeks. Maybe she'd been awake too long. Perhaps she'd spent too much time driving. Theresa could have just lost her mind; that was always a possibility.

Hellen sighed. "I worry about you, Feather. Between Sharon, the job hunt, your work… I think you should take it easy, alright? I worry about you, that's all."

"I'm fine, Hellen. I…" Theresa sighed. "It's fine."

"You don't have to pretend for me, Feather. I'm here for you, no matter what."

Theresa closed her eyes. Licked her lips. Tried to decompress. Opened her eyes, and tried not to make contact with Hellen's.

"… Hellen?"

"Yes, Feather?"

"Do we… empower people?"

Sharon mewled, jumping down from her perch on Theresa's lap. It looked like her leg sores were inflamed again. Theresa was uncertain as to why the path of least resistance ended in thoughts on her cat's medical problems. On a good day, the answer was never guessed at.

"Oh, Feather…" Hellen shifted in place, laying a hand on Theresa's knee. "I really hope we do."

Sharon took her spot on a stained pile of newspapering in the corner, curling inward to lick at her leg sores. Theresa read somewhere that cats had antiseptic saliva. You wouldn't know it, looking at Sharon.

All Theresa knew, looking at Sharon and Hellen and her apartment, was that she didn't feel empowered.

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