After the fourth hit on
the snooze button, Lyle was good and late.
up already!” His mother banged on his bedroom door. What was
the big deal? It was only school. Not like it was going
the blankets over his head. On his desk, next to his
computer was the algebra homework he hadn’t done. Maybe if
he could get a little more sleep the answers would come to
him. Wasn’t a rested mind a healthy mind?
door banged open and the blankets were suddenly yanked away.
Early morning sun and a jolt of cold air assaulted him.
Startled, he sat up quickly, his lanky body jerking in five
directions at once. He made a grab for the blankets but his
mother dropped them to the floor.
kidding, Lyle. Your dad took the other car and I’m driving
you to school today.”
already. I’m up.”
paused from putting in earrings long enough to nod. She was
perfectly dressed and made-up already. Lyle didn’t even
have time for a shower.
mom left, he shut the door behind her and changed into a
clean pair of boxers from his dresser drawer. There was a
black t-shirt on the floor under his feet. He picked it up
and sniffed it. Good enough. Lyle pulled the t-shirt over
his head. He grabbed a pair of jeans from the back of his
text stared back at him from the desk. If only algebra was
after lunch. He could maybe finish his homework by then. Not
that he cared to. Algebra had no real world application that
he could decipher and all his college bound friends were in
AP calculus. So he wasn’t going to score points with a
college applications board that way. Not that he was on the
college fast track.
the book into his backpack. Neatly folded between the pages
was a sheet of notebook paper with Lyle Glazer, Algebra I
written on it. That was as far as he’d gotten in the
assignment. He was supposed to solve problems one through
eight from the book but that wasn’t
going to happen.
We’re leaving,” his mom yelled from downstairs.
A spray of
deodorant later and he was ready to go. His brown hair was
cropped too short to need even a token brushing and some
mouthwash took care of his breath. School bag in hand, he
trotted downstairs. His mother was hovering by the front
door her monogrammed briefcase in hand; the gold letters,
S.G., Sandra Glazer, glinted in the morning sun.
anything?” she asked.
have gotten up at a decent time.”
that’s really helpful, mom.”
him a look that said I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, better
than any reprimand. Lyle sighed heavily but wasn’t going to
dug one hand into her purse and pulled out a peanut butter
chocolate South Beach diet bar. “Eat in the car.”
He took the
bar and they were out the door.
dropped Lyle off in front of Washington High. She was
talking on her Bluetooth headset, had been the entire way to
school, and mouthed, “Good-bye, honey,” at him as he climbed
out of her Forrester. He nodded in her direction and shut
the door. Instantly, she was gone, hurrying off to her
exciting career in real estate.
out his cell phone to check the time. Quarter ‘til eight. He
had fifteen minutes to do his homework, go to his locker,
say “hi” to friends, and use the bathroom. He decided to
prioritize and went to go find Jacob. He could say “Hi” and
possibly copy someone’s homework.
at his locker with Emily. Lyle hurried over.
you do the algebra homework?” Lyle asked.
snickered. She was in AP Calculus.
Jacob said slowly. “But-“
them all wrong,” Emily said. “I just checked his work.”
didn’t do any of it.”
now,” Emily said.
you even here?” Lyle snapped.
frowned. “Screw you.” She spun on her heel, mouse blond hair
whipping around, and stomped off.
moaned, “Why’d you do that?”
you care? She’s just a friend, right?”
she might’ve done my algebra for me.”
wouldn’t,” Lyle said. “When has she ever?”
this time I’m flunking.”
kidding. So am I.”
Jacob ran a
hand through his dark, curly hair. “Who wants to go to
couldn’t take it anymore. Jacob had this obnoxious ability
to make the rest of the world feel guilty for his problems.
put my books away.” Lyle took off for his locker.
that fat emo girl who always wore fairy t-shirts and her emo
friend were blocking his locker.
me,” Lyle said.
ignored him. She was deep in conversation with a blade thin
girl dressed all in black.
says to leave milk out,” Caroline said.
for real?” asked the other girl.
ass, I need to get into my locker,” Lyle said.
A cold look
stiffened Caroline’s features. She turned to Lyle and gave
him a long, hard look. Today, her t-shirt had a fairy riding
a unicorn and said, ‘Believe’.
smirk twisted Caroline’s mouth. “Well, if it isn’t the brain
trust.” The other girl snickered.
put her hefty bulk fully in front of Lyle’s locker. She
leaned against it.
the magic word, brain trust?”
That got an
eyebrow raise from Caroline. “Tell me what movie that’s
Family. Now move.”
“Kudos on the reference, normie.”
Francesca,” Caroline grabbed her friend and left.
his backpack in his locker just as the first bell rang. He
grabbed his books and binder for the first three periods and
went to face Algebra.
Mr. Stevenson said as soon as the class was seated.
slouched as far down in his seat as he could.
cracked open his algebra book and let the blank sheet of
paper fall to the desk.
turned around, “Got anything, man?”
as possible, as if stalling would make a difference, Lyle
unfolded the paper.
something written on it. Maybe it was his English homework.
Lyle certainly didn’t remember writing anything this
at the sheet of paper and almost dropped it, his fingers
numb with shock. Was this a joke? But it couldn’t be. Cold
sweat broke out all over his body followed by sudden
homework was done. All of it. Problems one through eight.
Was he hallucinating?
blinked rapidly. No. Each time he looked at the paper the
answers were still there. Was it someone else’s paper? The
name at the top was his own, written in his hand, last
Friday when the assignment had been given.
a little fearful, Lyle clutched his homework. Should he turn
it in? Who had done it? He knew he hadn’t. Was it a joke?
What if all the answers were wrong?
That was a
laugh. He had nothing else to hand in anyway.
handed the paper to Jacob.
you didn’t do it?” Jacob said a note of reproach in his
Jacob passed the homework forward.
question of the algebra homework worried Lyle all day long.
He hadn’t so much as opened his algebra text the entire
weekend. So how could his homework just fall out of the
book, already done?
answer that made any sense was he had done it in his sleep.
Perhaps he was actually a secret math genius. Genius might
be hoping for too much. If Lyle hade done his homework in
his sleep that didn’t mean he’d done it correctly. For all
he knew, he’d handed in a sheet of gibberish. Still, it
couldn’t be much worse than his usual work.
The next day, Mr.
Stevenson handed back the homework. Lyle sat rigid in his
seat waiting to be accused of cheating.
handed Lyle back his paper with a wounded hound dog look.
“Who’d you copy off of? And why didn’t you let me copy
grabbed his homework from Jacob. In red ink at the top of
the sheet was a ‘C-’. He looked at Jacob’s paper. A big, red
‘F’ was scratched across it.
Lyle shoved the ‘C-’ into his binder. Good enough. An ‘A’
would have looked suspicious. He’d never gotten an ‘A’ in
math his whole life. But a solid ‘C-’, that he could work
already forming in his mind. If he could do his math
homework in his sleep, maybe he could do all of his homework
in his sleep.
By the time
Lyle got home, he had it all worked out. Long ago he’d
discovered two things: he slept better with a snack before
bedtime and he was one of those people who are particularly
susceptible to warm milk. It was a trick his mother had used
on him for years.
dinner Lyle went up to his room and put all of his homework
on his desk. He carefully arranged blank paper, a ballpoint
pen, a pencil, and an eraser next to the textbooks.
three homework assignments. Another set of questions from
the algebra textbook and two short essays, one for English
about The Scarlet Letter, and one for History about WWI.
Looking over his work so far, he decided to open the algebra
and history texts to the right pages. Less work when he was
sleepwalking. Plus, what if he opened to the wrong page in
his sleep and ended up writing about ancient Greece? Better
to be safe.
the desk one more time, pleased with himself. He nodded,
sure all was in readiness. Downstairs in the fridge was a
turkey sandwich ready to be consumed with a glass of warm
milk at approximately 10:30 p.m. Now for a few hours of TV.
flopped into his bed and picked up the remote. He grinned.
Time to watch his guilty pleasure America’s Next Top Model.
At six a.m.
Lyle’s alarm clock went off. He was tempted to hit the
snooze button. Then he remembered his homework. Smiling in
anticipation Lyle jumped out of bed.
done? Rubbing his hands together like a cartoon villain Lyle
checked the desk.
stopped when he saw the blank notebook paper he’d set out
for the two essays.
he breathed. Panic kick-started his heart. The algebra? What
about the algebra?
Next to the
open math book was a completed page of problems. He picked
it up, turned it over in his hands. At least that was done.
up the paper for the English essay. Maybe the essay was on
the bottom of the stack. He flipped through the loose leaf
nothing. Lyle saw something scrawled in tiny letters across
a piece of paper. The words “Only algebra!” was underlined
twice. Below that, almost as an after thought, “Jackass” had
been added and underlined three times.
awfully rude of him. Plus, now he had to write the essays
during lunch. For a minute, he was angry with himself for
calling himself names and not doing all his homework.
The more he
looked at the handwriting though, the less convinced he was
that it was his. He never wrote that small or with as many
someone was pulling a prank on him. Lyle looked at his
bedroom window. The porch roof was right under the window
and it was easy to sneak in and out of it. He’d used it
himself many times over the years.
solve this mystery. The family camcorder was in the hall
closet. Tonight, he could set up a little sting for the
joker. Maybe it was Jacob or Emily. Certainly he shouldn’t
lose a night’s sleep. Let them do what they wanted while he
slept. He’d have plenty of proof in the morning.
up and gathered his books together. As he was shuffling the
notebook paper, his elbow tipped over the glass of milk he’d
left on the desk.
Lyle tried to catch the glass. He’d only drunk half of it
slipped through his fingers and hit the carpet. Nothing
spilled. Lyle bent and picked it up. The glass was empty. A
dry crust of milk at the bottom of the glass was all that
shrug, Lyle left the glass on his desk. Maybe his midnight
visitor had finished off the milk.
After school, Lyle dug
the video camera out of the hall closet. Making sure the
battery was charged he looked for a good place to put it. He
needed a clear view of the desktop but wanted the camera
He put the
camera in his backpack and zipped it mostly shut. He left
just enough room for the lens to poke out of the bag. Then
he positioned the backpack on his desk with the camera
facing the room. Lyle crouched down and checked the angle.
The desk and desk chair were covered. Whoever was coming in
the window would be in frame the instant they sat down.
He went to
bed as usual that night secure in the knowledge the intruder
would be caught on video. With luck he’d even have something
good to post on YouTube.
up before the alarm went off eager to watch the video. He
sat down at the desk and pulled the video camera from his
school bag. After being left on all night, the battery was
dead. Lyle had already anticipated that and had the charger
on hand. He plugged the camera into the charger and turned
it on. The view screen flipped out and he hit the fast
nothing compressed into minutes as he fast forwarded the
video. There was nothing until 3:00 a.m.
Lyle thought the little glowing things were glitches or dust
or bugs. But when two of them picked up the pencil he’d left
out, he gasped and rewound.
couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He felt sick and
excited and half crazy all at the same time. Was he insane?
Or was the world melting down?
At 3 a.m. a
dozen little tiny things? Beings? Lyle groped for something
to call them, flew onto his desk. Each one of the creatures
had four to eight spiky, insectile wings. When they flew
they glowed like fireflies. As their wings stopped beating
the glow faded. They landed on the desk and four of them
walked onto his algebra text while three more maneuvered the
pencil. Two picked up an eraser and the remaining three flew
over to the half empty glass of milk and hovered inside,
taking turns sipping milk. As Lyle watched, they all took
turns reading the algebra questions, working the pencil and
eraser, or getting a drink of milk.
times, Lyle rewound the video. Over and over he watched the
creatures land on his desk and get to work. What on earth
were they? Judging by the size of his pencil, the tallest,
tiny thing was five inches tall, the smallest was three
inches. They didn’t look like flesh and blood either. Their
skin was brown and thorny like the branches of a rose bush.
Their hair was either moss or a mass of twigs. One of them
was deformed, its wings stunted and too small for flying.
The others had to carry it. Even when they set it down, it
limped on a twisted leg.
twenty-seventh fast forward viewing of the video, a word was
forming in Lyle’s mind as to what to call them. He kept
shoving the word aside, calling it impossible. Ridiculous.
The more he watched the video, the more familiar the twig
people became. He’d seen something like them before, a
rendering of a distant, prettier cousin, on one of
hovered at his locker that morning before school. Waiting.
Watching. As if he could somehow miss Caroline. He shifted
from foot to foot and glanced at the empty space in front of
her locker, which was right next to his.
What if she
didn’t stop at her locker before school? He wouldn’t see her
until after lunch. Lyle’s eyes searched both ends of the
was! A gothic Good Year blimp followed by a string of black
sheep. Lyle wanted to talk privately but couldn’t think of a
way to get rid of her friends. He waited, unsure if he
should call her over or wait until after school.
and her entourage chatted a few minutes then the group broke
up. Lyle sighed with relief when Caroline alone approached
Caroline, you like fairies, right?” Lyle blurted out as she
worked the combination lock on her locker.
her eyes. “They’re called gay people, you moron.”
gays,” Lyle said. “I mean fairy fairies, like wings and
them. Why?” She looked at him suspiciously.
do you do…to,” Lyle paused. He hadn’t thought this far into
the conversation. He couldn’t just ask, “How do you keep
them doing your algebra homework?” She’d think he was
“How do you
what, brain trust? Spit it out.”
“How do you
snorted. “Wow, breakin’ out the five dollar words, huh? Why,
have you pissed off any fairies lately?”
mean, how do you keep them happy? Remember that story about
the shoemaker who had fairies make shoes for him?”
“I think I
see what you are getting at. The story is The Elves and the
they left at the end, didn’t they?”
question is how to keep elves making your shoes?”
Caroline thought for a moment. “First rule is, don’t call
them by name. People call them ‘The Kindly Ones’ or ‘Lords
and Ladies’. Second, don’t thank them or they’ll get angry
and leave. Third, I think the shoemaker gave them clothes or
something. So, don’t give them anything. But, I’ve read that
a lot of house spirits want a bowl of milk put out for them.
And the last thing is, don’t watch them work. If you
catch’em in the act, they’ll take off. And if they’re really
mad they’ll play nasty tricks on you.”
perfect,” Lyle said.
really want to know, you should crack a book,” Caroline told
“Why do you
even want to know about fairies, anyway?”
because,” Lyle replied.
Lyle erased the video of the fairies. He’d thought long and
hard about keeping it, maybe trying to use it to make money.
The problem was everyone would want to come see them. The
fairies would leave if anyone saw them and then he’d be back
to doing his own algebra. Plus, if the fairies found out
about the video, they would probably leave. He guessed that
a video counted as being spied on. How they could find out,
he didn’t know but it wasn’t worth it to take the chance. If
he could pass algebra, he’d be able to graduate with his
knew the fairy rules, he stuck to them. Every night he put
out a bowl of milk for the fairies whether he had algebra
homework or not. He did everything he could to make sure he
slept soundly while they were working. If he had to use the
bathroom, he held it and went later. The fair folk came in
through the window every night. How they managed, he didn’t
know. They came whether the window was open or shut, locked
or unlocked. Fairy magic was all Lyle could call it.
when he saw Caroline in the hall at school, he wanted to
tell her all those t-shirts she had were true. But he knew
if he talked about the fairies, she’d want proof, want to
see them herself. But he couldn’t breathe a word. Every
ounce of willpower he had went into restraining his own
burning desire to see them again.
everything was fine. Winter came and went. Lyle’s math grade
crawled from a D- to a C even though he had trouble on the
mid-term exam. He would be able to get a passing grade which
meant no summer school and in the fall he’d be a senior.
and with it, an upswing in parties. Every weekend brought a
new kegger and a school full of frustrated students dying to
blow off steam. Lyle and his friends weren’t immune. Jacob
had picked up Emily and Lyle in his car early one evening
and they’d gone to a party thrown by one of the
cheerleaders. Lyle wasn’t sure who she was and it didn’t
party it was up to Jacob, sober and complaining, to drop
them back at their houses. Jacob pulled over to the curb a
block from Lyle’s house. Slow and clumsy Lyle crawled from
the car. He managed to slam the passenger side door of
Jacob’s ancient Mercury after the second try.
can make it?” Jacob asked for the fifth time.
I’m good,” Lyle said. He had over indulged but was still on
his feet, which was more than he could say for Emily who was
passed out in the back seat.
sigh of a forty year old who knows better, Jacob said, “All
right. See you Monday.”
out of here.” Lyle was already staggering in the direction
of his house.
Jacob called as he pulled away.
or window, Lyle wondered as he approached his house. The
front door was easiest to get in but it meant running a
gauntlet of obstacles. Namely, the stairs to the second
the porch to his bedroom window meant a one story fall if he
slipped. Lyle took careful stock of his current state of
drunkenness. He should never have done that last shot of
whiskey. He didn’t even like whiskey but there had been
cheering and a challenge involved. He wasn’t even sure if
he’d won. Still, he was just on this side of wasted. The
cool spring night air was helping him sober up and he took a
few deep breaths.
fairies. Lyle groped for his cell phone and realized it
wasn’t in his pocket. He either lost it in a drinking game
or had left it in Jacob’s car. Either way Jacob would
happily inform him tomorrow. Right now he just needed to
know if the fairies were upstairs or not.
Lyle fired off a few brain cells. The dashboard clock in
Jacob’s Mercury had said 2:15. He had forty five minutes to
pass out before the fairies showed up to do problems eight
climbed the porch rail and hauled himself up to the porch
roof. Moving very slowly, avoiding any extra noise, he
crawled to his bedroom window. A few hours ago he’d snuck
out the window and had left it open in anticipation of
returning the same way.
into the window and fell when his foot caught on the sill.
He rolled to his feet and tried to steady himself.
There was a
shriek from the desk. The first scream of outrage was picked
up by a dozen more voices.
stupidly, Lyle stared at his desk across the room. The
fairies were there, caught in the act. They were frozen,
pencil poised over the sheet of paper he’d left. Lyle was
paralyzed, his brain trying to process too much at once. He
was face to face with the fairies. But the time was 2:15.
They shouldn’t be here yet. He looked at the glowing red
timer on the cable box. According to the cable company, it
was 3:20 a.m.
mouth fell open. The missing piece of the puzzle was
supplied by his mother’s voice in his head. ‘Don’t forget to
turn your clock forward. Daylight savings starts.’
pleaded Lyle with a croak.
dropped what they were doing and flew at him, their tiny,
furious voices buzzing with inarticulate rage.
Lyle tried to shut the widow just in case that could stop
them. A dozen thorny bodies and razor sharp wings flew at
Lyle tried to swat them away. The fairies scratched and cut
him, slicing his hands and face. They moved so quickly, his
eyes could only catch a glowing blur as they whizzed by.
sorry!” Lyle cried as he dropped to the floor.
Lyle cowered on the floor, arms over his head. Slowly he
worked out the fact that the fairies were gone and it was
safe to get up.
groan, he stood. The scratches they left him with didn’t
sting nearly so much as the thought that the fairies were
gone for good.
slumped in his desk chair. Depression settled over him in a
sobering funk. He switched on the desk lamp. His algebra
homework had only two answers finished. What was he going to
do now? Anger and disappointment washed over him. He wanted
to punch something. How could he have been so stupid? Why
hadn’t he paid more attention or not lost his cell phone or
passed out in the bushes by the porch? A hundred little
things he could have, should have done to prevent this
tragedy crowded around him.
penetrated Lyle’s self pity. Sobbing. Someone was crying.
Is it me?
Lyle asked himself. He roused himself from thought. No, he
squeaking sobs came from the bowl of milk he’d left on the
other side of his computer.
over. Hiding behind the cereal bowl was the gimpy fairy from
the video, the one the others had to carry around. The tiny,
malformed wings shook as it cried.
looked up. Lyle couldn’t tell if it was surprised or not.
One eye was droopy and the thorns on its wooden body made
its expression unreadable.
the fairy said. It used a shriveled hand to wipe its tears.
me, you great, big, stupid thing! Happy now?” The fairy
limped over to Lyle and glared up at him angrily.
bad,” Lyle said. “They’ll come back for you, right?”
lame. They only barely put up with me as it was.” The fairy
kicked the desktop with a spiny foot leaving a deep gouge in
Lyle scratched his head. “You can stay here.”
yeah,” Lyle blushed, a little ashamed of his self interest.
“All the milk you can drink,” he added.
have to do better than that!” The fairy spat. “I want a
warm, soft bed, plenty of milk, and the occasional shot of
grain alcohol or you can kiss my twisted bum good-bye.
Understand, you great, dumb thing?”
Lyle held out a finger. “No problem. Shake on it?”
fairy grumbled. Its small woody hand gripped Lyle’s finger
and they shook.