Inside Drops of Crimson

 
 
   
 

In This Issue

 
 
 
  Got Milk2 + Homework = Magic - Che Gilson
 
 

After the fourth hit on the snooze button, Lyle was good and late.

             “Lyle! Get up already!” His mother banged on his bedroom door. What was the big deal? It was only school. Not like it was going anywhere.

             “Lyle! Fifteen minutes.”

             Lyle pulled 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?

             The bedroom door banged open and the blankets were suddenly yanked away. Early morning sun and a jolt of cold air assaulted him.

             “Mom!” 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.

             “I’m not kidding, Lyle. Your dad took the other car and I’m driving you to school today.”

             “All right already. I’m up.”

             His mom 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.

             Once his 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 desk chair.

             The algebra 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.

             Lyle shoved 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.

             “Lyle, now! We’re leaving,” his mom yelled from downstairs.

             “Coming!”

             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.

             “Eat anything?” she asked.

             “No.”

             “You should have gotten up at a decent time.”

             “Thanks, that’s really helpful, mom.”

             She flashed him a look that said I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, better than any reprimand. Lyle sighed heavily but wasn’t going to apologize.

             “Here,” she 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.

*****     

             Sandra 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.

             Lyle pulled 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.

             Jacob was at his locker with Emily. Lyle hurried over.

             “Hey, did you do the algebra homework?” Lyle asked.

             Emily snickered. She was in AP Calculus.

             “Yeah,” Jacob said slowly. “But-“

             “He got them all wrong,” Emily said. “I just checked his work.”

             “Shit. I didn’t do any of it.”

             “Too late now,” Emily said.

             “Why are you even here?” Lyle snapped.

             Emily frowned. “Screw you.” She spun on her heel, mouse blond hair whipping around, and stomped off.

             Jacob moaned, “Why’d you do that?”

             “What do you care? She’s just a friend, right?”

             “Yeah, but she might’ve done my algebra for me.”

             “No, she wouldn’t,” Lyle said. “When has she ever?”

             “Yeah, but this time I’m flunking.”

             “No kidding. So am I.”

             Jacob ran a hand through his dark, curly hair. “Who wants to go to college anyway?”

             Lyle couldn’t take it anymore. Jacob had this obnoxious ability to make the rest of the world feel guilty for his problems.

             “I gotta put my books away.” Lyle took off for his locker.

             Caroline, that fat emo girl who always wore fairy t-shirts and her emo friend were blocking his locker.

             “S’cuse me,” Lyle said.

             Caroline ignored him. She was deep in conversation with a blade thin girl dressed all in black.

             “The book says to leave milk out,” Caroline said.

             “Is this for real?” asked the other girl.

             “Hey, fat 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’.

             A nasty smirk twisted Caroline’s mouth. “Well, if it isn’t the brain trust.” The other girl snickered.

             Caroline put her hefty bulk fully in front of Lyle’s locker. She leaned against it.

              “What’s the magic word, brain trust?”

             “Now.”

             That got an eyebrow raise from Caroline. “Tell me what movie that’s from.”

             “Addams Family. Now move.”

             She smiled. “Kudos on the reference, normie.”

             “Come on, Francesca,” Caroline grabbed her friend and left.

             Lyle shoved 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.

             “Homework,” Mr. Stevenson said as soon as the class was seated.

             Lyle slouched as far down in his seat as he could.

             “Pass your papers forward.”

             Lyle cracked open his algebra book and let the blank sheet of paper fall to the desk.

             Jacob turned around, “Got anything, man?”

             As slowly as possible, as if stalling would make a difference, Lyle unfolded the paper.

             There was something written on it. Maybe it was his English homework. Lyle certainly didn’t remember writing anything this weekend.

             He looked 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 elation.

             The algebra homework was done. All of it. Problems one through eight. Was he hallucinating?

             Lyle 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.

             Giddy, and 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.

             “Here.” He handed the paper to Jacob.

             “I thought you didn’t do it?” Jacob said a note of reproach in his voice.

             “I didn’t.”

             “Gotcha.” Jacob passed the homework forward.

 

*****

             The 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?

             The only 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.

             Jacob 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 yours?”

             Lyle 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.

             Grinning, 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 with.

             Plans were 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.

             After 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.

             He had 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.

             He surveyed 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.

             Lyle 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.

             Was it done? Rubbing his hands together like a cartoon villain Lyle checked the desk.

             His heart stopped when he saw the blank notebook paper he’d set out for the two essays.

             “The hell,” 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.

             He picked up the paper for the English essay. Maybe the essay was on the bottom of the stack. He flipped through the loose leaf sheets. Nothing.

             Maybe not 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.

             That seemed 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 flourishes.

             Perhaps 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.

             Time to 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.

             Lyle stood 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.

             “Crap!” Lyle tried to catch the glass. He’d only drunk half of it last night.

             The glass 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 was left.

             With a 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 hidden.

             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.

 

*****

             Lyle woke 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 forward button.

             Hours of nothing compressed into minutes as he fast forwarded the video. There was nothing until 3:00 a.m.

             At first, 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.

             Lyle 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.

             Ten, twenty 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.

             On the 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 Caroline’s t-shirts.

 

*****

             Lyle 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 hall.

             There she 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.

             Caroline and her entourage chatted a few minutes then the group broke up. Lyle sighed with relief when Caroline alone approached her locker.

             “Hey, Caroline, you like fairies, right?” Lyle blurted out as she worked the combination lock on her locker.

             She rolled her eyes. “They’re called gay people, you moron.”

             “No, not gays,” Lyle said. “I mean fairy fairies, like wings and crap.”

             “I like them. Why?” She looked at him suspiciously.

             “Like, what 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 insane.

             “How do you what, brain trust? Spit it out.”

             “How do you appease them?”

             Caroline snorted. “Wow, breakin’ out the five dollar words, huh? Why, have you pissed off any fairies lately?”

             “No, I 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 Shoemaker.”

             “Yeah. But they left at the end, didn’t they?”

             “So, the question is how to keep elves making your shoes?”

             “Yes.”

             “Okay.” 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.”

             “That’s perfect,” Lyle said.

             “If you really want to know, you should crack a book,” Caroline told him.

             Lyle grunted.

             “Why do you even want to know about fairies, anyway?”

             “Just because,” Lyle replied.

 

*****     

             That night, 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 senior class.

             Once Lyle 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.

             Sometimes 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.

 

*****

             For months, 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.

             Spring came 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 matter anyway.

             After the 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.

             “Sure you can make it?” Jacob asked for the fifth time.

             “Yeah, no, 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.

             With the sigh of a forty year old who knows better, Jacob said, “All right. See you Monday.”

             “Just get out of here.” Lyle was already staggering in the direction of his house.

             “Bye,” Jacob called as he pulled away.

             Front door 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 floor.

             Climbing 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.

             The 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.         

             With effort 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 through fifteen.

             Lyle 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.

 

             He ducked 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.

             Blinking 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.

             Lyle’s 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.’

             “No,” pleaded Lyle with a croak.

             The fairies dropped what they were doing and flew at him, their tiny, furious voices buzzing with inarticulate rage.

             “Don’t go,” Lyle tried to shut the widow just in case that could stop them. A dozen thorny bodies and razor sharp wings flew at his face.

             Screaming, 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.

             “I’m sorry!” Lyle cried as he dropped to the floor.

             For awhile, 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.

             With a 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.

             Lyle 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.

             A sound penetrated Lyle’s self pity. Sobbing. Someone was crying.

             Is it me? Lyle asked himself. He roused himself from thought. No, he wasn’t crying.

             The tiny squeaking sobs came from the bowl of milk he’d left on the other side of his computer.

             He looked 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.

             “Um,” Lyle said.

             The fairy 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.

             “Bollocks,” the fairy said. It used a shriveled hand to wipe its tears.

             “Umm,” Lyle repeated.

             “They left me, you great, big, stupid thing! Happy now?” The fairy limped over to Lyle and glared up at him angrily.

             “That’s too bad,” Lyle said. “They’ll come back for you, right?”

             “No. I’m 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 the wood.

             “You, uh…”  Lyle scratched his head. “You can stay here.”

             “And do your homework?”

             “Well, yeah,” Lyle blushed, a little ashamed of his self interest. “All the milk you can drink,” he added.

             “You’ll 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?”

             Smiling, Lyle held out a finger. “No problem. Shake on it?”

             “Aye,” the fairy grumbled. Its small woody hand gripped Lyle’s finger and they shook.

             “The name’s Thornberry Spiklepin.”

             “Pleased to meet you.”         

 
 

About the Author

 
Che Gilson
 
Che Gilson is the author of two graphic novels, Avigon: Gods and Demons (Image Comics), and Dark Moon Diary (TOKYOPOP). Currently she reviews yaoi manga for Otaku USA magazine and reviews TV shows on Comicnews.info. She is working on a web comic with Brett Uher the artist of Dark Moon Diary and is constantly in search of manga artists to collaborate with. Her passions include drawing, reading (fantasy, sci-fi and YA naturally), manga, comic books, gothiclolita fashion from Japan and Asian Ball Jointed Dolls.
 

Find her on the web at

   
Copyright (c) 2008 Drops of Crimson. All rights reserved.