Dave suffers from bullying at school, and there's a girl. There's always a girl!
Inside the boys' toilets at Cottingley High School, Dave tucked his shirt into his trousers and attempted to buckle his belt. No matter how hard he tugged, it wouldn't fasten. He glanced at the mirror and sighed. His reflection looked like the before photograph in a slimming product ad.
The door banged open, and Thornton strutted in. Dave's heart sank.
“Where's my homework, Fat Boy?” asked Thornton, stretching his arms to display his overdeveloped biceps.
“What homework?” Dave swallowed, backing away toward the sinks.
“That math exercise due in this morning. The one you were supposed to do.”
Thornton leaped forward and threw his arm around Dave's neck. Dave struggled to escape but was caught in a headlock. Thornton dragged him into the nearest stall, forced him to his knees, and pushed his head into the toilet bowl. Dave fought to lift his head back out, but Thornton gripped Dave's hair and forced his face closer to the piss and floating turds. The stench made Dave retch. Now they were sixteen, he'd thought such immature pranks were in the past.
The stall door creaked.
“Get lost, Rag Head,” said Thornton.
“Let him go!” demanded the familiar voice of Mohammed, Dave's best friend.
“Whatcha gonna do? Call ISIS?”
“No, but I might call Wendy.”
Thornton released his grip on Dave's hair.
Dave clambered to his feet, scrambled out of the stall and gaped at his skinny friend. Was Mohammed crazy? Dave was relieved he'd escaped that swirlie, but Thornton was the toughest and meanest boy in school.
Mohammed produced his phone and waved the screen at Thornton. “Does your girlfriend know about Wendy?”
Dave couldn't see what was on the screen, but it had a dramatic effect on Thornton, who clenched his fists and glared at Mohammed.
“Unless you want it to go viral,” said Mohammed, pocketing his phone. “Back off.”
“Watch yer step, Osama bin Laden.” Thornton shoved Mohammed against the wall and stormed out of the toilets, slamming the door.
Dave and Mohammed shared a look and broke into grins.
“Thanks, Mo,” said Dave, slapping his friend on the back. “You owned him.”
“That douche deserved it.”
Dave checked his school tie and blazer in the mirror. Thankfully, there were no visible souvenirs from his adventure. By holding his breath, he was finally able to buckle his belt. Beside him, Mohammed ran a comb through his short hair and groomed that pathetic mustache. Dave didn't have the heart to tell him it looked like an anorexic caterpillar had died on his mouth.
Dave unzipped his bag and located his deodorant. The commercials claimed it'd transform him into a chick-magnet, but given that he was undisputedly the fattest guy in school and boasted more spots than the average Dalmatian, it'd have to work magic.
In a cloud of sandalwood and vanilla, Dave followed his friend into the bustling corridor and asked, “Who's Wendy?”
Mohammed halted, produced his phone and loaded a picture onto the screen—a screenshot of Thornton's Facebook homepage.
“Where'd you get this?” asked Dave.
“Thornton forgot to log out in the library.”
“Gets better.” Mohammed snickered as he loaded the next screen—Thornton's private messages.
Dave snatched the phone and read the intimate communications between Wendy and Thornton. “Never heard of her.”
“Doesn't go to our school.” Mohammed reclaimed his phone. “Check out this pic.”
A stunning brunette beamed out of the screen.
“Cute!” said Dave.
“Obviously. Dicks get the hottest chicks.”
Dave sighed. It was unlikely he'd ever get a girlfriend, period, never mind one that hot.
Two girls in short skirts rushed by, and Mohammed's head swiveled after them like a TV studio camera. “Speaking of chicks, did you see the new girl?”
“New girl?” Dave's interest piqued.
“Yep. Started today. She's freaky.”
“Good freaky or bad freaky? I mean—is she hot like Kesha or scary, like a female Skrillex?"
Before he could ask more, the bell rang, reminding him he'd be sitting near Thornton in his final class, which was next. Dave hoped Thornton would leave him alone, but past experience suggested he was in for a rough time. They hurried along the corridor until they reached his classroom.
Outside, Mohammed asked, “Want to come over tonight? I bought this awesome new game we can play on dual handsets.”
“Okay. I'll come after mathletes."
Thornton shoved past, knocking Dave against the door jamb. Thankfully, their history teacher was already inside, linking his laptop to the classroom projector. Dave hoped Mr. Williams' presence would discourage Thornton from causing trouble.
“Ignore him,” said Mohammed. “You know how strict Mr. Williams is.”
Dave nodded but wasn't convinced.
“So… mathletes,” said Mohammed. “You've joined the nerd herd. Sad.”
“Says the guy addicted to playing League of Losers.”
“League of Legends!” Mohammed corrected. “The top professional players—”
“Are millionaires. Yeah, you mentioned. None ever had a girlfriend, though.”
“Neither did you.”
“Ouch!” said Dave. “Touché!”
Mohammed smirked and set off for his own class.
Dave shambled inside, then dropped into his seat in front of Thornton. After arranging his pens, he glanced up.
A tiny blonde stood beside the whiteboard. This must be the new girl Mohammed mentioned. Her green eyes appeared too big for her face, like a puppy's, but she was no dog. Even in her drab Cottingley High uniform, she looked gorgeous enough to sing in a girl group like Fifth Harmony. Though he was certain he'd never met her, something about her seemed familiar.
“Settle down, everyone,” said Mr. Williams. “You'll have noticed a fresh face. Tanya, please introduce yourself.”
The girl stepped forward and—in a melodic voice—said, “I come to learn the lore of books and pens. Mayhap, I'll also make a lot of friends.”
The class erupted with laughter. Tanya sounded like someone in that play they did in English last year—A Midsummer Night's Dream. No wonder Mohammed thought she was freaky, but cute girls could get away with weird behavior.
“That's, er… very poetic, Tanya,” said Mr. Williams, running a hand through what remained of his ginger hair. He pointed to the only spare seat, next to Dave. “Sit over there.”
As she strolled around the twin desks, her graceful movements mesmerized him. Once seated, she smiled at him. He could have sworn the lights brightened.
“Dave!” shouted Mr. Williams. “Answer the question.”
“Uh… Question, sir?” He hadn't even noticed Mr. Williams was speaking.
“Where did the girls see fairies?”
“Correct. Let's recap. In nineteen-seventeen, two local girls…”
As Mr. Williams droned on, Dave tried not to look at Tanya. After a minute, he gave in and snuck a glance. She seemed oddly amused by the lecture.
Mr. Williams closed the curtains and switched on the projector. The first fake photograph made famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appeared on the roll-down screen. Dave ignored the familiar black and white picture and admired Tanya's face, illuminated by the reflected light. Between images, her face darkened for a second, then brightened again. She was staring at him.
He felt like a kid caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Should he look away? The corner of her lip curled up, and she winked. The room went dark, then light again. She was focused on the screen. Had he imagined that wink?
Mr. Williams threw the curtains open. Blinding light flooded the room. “In the nineteen-eighties, the girls admitted most of their fairies were cardboard cutouts, yet maintained one photograph was genuine.”
Mr. Williams glared at him, then addressed the class. “For the next exercise, put yourselves in Sir Arthur's shoes. Imagine there's no Google or Wikipedia and you lack the benefit of hindsight. Working in pairs, list reasons you believe the photographs are real.”
Tanya shuffled her chair closer. Dave's pulse raced.
“Er… Tanya, do you believe in fairies?”
She shrugged and examined her long, red fingernails.
“You know Conan Doyle was nuts, right?” he asked.
She raised an eyebrow.
Perhaps another approach. “Where are you from?”
She leaned so close that he inhaled her strawberry breath. “From here to home it be not far to walk, but far enough a lazy boy might balk.”
“Pardon?” Did she mean she thought he was lazy?
Something soft hit his head. A paper ball bounced across the desk.
Behind him, Thornton sniggered. “Don't kid yourself, muppet. You won't get into her pants.”
Tanya spun around. “Thy soul be stained with such iniquity, that even Hell shall spare no space for thee.” She looked like a Chihuahua growling at a Doberman.
Thornton glowered at her and rose from his seat.
Dave recognized the vicious gleam in Thornton's eyes. He was used to being Thornton's punchbag, but one blow might seriously hurt Tanya. He shot to his feet and positioned himself between them.
Mr. Williams strolled over and coughed. Thornton glanced at the teacher.
Mr. Williams raised an eyebrow. “Do you really want to spend some quality time with the headmaster, Mr. Thornton?”
Thornton hesitated for a moment, then sat down and crossed his arms. Apparently, Tanya wasn't worth the trouble.
Dave returned to his seat, breathing a sigh of relief.
The class continued. At the bell, Thornton raced for the door. Dave wondered where he needed to get to so quickly.
As chairs scraped floor tiles and textbooks were squashed into bags, Tanya offered Dave her hand. “My route to home be such a lonely path. Pray come with me; perchance we'll have a laugh.”
He blinked in confusion. No girl had ever asked him to walk her home before, never mind one as hot as Tanya. Who cared if she spoke strangely. This wasn't an offer he could refuse.
“S-sure… Why not?”
Once outside, she veered toward the woods that bordered the playing fields. Mohammed's house was that way, and he was supposed to go over after mathletes. Dave was letting down the team and his friend.
Tanya squeezed his hand, and he shoved aside all thoughts of math. Mohammed would understand. Dave bet Mo would even drop out of a League of Legends game if a girl invited him over. Warmth kindled in his chest. But he couldn't shake that feeling he'd seen her somewhere before.
“Are you on TV or something?”
She laughed, released his hand and snaked her arm around his waist. “Thy clothes be fine, thy hair so short and neat. And what's this smell that's good enough to eat?”
“Er…” He swallowed. “Deodorant?”
They entered the woods and trekked along the meandering, dirt path past ancient oaks and birches. Ahead, rabbits darted into the undergrowth. An unseasonably chilly breeze made him shiver.
When they reached the footbridge over Cottingley Beck, Tanya halted and faced him. “Some fay think pudgy boys be not so fair, yet when you smile, I feel compelled to stare.”
Jeez, was she hitting on him? This was more unexpected than her invitation. Tanya rose on tiptoes. Their lips drew close. Dave closed his eyes. He wished he'd brushed his teeth.
A distant scream shattered the moment.
His eyes flew open. “What was that?”
She shook her head and shrugged.
“Hey!” someone shouted. “Give it back.”
He recognized that voice—Mo!
Dave ran toward the shout. Tanya followed. They crashed through ferns and weaved around the trees. Ahead, he spied Mohammed inside a clearing with Thornton. Dave darted behind a bush. Tanya joined him.
Thornton threw a phone on the ground and stamped on it. “Now whatcha gonna do?” He punched Mohammed, who dropped to the grass, then curled into a ball. Thornton kicked him, hitting the arms and legs Mohammed used to shield his body.
Dave couldn't abandon his friend now, especially after what Mohammed had done earlier. Trembling, he turned to Tanya. “Wait here. I have to help Mo.”
She gripped his arm with surprising strength. “But thou art squat, while he be big and strong. To risk thyself this way be surely wrong.”
“Mo's my best friend.”
She looked at him with an expression that looked like respect. He must be delusional.
“I cannot wait; the hour be late for me. My folks insist I'm home in time for tea.”
“What? No!” He groaned, a small, selfish part of himself hating Mohammed.
Tanya stroked his cheek, then turned and headed back toward the path.
Feeling abandoned but also pissed that Thornton had ruined his moment—possibly the only kiss he'd ever get—he rolled up his sleeves and entered the clearing.
Thornton smirked at Dave's approach, beckoning with one finger. “Come on then, Humpty!”
Dave seethed. Thornton had seriously fracked up his life and hurt his best friend. Dave might not be the strongest boy in Cottingley High, but he was the heaviest. Bursting into a sprint, he crashed his shoulder into Thornton's chest.
Thornton toppled with a yelp and landed hard.
He couldn't believe it. For years he'd lived in fear of this douche, but one push was all it took to knock him down. Panting, he turned to Mohammed. “You okay?”
Mohammed clutched his knee and flinched. “No!”
Thornton scrambled up. His eyebrows rose in incredulity. “What's with the Chuck Norris act? You've never fought back before.” His face darkened. “Bet it's 'cause of that skank. I'd love to hear her scream.”
Dave squared his shoulders. “Leave Tanya out of this.”
“Wait a second. You don't live this way.” Thornton rubbed his chin. “Were you walking her home?” A spark entered his eyes, and he dashed toward the path.
Mohammed struggled to stand, but his legs buckled. Dave gave chase alone. Wheezing, he reached the path in time to see Thornton catch Tanya, thirty yards ahead.
She faced Thornton and raised her hand. Beside her, a seven-foot line of blue fire ripped through the air, then widened into a disk.
Dave rubbed his eyes.
She sprang into the disk and vanished. Thornton hesitated, then followed.
Dave hobbled over. Up close, the disk was transparent. The trees viewed through it were more vivid like the brightness turned up on a computer screen. He'd seen things like this in movies: doors to other dimensions.
His pulse raced. Should he enter? Thornton might be doing unspeakable things to Tanya. Really, there was no choice. Shutting his eyes, he stepped through.
Dave was welcomed by the scent of roses. He opened his eyes. The sun shone in a blue sky, nightingales sang in the branches, and lush ivy covered the trees. The rippling brook sparkled green.
He turned and gaped. Nearby, Tanya now towered over Thornton. Wings like a dragonfly's unfurled from her back. A red dress had replaced her uniform. He realized where he'd recognized her from. Those “fake” photos. She was a fairy. One who could change size and shape at will.
Thornton trembled. “W-what are you?”
“Though Conan Doyle be clever for a man, ne'er did he find the sacred Realm of Pan.”
Six more fairies stepped out from the shadows between trees. These weren't beautiful like Tanya; they resembled the gargoyles on the church roof. Licking their green lips, they encircled Thornton.
Dave glanced back at the portal. Should he run? Track wasn't exactly his strength, and those fairies looked athletic.
One of the fairies curtsied to Tanya. “My Queen, what didst delay thine hunting trip? We've waited hours for human flesh to rip.”
She glanced at Dave and blushed.
“W-what do you want?” whimpered Thornton.
Tanya grinned, revealing teeth like a saw blade. “Four hundred years we've hid and hunted here, where Realms of Man and Pan stand hand in hand. For food, we've lured in fools who wander near. And thy prime rump and ribs will taste so grand.”
A dark patch appeared around Thornton's crotch. He pointed at Dave. “Eat him. He's fatter.”
Tanya turned to Dave and smiled. “We took an oath to never eat the brave. Besides, I like my tubby hero, Dave.”
Dave took a step toward the portal, then paused. Though Thornton was a douche, nobody deserved such a horrific death. “D-do you have to eat people? Can't you give him one more chance?”
Tanya shook her head. “Thou art most kind to care about this knave, but fay to our cruel nature be enslaved.”
The disk began to shrink. Not a moment too soon, Dave leaped through. The portal snapped shut on Thornton's screams.
WORD COUNT 2718
Plugged in "Noticing Newbies Newsletter (August 17, 2016)"