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Posted on March, 9 at 11:04 am

NOT EXACTLY A FAIRY TALE # 4

by

Frank Conniff

The trans-dimensional vortex is a place filled with fairies, sprites, elves and pixies, many of whom have been known to frolic on more than one occasion.  But there is an expression favored by the more sober minded elders of this magical realm: It’s always whimsical until somebody loses an eye.  So even in this enchanted setting, the line between frolicking and roughhousing must never be crossed.

Everyone values their eyes – they really seem to come in handy if you like looking at stuff  – but the eyes of a fairy princess are a rare and priceless commodity, highly coveted by certain demonic entities.  Fairy princess eyes have been sold for vast sums on the secret parts of e-bay that deal in black-market sorcery.  Fairy princesses in full control of their powers can usually fend off the vicious creatures who would deprive them of their sight, but the younger ones, still developing their talents, must be ever vigilant of this danger.

The teenage fairy princess with the most to fear was Princess Millie. Other adolescent fairy princesses, some not the most modest beauties in the world, all agreed that Millie’s eyes were something to behold.  Sunsets, rainbows and twinkling stars all felt second-rate when meeting her gaze.  One time she stared at the northern lights and an aurora borealis fell into a suicidal depression. When you looked into Millie’s eyes, you saw shades of every bright color blend into a kaleidoscope of hues yet to be named, perhaps because they are the good shades of light that God keeps only for special occasions. So bedazzling were her eyes that her curly red hair, soft freckled skin and acrobatic body were only the second, third and forth things most people noticed about her.

Princess Millie was a student at the Fairy Princess Training Institute, a bunker-like structure located on a campus in the heart of the trans-dimensional vortex.  The deans of the school had a no-nonsense approach to magical learning and strongly believed that the uses of enchantment must be taught in as un-enchanting an environment as possible.

All fairy princesses in training were under the protection of an elite branch of the magic secret service known as the Royal Watchfuls. Their uniform was black pants and black T-shirt draped by a golden sash which radiated a harsh sparkle that could be seen from afar and sent a clear message: do not mess with the dude wearing this sash.

Millie’s personal Royal Watchful was Lieutenant K, the only teenage officer in the corps, a quietly turbulent young man as frightening to his foes as he was reassuring to his allies. He always made Millie feel safe and she didn’t mind the scar that went down the side of his right cheek and made his blue-eyed-choir-boy-in-a-bad-mood face look sewn together. Millie believed his hair-trigger psycho persona masked a deep sensitivity, although if he ever heard her calling him the “s” word he would probably go completely mental.  She liked that about him.

One afternoon in an empty classroom Lieutenant K stood behind Millie while she studied a textbook.  Her other fairy princess classmates had all gone home.  She was staying late because she wanted to get an “A” on her test the next morning, and if that meant spending more time in Lieutenant K’s company, well, this just proved that a thorough education does indeed benefit all aspects of life.

Millie turned a page of the book and saw a full-page photograph of William the Pixie, the revered hero of the Pixie Rebellion of 1975, the subject of her upcoming exam. The photograph looked up at Millie and spoke to her, which was not a particularly unusual thing for a picture in a magical textbook to do, but Millie was taken a bit by surprise.

The photograph of William the Pixie said,  “Time to go home, you’re finished with this text. Come back later, and see happens next.”

Without giving it a second thought, Millie closed the book. “Well,” she said, turning to Lieutenant K, “I’m all done for now. I have a feeling I’m going to ace that test tomorrow.”

“You always do, your highness,” Lieutenant K said.

She wanted to say, “Please, call me Millie.” She always wanted to say that.  And more than anything else, she wanted him to call her by her first name.  With Lieutenant K, it was always, “your highness,” never “Millie.”  He knew his place.  She hated that he knew his place.

Millie often tried to imagine what her name would sound like coming from his lips.  But a first-name basis between a fairy princess and a Royal Watchful was improper protocol and if she was ever heard asking him to address her in such an informal way, her gossipy fairy princess classmates would have a field day with it.  And so, like most high school students in most universes, Millie didn’t want to set herself up for ridicule by expressing how she really felt about something.

“Okay,” Millie said. “I guess I’ll zap myself home now.”

This would have been the perfect moment for Lieutenant K to break every rule of decorum and say, “Why don’t we go grab a cup of coffee first, Millie.” But instead he went with the far safer, by-the-book option, “As you wish, your highness.”

She tried to think of something else to say, but as always, this resulted in an awkward silence that Lieutenant K made no attempt to break.  She stared at him, then he stared back, then she turned away, then she stared back, then he turned away, and so on.  At this point in her young life the only thing Millie knew about romantic love was that it was painful, embarrassing and uncomfortable, and that she wanted more of it.

For several more moments, Millie and Lieutenant K practiced the art of silent self-consciousness. Then Lieutenant K coughed, which Millie took as an encouraging sign because that was about as forthcoming with his emotions as he ever got.  Millie cleared her throat, which she hoped would maybe lead to the passing of germs between them, which would at least create some sort of bonding experience, but unfortunately their immune systems were way stronger than their social skills.

Finally, as she was the one with the authority to relieve him from his post, it was up to Millie to end the standoff.  “Okay, bye then,” she said with the somber resignation of a general offering a surrender.  She waved her wand and vanished from the room.

For Lieutenant K, this marked the official end of his shift. He left the school and marched out of the building towards his barracks where he planned to spend the rest of the day hitting a punching bag and eating beef jerky, or visa versa.  Outwardly, he appeared to the world as the no-nonsense hard-nosed military teen he was, but he would have considered it the ultimate breach of national security if anybody found out that inside his head he was replaying his last few moments with Millie and berating himself with a self-flagellating mantra, “Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid…”

Millie rematerialized in her bedroom at her family’s modest castle on the other side of town. She was more than ready to get out of her school uniform, which was a drab olive pre-torn dress from the Wilma Flintstone collection beneath an even drabber blue blazer with her school’s logo dorkily displayed on the breast pocket. But before she could begin the arduous task of preparing to dress for dinner in clothing that she liked even less (dressing up in regal gowns for the evening meal was a huge deal to her parents, even though they usually just had microwave burritos or frozen pizza), the memory of the photograph of William the Pixie saying, “Come back later, and see what happens next,” jumped vividly into her head, like a visitor that had a key to her brain and let himself in.

Millie was not prone to impulsive behavior, she was warned against it almost every day of her life, but right then and there she decided that she couldn’t do anything else until she went back to “see what happens next.”  So she zapped herself back to the school classroom just to look into that textbook again.

Once she waved her wand and was back in the schoolroom, she was not surprised to see that Lieutenant K was no longer there. She hoped that for some reason he would be, even though if he had still been there he would have no doubt been angry with her for returning to the school without first notifying him. For her to come back to the school without an official escort was a breach of security and proper procedure and placed her at potential risk, but, come on, she was just coming back for one minute to look at this one thing, so what was the harm?

The textbook was right where she left it.  She opened it and went to the same page, where the photograph of William the Pixie looked up at her and said, “Sucker!”

Her heart began to race. Millie knew instantly that a trap had been set and she had stupidly fallen for it. A psychic itch had somehow been implanted in her brain, and by trying to scratch that itch, she had put herself in danger.

She frantically waved her wand to zap herself home, but it didn’t work; once back inside the school without the usual protective measures, her wand was now jammed by an illegal force that had hacked into the magic grid.

She had to get out of that building, and fast, so she ran to the school hallway, and what she saw coming around the corner confirmed her worst fears.

It was a gang of hideous Cyclops creatures, exactly the kind of go-to-ghouls you’d hire when you wanted a fairy princess’s eyes poked out.  They were fat yet agile and looked like slimy vacuum cleaner bags with arms and legs and one large puss-filled eye that dominated flat pancake-like faces. They usually ran in packs and in this case Millie was being pursued by three particularly gross and greedy specimens: Gary, the lead Cyclops, Fred, his putrid assistant, and Jeff, Fred’s younger brother, who was exactly like Fred in every way except that he smelled much worse.

Millie ran into a bathroom and locked the door behind her.  As the Cyclops gang began the all too easy task of banging the door down, she stared at herself in the I-Max-sized mirror that hung over a row of starfish-shaped sinks. Millie looked at herself not out of vanity, but because the mirror was her one possible means of escape, albeit a dangerous way out and something she had been warned against doing in no uncertain terms many, many times.

She knew that she had been born with the ability to open a trans-dimensional portal through any mirror, without a wand, except it was a task that at this point in her life was way beyond her magical chops.  A mature fairy princess, with advanced technique, could concentrate and use her eyes to open a mirror-portal, but Millie had barely any training in this area, and to attempt this without the proper skills could result in serious brain damage.  But she was trapped and had to take this risk or the Cyclopses would be poking her eyes out in mere moments.

She stared into the mirror, met the gaze of her own eyes, and focused as hard as she could.  The symmetrical checkerboard shapes and patterns of the bathroom stalls and tiled walls behind her created a labyrinth effect in the mirror’s reflection that gave her a headache.  But after staring into her own eyes for only a few seconds, something clicked. The colors of Millie’s eyes connected with the colors of her eyes looking back at her, and the mirror bended, swayed, and opened up, transforming into what looked like a swirling tunnel made from cubist spin-art. Millie would have been awe-struck, but all this bending and swaying and swirling and spinning was making her nauseous.

But this was no time to puke, it was time to run. Millie climbed up onto one of the sinks just as the Cyclopses broke down the bathroom door. She dove into the now fully operational portal just as Gary the Cyclops was about to grab her.  The portal instantly closed behind her and went back to being a regular mirror, causing Gary to bang his hand on the mirror’s solid glass surface.

“Ow! Damn it!” he screamed. “Quick,” he said to Jeff. “Hand me a bottle of transdimendex!”

“I don’t have any” Jeff said.

“What?”

“Who knew we’d need transdimendex?” Fred said, trying to cover for his brother. “You said yourself that teenage fairies can’t open mirror-portals, so…”

“Shut up!” Gary said. “It could take us weeks to score some transdimendex.”

(Transdimendex is a spray-on liquid that opens trans-dimensional mirror-portals and is illegal and hard to come by in that part of the universe.)

Gary paced back and forth.  His giant eye furrowed and frothed. Jeff and Fred knew not to disturb him when he was thinking hard like this.  Gary was the one who had come up with the idea to insert a psychic itch into the textbook that would trick Millie into zapping herself back to the school without the protection of her Royal Watchful, and he was the one who knew how to hack into the magic configuration of the school building.  Of the three Cyclopses, he was the smart one, which wasn’t saying much, but Gary was unusually intelligent for a Cyclops and every time they had succeeded in poking out a fairy princess’s eyes, he took most of the money and all of the credit.

“Okay, I’ve got it!” he finally said.  “Before, in order to have access to Princess Millie, we had to make sure her Royal Watchful had left the building.  Now, we will bring him back here and enlist his help!”

And so, at the very moment the Cyclops creatures began enacting their new plan, the trans-dimensional portal was spitting Millie out through another mirror in another bathroom in another dimension. This side of the mirror-portal closed behind her as Millie’s head hit the linoleum floor.  She didn’t know it yet, but she was now in the boy’s bathroom of Walter Mondale High School in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Just outside the bathroom, in the school hallway, a kid named Carl was standing around, wishing he were anyplace else.  He was wearing a plastic yellow strap that wrapped around his waist and his shoulder. The strap was at least two sizes too big for his body, which a half-hearted weight lifting regime had recently transformed from emaciated to scrawny. His black T-shirt and jeans highlighted a pale, frightened face, which didn’t have an excessive amount of zits, just enough to ensure that his unpopularity would last well into young adulthood.

The words “Hall Monitor” were printed on the strap, for this dorky duty had indeed been bestowed upon him, despite Carl having no passion for the hallway or for the monitoring of it.

“Smile for the cameraman,” said an unfriendly voice, accompanied by an equally unfriendly fist punched hard into the side of Carl’s arm.  The pain Carl felt was exacerbated by the fact that the bruises hadn’t yet healed from the last time he had been hit in this exact same spot by the exact some person, earlier that morning.

The voice and the fist belonged to Wally, a kid who had recently become the most famous high school bully in America thanks to the success of his reality TV show, “The Remedial Life,” a popular program that chronicled his exploits as he beat up weaker kids, cheated on exams, and had sloppy, unsafe sex with the hottest girls in school. His dim Nordic face had a constant smirk that made him seem like a smug athlete or a happy stroke patient, depending on which side of his face you were looking at, and every part of his brawny body appeared to be muscled, including his spiky blond hair. “The Remedial Life” was a big hit, and Wally was much admired by Reality TV fans everywhere.

Standing behind Wally, holding a digital video camera, was Jane, the creator and producers of “The Remedial Life.” She followed Wally everywhere and filmed his every move.  She was an intense young woman whose strategically cosmeticized face had all the warmth of a passport photo. She often dyed her hair (this weeks color: ironic green) and wore vintage hipster anti-establishment clothing because in her profession this was the best way to climb the corporate ladder.

Carl had already been a frequent target of Wally’s bullying long before Jane came along and made Wally the subject of his own TV show.  School had become such an ordeal for Carl that he actually preferred the drudgery of his after-school job at Arby’s, because at least there he was away from Wally.  But then Jane worked out a product-placement deal with the fast food chain, and now Wally frequently showed up at Carl’s job and beat the crap out of him while customers basked in the thrill of seeing a real-life reality show filmed before their very eyes.  One time a few of Carl’s bloody teeth fell into a Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwich and the lucky customer who purchased it asked Wally to autograph the bun.

But high school was the foundation of “The Remedial Life” and that’s where Jane fabricated most of her real-life story-lines.  Making Carl hall monitor had been her idea.  She had been getting some great footage of Wally wailing on Carl, but she felt that shots of Wally savagely beating him while Carl was dressed in a dumb looking hall monitor get-up up would add an extra layer of light-hearted fun to the show.

“Punch Carl a couple more times,” Jane instructed Wally as she kept her hand-held camera trained on him. “The more you hit him, the more choices I’ll have in editing.”

At one point Wally stopped punching Carl and said to him with fake solicitation, “Hey, you look thirsty.” He then opened a can of shaken-up Mr. Pibb cherry soda that exploded into Carl’s face.

Wally laughed his typical laugh, which sounded like a goat doing an Eric Roberts impersonation.  He was really proud of the shaken-up soda gag, which Wally believed was his own original idea (no one had the guts to tell him otherwise) and since Mr. Pibb was a sponsor of the show, Wally always had a bunch of soda cans hanging from his belt like hand grenades.

Once Jane had enough footage, she and Wally moved on. They were scheduled to go to the Nurses office so Wally could verbally abuse some handicapped kids, a new feature of the show that had been added by viewer request.  A sticky, wet and wounded Carl was left on the floor.

Carl rose to his feet, trying to keep his moans of pain as inaudible as possible.  In a little while the bell would ring and hordes of kids would come pouring into the hallway. Carl wanted to find a safe spot where he wouldn’t be trampled. He was about to stagger into the bathroom when a dizzy and unsteady Millie staggered out of it.

Millie didn’t notice Carl at first; she was trying to get her bearings. She stopped for a moment to give herself the chance to do an inventory of her mind and make sure it was still there. The grey industrial blandness of the inside of the building reminded Millie of her own school hallway and for a moment she thought that maybe she was back home, but she quickly realized this was not the case. She was wobbly and still had a headache but as far as she could tell, the trip through the trans-dimensional portal had not caused any of the brain damage she had been warned about.

And then she saw Carl. The sight of his yellow plastic hall monitor strap was perhaps the most comforting and reassuring thing she had ever seen in her life.

“A Royal Watchful!” she said. “Oh my God, what a relief!”

Blissfully unaware that some brain damage had indeed set in, she rushed forward and hugged Carl.  “I thought I was all alone, but you came through another portal to protect me!” she said.  “Is Lieutenant K coming as well?  Or does he even care?  His shift was over so he’s probably with his girlfriend.  He has a girlfriend, doesn’t he? He never tells me anything about his personal life, he always puts out this vibe that’s like, ‘don’t talk to me, I’m just here to do my job.’ Hey, whatever.  You are so much easier to talk to than him! I’m so happy the Institute of Enchantment was monitoring me and sent you to protect me!”

She became aware that she had been hugging Carl.  She let go of him and stepped back.

“I’m sorry. I realize my physical embrace of you is not exactly protocol; hell, Lieutenant K would freak out if I ever did that to him.  But I was so afraid, and I am just so grateful you came for me.”

Carl didn’t understand a word she was saying but he didn’t want to contradict her either.  He couldn’t believe that a beautiful girl – or any girl for that matter – was actually talking to him.  And were her eyes really as amazing as they seemed? Or was it just that he was finding out for the first time what a girl’s eyes looked like when they looked back at him?

Carl was so transfixed by Millie that he didn’t notice when Wally, followed by Jane, came bounding back down the hallway. The handicapped kids that Wally was going to berate had left the school early, their excellent parking spaces facilitating a speedy getaway. So Jane decided that Wally would get started on one of the most popular features of the show, his confiscating of kid’s lunch money.  Yes, this was old school retro bullying, but it worked; sometimes you just can’t beat the classics (Jane was particularly proud that Wally’s frequent use of the wedgie had brought this timeless testicle-squeezing technique of yesteryear back into vogue; it had been her idea to revive it in the first place).  Kids would be getting out of class soon and the plan that Jane cooked up was for Wally to shake them down, and then maybe steal one of the diabetic kid’s insulin if the opportunity presented itself.

But Wally forgot all about lunch money once he saw Carl talking to Millie. This mysterious, bizarrely dressed chick was actually engaging Carl in a conversation, so Wally immediately pegged her a weirdo, but he decided he wouldn’t ridicule her until after they’d had sex.

Wally glared at Carl and said, “Hey, where do you get off talking to the hot new girl in school before I’ve even talked to her?”

Even in her disoriented state, Millie knew a douchebag when she saw one. “This mortal wishes you harm,” she whispered to Carl. “But you must spare him.  Please do not hurt him”

“Oh, don’t worry, I am not going to hurt him,” Carl said.  It was a small comfort to him that his first words to her were a promise he could definitely keep.

“I know what to do!” Millie said into Carl’s ear. “I will infuse you with fairy phlegm. It will pour a coating of my own fairy magic over your considerable combat skills.”

“Combat skills?” Carl asked.

“You are a Royal Watchful, after all.  I don’t want you to injure this pathetic mortal, but you might do so in spite of yourself, so please, let me insert some fairy phlegm.  It will only last a few moments, I promise. Quick, open your mouth!”

“What the hell are you whispering about?” Wally demanded, but he was even more annoyed, not to mention shocked, when Millie shoved her tongue into Carl’s mouth.  Wally and Jane were both taken aback by the sight of Carl frenching it up with this new, exotic looking girl.

Wally, always aware that the camera was watching his every move, strutted over to Carl and Millie with even more dumb-ass bravado than usual.

“It’s against the rules of hall monitoring for you to make out with a girl while you’re on duty,” Wally said.   He had just made up this rule on the spot, but since he was saying it in front of a TV camera, it had to be true.

But Carl wasn’t paying attention to Wally. By the time Millie removed her tongue from his mouth, he was tingling all over, as if a mob of drunk and disorderly goose bumps had turned his body into an after-hours rave, and his brain was now open to the possibility of things that any brain in its right mind would know are not possible.  And so as Wally prepared to punch Carl, some new foreign instinct entered Carl’s nervous system and told him to grab one of the cans of Mr. Pibb that was dangling from Wally’s belt.  He opened it and a gusher of cherry soda shot out from the can, right into Wally’s face.  But what made this particular moment of carbonated mayhem different was that the soda just kept gushing and gushing, engulfing Wally as if he was a protester being hosed down by riot police. It seemed like this one twelve-ounce pop can had an Olympic-sized swimming pool worth of soda inside.  And as Carl clenched the can, he could feel a mysterious source coming from the palm of his hand.  This never happened when he poured sodas at Arby’s, but then again they didn’t carry Mr. Pibb.

The soda tsunami pinned Wally to the floor. By the time the splatter of pop stopped, Wally was soaked, angry, and perhaps most surprisingly, quite thirsty.

Jane, hovering near Wally as always, filmed every bit of this.  She wasn’t sure if she could use this footage or not; she was afraid that bully-advocacy groups would organize a boycott of the show.

Millie whispered to Carl, “I hope you didn’t find my fairy phlegm too emasculating.  I know that battling your opponent with a magically infused touch-activated soda can is a little more whimsical a way of doing your job than you are used to, but I’ve been taught that with human mortals, if the choice comes down to hurting them or blowing their minds, we should always choose the latter option.”

Carl’s own mind was more than a little blown at that moment. Something extraordinary and not-of-this-world was happening, but Carl didn’t question it because even if he was just in the midst of a psychotic fever dream resulting from the many blows to the head he had taken, it was still a hell of a lot better than his regular life.

Wally looked up from the floor and marveled that Carl, whom he knew in his heart of hearts to be the biggest dweeb in school, appeared to be in a relationship with the hottest girl he had ever seen.  “It’s the hall monitor strap,” Wally thought.  “It must be the hall monitor strap.  It’s suddenly become a cool thing that hot chicks are into.”

Wally rose to his feet.  “You’re all washed up as a hall monitor,” he said.  He addressed this to Carl without taking his eyes off Millie. “I’ve decided that I should be the hall monitor!”

Jane lowered her camera and thought for a moment, “Hmm, let me wrap my head around this,” she said.  “The footage we have of you beating up Carl in his hall monitor outfit is quite poignant.  But taking the hall monitor strap from him by force and wearing it yourself will come off as a triumph of the human spirit! I love it!  Wally, I must say, I am becoming more and more impressed with your media-savvy. You really are earning your co-executive producer credit.”

With the arrogance that he considered his birthright fully restored, Wally turned to Carl, pointed at his yellow hall monitor strap and said, “Hand it over! Now!”

Carl turned to Millie and opened his mouth as a way to nonchalantly signal that this would be a good moment for her to transfer some of those awesome fairy phlegm powers she had tongued into him before.  But instead, Millie whispered, “He is challenging you for your Royal Watchful sash, so he must be a more formidable foe than I thought.  I’d better just let you use your own skills to handle him.”

“Uh, about that…” Carl said.

“Oh, wow,” Millie said. “All of a sudden, I really need to go to the bathroom!” It was odd, but an urgent desire to take a royal whizz had overtaken Millie. “Just moments ago, I would have been too terrified to go back that bathroom,” she said. “But now I don’t have to worry, knowing that my brand new protector is nearby, vanquishing an adversary on my behalf.”

Millie gave Carl a thumbs-up sign and walked into the boy’s bathroom. It made sense to Carl that the girl’s bathroom was too conventional for her.  Carl loved how everything about this new girl was unique and out of the ordinary, although if she used a urinal, that would probably be just a little too out of the ordinary for him.

Carl now had no choice but to turn and face Wally.  Carl usually shook with fear in this  situation, but something was different.  Now that he had a girlfriend – well, actually, they really hadn’t defined the terms of their relationship in the five minutes or so since they had met, but hopefully deeper intimacy, such as learning each other’s names, would come later  – he felt emboldened.  He couldn’t help but believe that her hug, her tongue, and especially her eyes had given him super powers. Something told him that nothing and nobody that could harm him now.

At which point Wally commenced harming Carl, really, really harming him. By any standard of bully-on-nerd violence, Wally was causing extensive harm to Carl’s person. He pummeled and pummeled and pummeled Carl like he never had before.  Jane, filming every last blow, was pleased that Wally was getting it all in one take. She planned to have inspirational music playing on the soundtrack at the point when Wally would grab Carl’s hall monitor sash and claim it as his own.  She had no doubt that audiences would be moved to tears.

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, Millie glanced at the mirror and was surprised and delighted to see the face of Lieutenant K looking back at her from the other side of the mirror-portal in the trans-dimensional vortex.

“Your Highness!” he said. “I received a text on my secure line that you had made a trans-dimensional voyage through this mirror-portal.  I took the liberty of sending you a bladder-activation transmission.  Since bathroom mirrors are frequently used as trans-dimensional portals, this has proven to be an effective way of locating teenage fairy princesses who are foolish enough to wander unsupervised into outer dimensions. And with all due respect, your highness, I cannot believe that you would behave so carelessly…”

“With all due respect, Lieutenant K,” Millie interrupted. “The other Royal Watchful that was sent through another portal to come protect me did not feel the need to instantly berate me.  I’m just saying…”

“Another Royal Watchful?” Lieutenant K said.  “I am not aware of anyone else that was sent to get you…”

“Well, you’re a little out of the loop, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”

“Your highness, I guarantee you, no other Royal Watchful was sent for you; in fact, if you had not returned to this mirror it would have been extremely difficult to find you, which makes your irresponsible breach of protocol all the more egregious! Now, let’s begin the process of returning you to…”

“You think you know everything, don’t you!” Millie said in an angry, wounded tone she had never used with him before.  “The other Royal Watchful is way nicer than you! I think I want him to be my personal protector from now on!  I’ll go get him so you don’t have to waste another moment of your precious time watching over me!”

She turned away from the mirror and Lieutenant K yelled, “No!  Your highness!  You are in greater danger than you realize! Do not step away from this mirror, please, come back…”

When she continued walking away, he continued yelling, “No!  Don’t!  Please!  Your Highness!”  Then, he blurted out the only other thing he could think to say, “Millie!”

She stopped. The sound of him saying her name was like a breeze that blew away all the confusion from her brain.  Until that moment she hadn’t realized how cluttered and discombobulated her thinking had been. But when Lieutenant K said the word “Millie,” her headache went away and her mind was restored to clarity.  She instantly knew that Carl was not a Royal Watchful and that her thinking so had been the result of temporary brain damage brought on by her trans-dimensional trip.

She returned to the mirror and smiled at Lieutenant K.  It was a smile that could turn a warrior into a poet, but Lieutenant K was a professional, so as he had done every other time she had smiled at him, he ignored the buried place in his heart that urged him to break into song and instead remained focused on the job of bringing Millie back to safety.

“This Royal Watchful that you speak of,” he said.  “Please believe me when I tell you that we did not send him to you through another portal, he must be an imposter! I urge you to…”

“Yeah, I know,” Millie, said.  “But he’s not an imposter.  He just some kid that I mistook for… Oh, crap.”

“What?”

“I’ll be right back.”

“Wait!”

But Millie realized she had left Carl in a bad situation. She went back out into the hallway and saw him lying on the floor.  Wally was attempting to remove his hall monitor sash, but Millie grabbed Wally by the scruff of his shirt collar and pushed him away.

“What do you think you’re doing, bitch!” Wally said. “I’m the new hall monitor!  I know that’s a turn-on for you, but you’d better behave yourself or…”

Millie now did something that was unbecoming a fairy princess: she punched Wally hard in his stomach.  Fairy princesses are not violent by nature, but Millie’s fist connected to Wally’s internal organs in exactly the right spot, and Wally doubled over and fell to the floor, his body so painfully contorted he could have auditioned for cirque du soleil.

Jane caught it all on camera, but she was concerned that the sight of Wally being hit by a girl would alienate the mostly male, mostly moronic skewing of the show’s demographic, but before the implications of this could sink in, Millie grabbed Jane’s camera and flung it against the wall, smashing it into a pile of tiny pieces.

This camera was Jane’s best friend. It was like a creepy boyfriend that was always there for her.  The sight of it breaking caused something to break within Jane.

“Oh, my God!” she cried. “I never got a receipt for that camera!  And the network has totally been on my ass about expenses!” She fell to her knees and started sobbing.  The constant stress of her job, the nonstop anxiety of catering to the lowest common denominator 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was finally starting to get to her.

But Millie didn’t see or notice Jane’s complete mental collapse.  She crouched down and attended to Carl, who glanced up at Millie with an embarrassed, apologetic look on face.

“I’m not who you thought I was,” Carl said, coughing up a little blood as he spoke.

“I know,” Millie said.  “This is all my fault.  I’m so sorry.”

“I was going to ask you if you wanted to go to a movie with me sometime,” Carl said. “I mean, when I get out of the hospital…”

“The thing is,” Millie said.  “I’m sort of seeing someone right now, well, not really, not at all, actually, but now that he’s called me by my name I think things are starting to move forward with him, and, uh, you seem really awesome, but I really think that he and I…”

Millie looked up and saw Lieutenant K emerge from the bathroom.

“Oh, there he is now,” she said.

But then she noticed that Lieutenant K’s eyes appeared to be grunting and he seemed a bit off-balance.  Then he fell to the floor face first, revealing a sharp, thin, pointy object sticking out of his back.

Millie rose to her feet and screamed as she saw three unwelcome creatures break down the bathroom door and strut into the hallway.

“Cyclopses!” she cried.

Moments earlier, Lieutenant K had become so concerned about Millie that he had used his small, travel-sized can of transdimendex to open the mirror portal (as a Royal Watchful, he had a license to carry transdimendex). He sprayed open a large trans-dimensional tunnel and dove into the wide open portal, but unbeknownst to him, the Cyclops creatures were following right behind. Everything had gone according to Gary the Cyclops’s plan: he had hacked into Lieutenant K’s phone and texted him about Millie’s predicament, then the three Cyclopses hid in the bathroom stalls as he contacted her, and then they ambushed him from behind as they all simultaneously arrived in the earthly realm.

The three marauding Cyclopses stepped over the wounded Lieutenant K and rushed down the hallway towards Millie. Their eyes drooled with excitement, knowing with complete certainly that they were on the verge of poking out Millie’s eyes.  This is what they lived to do and whatever you wanted to say about how inherently evil they were, you couldn’t deny the passion that they had for their work.

Millie saw no point in running away. Even though they were way bigger and way stronger, all she could do was take a stand and fight.  She faced her rapidly approaching attackers with a stoic defiance that masked the sheer terror she felt.  Mostly, she regretted that their butt-ugly faces were probably going to be the last sight she’d ever see.

Carl, still crouched on the floor a few feet away, saw that Gary, the lead Cyclops, had some sort of sharp weapon clenched tightly in his hand.  As Gary thrust it towards Millie’s eyes, Carl didn’t know what to do but he knew he had to do something.  The time he had spent with Millie was the closest he had ever come to having any kind of social life and he was grateful to her for introducing him to the idea that talking to a girl was an activity that he was actually allowed to participate in.  He wondered if all romantic relationships ended in violence and certain death before they even had the chance to get started; he was still too inexperienced in this area to know for sure.

Rising to his feet, Carl did the only thing it occurred to him to do: he dove in front of Millie just as Gary was about to stick his weapon in her eye.

As Carl’s body came between Millie and her attacker, he saw that the sharp object Gary was holding looked quite a bit like a regular, everyday number two pencil. Ever since he was a kid, Carl had been warned about the dangers of roughhousing and how a carelessly held pencil could lead to an eye getting poked out, and as the pencil meant for Millie was instead lunged into the corner of Carl’s left eye, and then jerked just slightly in a way that catapulted the eye out of Carl’s socket and onto the hallway floor, Carl finally understood the universal truth of the “you could lose an eye” dictum.

The weapon wielded by Gary was indeed a pencil, the sharpest pencil ever sharpened in recorded history.  In theory you could write with it and your handwriting would no doubt look elegant, but this was a finely carved utensil designed solely for the purpose of poking out the eyes of fairy princesses and anyone who happened to get in the way.

Millie wanted to stop the battle just so she could thank Carl for his beautifully reckless gesture, but Fred the Cyclops and Jeff the Cyclops grabbed her arms and pinned her against the wall while Gary the Cyclops regained his bearings and pulled out another pencil from his carrying case, which as pencil carrying cases go was pretty dorky looking although no one ever had the guts to tell him so.

Carl grabbed the pencil that was still wedged into the space where his eye used to be and pulled it out. With his one remaining functional eye he saw the words, “Property of Garry the Cyclops” on the side of the pencil. For some reason, this pissed him off more than anything else and he threw the pencil to the floor and marched forward.

Jeff and Fred were still holding Millie, and Gary was just about to stick his number two number two pencil into her eye. The last thing anyone expected was for Carl to grab Gary’s hand from behind and twist it until he dropped the pencil, but that’s exactly what happened.  And everyone was caught off-guard when Carl punched Gary, Jeff and Fred in rapid succession, and then threw the three of them around like juggling clubs until they all landed with a thud on their bean bag asses.

Carl achieved all this with such effortless speed that he didn’t have time to realize that what he was doing was way beyond his normal capabilities.  Having just had an eye torn from its socket, he should have been in extreme physical pain, but instead he felt stronger and better than ever.

Carl saw that Millie was staring at him in disbelief.

“You…you pulled the pencil from your eye!” she said.

“Yeah, I guess,” Carl replied, shrugging.

“Only a born warrior, brave of heart and noble of spirit, can remove a finely sharpened number two Cyclops pencil from the eye,” Millie said. “And the act of doing so gives a person extraordinary abilities, but it only happens to a chosen few!”

“Who exactly does this happen to?” Carl asked.

“A born warrior, brave of heart and noble of spirit.”

“Yeah, I know, I heard it the first time, I just wanted to hear you say it again,” Carl said.

“You must be some sort of military hero in this realm,” a begrudgingly impressed Gary the Cyclops said from the floor. “What is your rank?”

“Hall Monitor,” Carl said.

“A Hall Monitor!!!” Fred the Cyclops screamed, this new phrase that he’d just learned striking terror in his heart.  “Let’s get out of here!”

The three Cyclopses got up and ran down the hallway, but before they could make their getaway, Lieutenant K rose to his feet.  The sharpened pencil was still lodged in his back, but he wasn’t dead and he was still on the job.

“It takes more than a sharpened Cyclops pencil to kill me!” he declared (technically, not true; if the pencil had been lodged just a little bit to the right he would have been quite dead).

Even in his weakened state, the Lieutenant’s deft karate chops and judo kicks, strategically struck into the bellies, guts and groins of the three Cyclopses, were an impressive sight to see.  The Cyclopses were handcuffed and lined up against the wall in a matter of moments.

Lieutenant K then walked unsteadily over to Millie.

“Lieutenant K, you’re badly hurt!” she said.

“I’m fine,” he replied, a bit peeved that she was making a fuss over an injury he was embarrassed about.  “Your highness, the important question is: are you alright?”

“Oh, so now it’s back to ‘your highness’?” Millie said, a hurt tone creeping back into her voice.

Lieutenant K suppressed the urge to say, “Your High-Maintenance would be more like it,” and instead said, “I am sorry, I just want to know if you’re okay.”

“Yes, I am, thanks to him,” she said, pointing at Carl.  “He pulled a number two Cyclops pencil out of his eye.”

Carl extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Carl, hall monitor, and, apparently, uh, you know, born warrior, brave of heart and noble of spirit or some kind of thing.”  Carl smiled affably. It was weird, but he was less self-conscious than he had ever been, even though a stream a bloody foam was oozing out of his left eye socket.

“Very impressive,” Lieutenant K said in an almost robotic tone that expressed not the slightest bit of admiration or awe.

“Maybe I can remove that pencil from your back,” Carl said.

“Not necessary,” Lieutenant K replied.  “Once I get back home, I can easily…”

“Done and done,” Carl said, reaching over and removing the pencil from the Lieutenant’s back as easily as if he was separating a stick from a melted popsicle.

Lieutenant K was annoyed, and now there was an awkward silence between the three of them, broken only by Carl saying, “So, you two are dating, huh?”

“No! No!” Millie said, her face reddening and for the first time glowing brighter than her eyes.  “I never said you were my boyfriend, I never implied, I mean…”

“I am her Royal Watchful,” Lieutenant K said, as if he were an adult admonishing a child even though he was only a couple years older than Carl.  “It is a duty which I take with the utmost seriousness. That is something you would never understand!”

“But it’s something he will have to understand, and you will have to teach it to him,” Millie said.

“What?”

“You have to train him to be a Royal Watchful. He removed a number two Cyclops pencil from his eye.  You know what that means.  He is one of the chosen few, brave of…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, brave of heart and noble of spirit, whatever!” Lieutenant K said. Millie had never seen him so irritated and she came to the happy conclusion that this was due to jealousy.

Lieutenant K began the task of escorting his Cyclops prisoners back to the trans-dimensional vortex.  With Millie and Carl following closely behind, they all entered the bathroom just as the school bell rang and hundreds of kids came streaming into the hallway.  The place was a mess, but nobody had seen what had happened, except for Wally and Jane, who were both in fetal positions on the floor, shaking and incoherent. The events of the day had traumatized them both to the point where they couldn’t speak or function on any level.  This meant that “The Remedial Life” ultimately had to be cancelled, although Wally was cast in a spin-off series, “Comatose House,” which was only a modest success.

All Jane could do was sit and stare off into space with a deeply haunted look in her eyes. The psychiatrist who eventually treated her concluded that she had lost touch with reality.  This made her even more in-demand as a producer of Reality TV shows, but her days were now devoted to drooling and weaving baskets.  This impressed her bosses enough to promote her to senior executive vice-president in charge of program development for the network.

As Lieutenant K, Millie, and Carl stood in the bathroom and prepared to travel through the mirror portal to the trans-dimensional vortex, Millie handed Carl his severed eye, which moments earlier she had picked up off the hallway floor. “Here,” she said.  “You dropped this. I’m afraid it won’t be much use to you anymore, but you might want to keep it as a souvenir.”

It felt gooey and gross in Carl’s hand and it felt even gooier and grosser in his pocket, but the one perfect place for it - his eye socket - wasn’t an option anymore.

“Don’t worry,” Millie said.  “Once we arrive in the trans-dimensional vortex, I know an elf who specializes in optometry and he’ll clean out your socket and fix you up with a really cool looking eye patch. Looking cool isn’t going to cramp your style in this high school, is it?”

Carl didn’t know how to answer this, since as far as he knew he had never had any kind of “style” to begin with.

“Your training to become a Royal Watchful will take place on weekday afternoons after school,” Millie said. “Most days, we will get you back to your earthly home in time for supper.”

“Weekday afternoons?” Carl said.  “Uh, the thing is, I already have an after-school job at Arby’s.”

“Hmm,” Millie said. “If I can get the Institute of Enchantment to compensate you and match what you’re making at your after school-job, would you be willing to spend your afternoons training to be a Royal Watchful and going on adventures in magic, multi-dimensional worlds, or would you rather continue working at Arby’s?”

As it turned out, the Institute of Enchantment, citing budget cutbacks, offered Carl a salary that was slightly less than the minimum wage he earned at Arby’s, and unlike Arby’s the trans-dimensional vortex offered no half-price employee discount meals.  Still, Carl took the pay cut because he figured that protecting a princess and defending the universe was a more interesting after-school job than fast food counter worker.  Also, his chances for advancement at Arby’s were limited because the management of the company didn’t seem to care one way or another if their employees were brave of heart and noble of spirit.

Posted on August, 31 at 9:19 am

NOT EXACTLY A FAIRY TALE # 3

by

Frank Conniff

Tina, a five-inch fairy princess, awoke, as she often did, in an unfamiliar place.  As she reluctantly tried adjusting to the idea of consciousness, the pounding bass line from the hangover disco that opened for business inside her head every morning was going full blast.  She untangled herself from the cigarette pack she had used as a sleeping bag and saw that her lodgings for the evening had been a vacant lot on a city street.  She did not want to face the day, but the harsh, accusatory sun insisted upon it, while a nearby garbage truck backing up sounded like Satan’s alarm clock, and it did not have a snooze button.

She looked on the ground for her magic wand, but couldn’t find it anywhere.  Her arms, legs and bare feet were soiled with dirt and wet leaves, and she now realized that she was dressed only in her underwear, with just a few tatters of her regulation fairy dress flapping on her body, like strands of designer toilet paper hanging from a branch.  Her luxuriant auburn hair chaotically pointed in all directions, and her green eyes were mostly hidden by eyelids way too thick for her size.

She had no memory of the previous evening, but she did remember that she always woke up with no memory of the previous evening. But losing her wand meant that she couldn’t wave herself a new wardrobe, and even worse, she couldn’t wave herself back home to the land of the sprites and the hair of the dog.  She lived in the trans-dimensional vortex, which was not easily accessible without magic means. She felt along her back and discovered that she had also misplaced her wings. In drunken states she was prone to removing her wings and using them as supposedly hilarious props the way a mortal inebriate might use a lampshade. The fact that it seemed funny at the time was little comfort now that it was the morning after and they were nowhere to be found.

She had no wand, no wings, and no fairy powers whatsoever, a dangerous situation for a five-inch fairy, and a potentially catastrophic one for a five-inch fairy with a five hundred megawatt hangover.

Tina staggered to the sidewalk, then looked up and saw overfed and undernourished people rapidly walking to and fro with unenthusiastic energy. Tina realized she had once again drunkenly crash-landed on the party planet Earth.

Just then a shadow engulfed her and she saw a humongous shoe bearing down on her.  She dived out of the way and just missed being squashed out of existence, which was the one hangover cure Tina wasn’t considering.  Not yet, anyway.

In the foggy labyrinth of her brain, she remembered being instructed at some point in her past that if she ever found herself stranded on Earth, with no wand or wings, she should find a computer with a wireless connection (preferably a Mac), and punch a special code into it, and this password, along with the magical fairy DNA that transmitted when her toes pranced across the computer keyboard, would connect her with service technicians in the trans-dimensional vortex who could wirelessly transport her cross-dimensionally back home.

And Tina totally remembered the password!  It was just her own name, T-I-N-A, but she was impressed with herself for remembering it. Retaining information had not been her strong suit in the last few years.

So now she had to get to a computer, and she looked up and noted that the guy who had almost stomped her to death was a heavyset man in his early twenties, with stringy hair that seemed as unfamiliar with shampoo as a hermit is with people.  His face was unshaven but refused to grow a beard, and his clothes looked slept in despite bloodshot eyes that implied he never slept. He had “Internet porn addict” written all over him.  It was a mathematical certainty that he had a high-speed wireless computer, so Tina leapt across several sidewalk cracks and then jumped up and grabbed onto the cuff of his pant leg.

To even be in the vicinity of this guy’s pants was to go where no woman had gone before, and climbing up them was an ordeal, although the abundant pizza and barbeque sauce stains made the fabric crusty and easier to grip.

When Tina reached his torso, she was able to find a secure nook between the top of his stomach and his man-boobs, and this gave her the stability to jump into the grocery bag he was carrying.

She squeezed into the bag between several candy and cream-filled cake products.  As the guy continued to walk, a Snickers bar painfully rattled against Tina’s head, but fortunately she was able to cushion the blows by standing behind a Twinkie.

Eventually she heard keys clanging and a door being unlocked.  She peered out over the top of the bag and saw that they were entering a tiny studio apartment. The guy threw the bag down on a table, it tipped over and much of the candy and cakes poured out, along with Tina, who slid across the table. The big giant dude didn’t see her because he was already rushing into his bathroom with an urgency implying that this shy young man’s digestive system was the most outgoing thing about him.

Within seconds, cacophonous splashing depth charge noises came from his private sanctuary. Tina, grateful she didn’t have to witness the gastrointestinal atrocities that were occurring, took this opportunity to rush to the desktop computer that was right next to where she was on the table, the centerpiece of this guy’s home and existence, just as Tina had predicted.

She jumped onto the spacebar and the computer emerged from sleep with far more ease than Tina usually did, and it was no surprise that it was already logged on to the Internet, although the website that appeared, “MST3Kinfo.com” was a bit less salacious than she expected.

Tina danced across the keyboard, stomping with her bare feet the password that would zap her home, first the “T” key, and then the “I” key, but just as she jumped on the “N” key, something in the apartment caught her eye that caused her to stop and look.

It was the weirdest thing, but there appeared to be a giant poster with a photograph of Tina on the wall. Or at least it was someone who looked an awful lot like Tina.  Her hair was the same length and color, and every bit as wild and unruly.  She was barely wearing any clothing (just like Tina at that moment), but she was brandishing a sword in a warrior-like, but very un-Tina-like, position.  That’s when Tina realized it wasn’t a picture of her, but a rendering of a scene from an action movie called “The Adventures Of Princess Priapistress,” which was spelled out in bold letters at the top of the poster.

The sound of a toilet flushing alerted Tina to the fact that the giant dude was about to return.  She jumped on the “A” key, but nothing happened, and she realized she had spent too much time staring at the poster and would have to enter in the whole password all over again.  But she could hear the guy’s size-46 belt being buckled, so now she would have to quickly find a place to hide and come back to his computer later.

She leaped to the top of the computer and then up onto a shelf hanging over the desk, thinking that she could find a suitable hiding space.  But once on the shelf, she saw that there was nothing to hide behind. The shelf was bare except for a single toy, an action figure of “Princess Priapistress,” the character on the poster that Tina was just looking at. Tina quickly took the plastic sword that was wedged in the toy’s hand and used it to tear the few pieces of fabric that draped her body and tied them around her bra and panties to appropriate the action figure’s post-apocalyptic babe in a loincloth look. She then pushed the actual toy off the shelf and it fell to a nook behind the desk that, already filled as it was with an accumulation of dust that spanned the length of the apartment’s two-year lease, was not a place that the giant guy was likely to visit. Tina got into the crouching, defiant, sword-wielding, do-me warrior pose of the action figure just as he emerged from the bathroom.

He seemed to be in an anxious mood, and rather than sit at his computer, he put on a jacket and looked at himself in the mirror while licking his hand and wiping his hair. It seemed clear that he had entered the apartment just to store his snacks and use the facilities and now he was about to venture back into the outside world.  A lucky break for Tina!

But then he reached up to the shelf, grabbed his action figure toy, which unbeknownst to him was actually Tina, and stuffed “It” into his jacket pocket, effectively submerging Tina in an enclosed world of lint, Arbys coupons, and several small dark round things that she prayed were Milk Duds.

The suffocating confinement of her new location did not do Tina’s hangover one bit of good.  After traveling for what seemed like forever she decided she just had to risk exposure and get some fresh air.  She managed to steady herself enough to peer out through the flap of the pocket.  She could see that the guy was now standing in a line of similar looking doughy white males inside a comic book shop.  So much for fresh air.

Colorful and neatly stacked comic books lined the walls, most of which depicted illustrated tableaus of what humans considered fantasy and adventure, but would seem more like gritty photo-realism where Tina came from.

Tina saw a table set up at the end of the room where a woman that she recognized as the actress from the poster was affably writing on anything that the men in line put in front of her.  A sign behind her read, “In Person! Claire Hyde, the star of ‘The Adventures Of Princess Priapistress!’”

As they came closer, the guy grabbed Tina and pulled her out of his pocket.  He clenched her tightly with both his hands, completely covering Tina and almost suffocating and drowning her in a bath of nervous clammy sweat that would have made Tina nauseous if nausea hadn’t already been her default setting.

When they arrived at Claire Hyde’s table, the guy put Tina down in front of Claire and released her from his grip. Tina had to maintain the appearance of still being a toy, so she remained frozen in the crouching come-hither warrior pose and restrained herself from hyperventilating and begging for someone, anyone to buy her a drink.

“Hi, I’m Fred,” the guy said to Claire Hyde. “I’m a big fan. I own every issue of the Princess Priapistress comic book and I was an early advocate of you playing the role in the movie. I was one of the first to sign the Facebook petition page.”

“Oh, thank you,” Claire said. “That was a big help.”

It was a tribute to Claire’s performing skills that she was able to say this without sounding sarcastic, because she knew only too well that the Facebook page had nothing to do with her landing the part. She had lobbied for it and the studio wouldn’t even meet with her.  But then a dozen or so actresses turned it down until she was begrudgingly cast. Claire’s resentment about this had lately diminished to the point where she only thought about it eleven or twelve times a day.

Up close and in person, Claire’s did indeed look like a human sized version of Tina, albeit more presentable and put-together.  Like Tina, she had the kind of beauty that could topple dynasties and destroy religions, and with the help of the best hair and make-up people in Hollywood, she was able to mask the dark turbulence and deep insecurities that fueled her acting career.

Fred handed Tina over to Claire and said, “Would you sign my Princess Priapistress action figure, please?  Across her forehead?”

Claire took a sharpie and with pointillist precision neatly and clearly signed her name on Tina’s forehead. Tina was drenched in Fred’s sweat, but Fred couldn’t take his eyes off Claire, so he didn’t notice that the ink from Claire’s signature was running like mascara down Tina’s face.  The ink then began to seep into Tina’s eye sockets, and when Fred turned her upside down and shoved her back into his jacket pocket, the remaining ink seeped into her nose, and Tina could feel the entire signature flooding her brain like a black-felt tsunami.  This made Tina’s already considerable hangover headache much, much worse. As Fred headed back home, there was nothing she could do but curl up in his pocket and quietly whimper.

Even though Fred really wanted to look at his genuine Claire Hyde signature, he realized that while he was out in public, the sight of a grown man gazing at a scantily clad female action figure toy might seem weird.  This was of course because it was weird, so he waited till he got home to pull his signed treasure out of his pocket.  But he was shocked and disappointed to see that the signature was no longer there!  Someone or something had apparently cock-blocked his autograph.

And almost as disturbing was the sight of his toy grabbing its hair and crying.

Tina was in so much torment she was no longer capable of a practical, premeditated plan for getting home; now her number one priority was to cure her hangover the only way she knew how.

“Please get me a drink!” she pleaded to Fred.  “Do you have any alcohol at all?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t drink,” he responded.  “I’ve never really…”

The shocked realization of what was happening caused him to drop Tina, but her fall was broken by his mouse-pad. Fred stepped back and looked at the depressed collectible that now sat cross-legged in front of his computer with its head buried in its hands and sobbing with a depth of feeling Fred had never before seen in a plastic product.

“Is it okay if I ask you a question?” Fred said.  “What happened to Claire Hyde’s autograph? I saw her write it with my own…”

“I’m really not feeling well,” Tina said.  “Could we not talk right now, please?”

Fred obligingly stopped talking, even though he surmised that as the purchaser and owner of this toy, he probably had every right to engage in conversation with it whenever he pleased.  But he could see that his action figure was under the weather and he wanted to be respectful of its feelings.  Fred was a gentle soul who had compassion for people, animals, and, it turned out, inanimate objects in a lot of emotional pain.

Tina closed her eyes tight, and what emerged in her mind’s eye was Claire Hyde’s autograph, which she knew was now just a puddle of ink sloshing around inside her brain. But it floated before her in its original squiggly form.  It came closer and closer until Tina could no longer see the letters, only blackness, and then she saw a clear HD-quality image of Claire Hyde sitting at the edge of a bed in her hotel room.

As a fairy princess Tina has often been privy to psychic occurrences, so she instantly knew that Claire Hyde’s autograph seeping into her brain had caused some sort of magic mental link between her and the actress, and Tina could now see everything Claire was seeing and feel everything Claire was feeling.

And this led to a happy realization. Tina, sensing Claire’s thoughts and feelings, knew that Claire desperately craved a drink, and the fact that there was a mini-bar in the hotel room meant that Claire was very likely to quench her craving, and Tina, being clairvoyantly linked to Claire, would have hers quenched as well. A cursory reading of Claire’s thoughts told Tina that Claire was an AWOL alcoholic ready to go back on active duty. In all likelihood, Claire would soon be drunk on her ass and that meant Tina would be as well. This revelation warmed Tina with the knowledge that even in the darkest of moments miracles can happen.

Tina watched as Claire got up from the bed and walked towards the mini-bar.  But then Claire stopped just short of the fridge, then picked up a bottle-opener and absent-mindedly fiddled with it. The booze-lust was still there, but Tina could feel a hesitation in Claire, who stood silently contemplating the consequences of her actions, which led Tina to frantically send her a psychic message: “No!  Do not think about the consequences of your actions! You’ll ruin everything!”

Claire did receive Tina’s message, but she was able to summon up the strength to treat it as spam. She turned away from the mini-bar and walked out of the hotel room.

“Damn it!” Tina screamed.  This outburst caused her to open her eyes.  She saw that Fred was staring at her with a look of deep concern.  Tina had almost forgotten that while she may have mentally been with Claire, she was physically still in Fred’s apartment.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’ve been better,” Tina said.

“I’ve figured out the reason this is happening,” Fred said. “I am in the midst of some sort of psychosomatic diabetic shock.  My doctor warned me about this.  Still, it is nice to have company.”

Tina was about to explain the whole thing to Fred, but then she felt hot liquid arriving in her gut.  She closed her eyes and saw that Claire was indeed drinking, but it wasn’t booze, it was a scalding cup of black coffee.  Claire was now in a church basement across the street from the hotel, drinking the coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. Tina observed Claire as she sat down on a metal folding chair that was in a circle with several other folding chairs.  Some men, a few women, and one or two not quite gender specific folks were sitting in the other chairs talking about their problems, which all revolved around their dependence on alcohol.

Tina had but one word to add to this symposium: Boring!  And when it was Claire’s turn to speak, Tina tried to send her a message not to say anything, to let the meeting end sooner so that the two of them could go find the nearest bar.  Claire, who had been told by her therapist to stop listening to the voices in her head, once again resisted Tina and spoke anyway.

“I feel like there are thoughts going on inside of me that I have no control over,” Claire said. “I’m an actress and I live and work in Hollywood, and before I came over here I was signing autographs at a comic book store and everyone was telling me how much they loved and admired me.  I didn’t believe a word of it. I have never done anything in my life that is truly worthy of praise, just a lot of stupid behavior that I wish I could undo. But I think I made the right decision coming to this meeting.  I just wish I didn’t feel so empty.”

Tina was insulted.  She sent Claire a new message: “Empty, my ass.  You have a fairy princess inside of you and don’t even know it, bitch!”

Clair heard the message, but attributed it to her inner child, who was always giving her shit.

Tina was relieved when the meeting finally ended but then Claire began talking to some hairy greasy guy that Tina at first mistook for an Ogre from the trans-dimensional vortex, but then she realized he was just some gross guy that wanted to enhance his spirituality by having sex with Claire.  And then Tina was horrified to realize that Claire had the same thing in mind!

“Okay, enough!” Tina thought.  She decided she had better stop trying to psychically piggyback a drunken bender that might not even happen.  And she sure as hell didn’t want to endure an extra-sensory three-way with a disgusting sober dude.  Proxy-humping was just going to make a bad day even worse.

Tina opened her eyes and saw that Fred was still staring at her.  He was eating malted milk balls, and each crunching noise was like a fist slamming into her skull, and Tina was afraid that if she stayed much longer her ears would begin to bleed chocolate.

She stood up.  “I have to go,” she said.  “I’ve been having this mind-meld thing going on with Claire Hyde and I can’t take it anymore.  She’s about to sleep with some loser, and…”

“He can’t be a loser if he’s sleeping with Claire Hyde,” Fred said.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Tina said.  “Look, I get the vibe that you’re really shy around girls.  Well, let me tell you something, I can guarantee you that somewhere in this world there is a girl with really low self-esteem who would totally sleep with you!”

A few moments ago this Princess Priapistress doll had seemed bitchy, but now Fred was touched to hear it say something so sweet and encouraging to him.

“So long,” Tina said. “Thank you for your kind hospitality.”

She jumped on the computer keyboard and leapt from key to key, spelling out her name.  Then a light shot out from the computer screen and engulfed Tina. There was a popping sound, like a breaking bulb, and then Tina was gone.

Fred stared longingly at the empty space where Tina just was.  He already missed her. He felt the all too familiar pang of a paralyzing depression gripping him and settling in for a long stay.

But then something snapped. “Holy crap!” he said out loud. “I’ve gone from being a grown man who plays with toys to a grown man who talks to them.  Maybe my life is falling short in some ways.”

Fred decided it was time for a change, so rather than go forward with his original plan for the rest of the afternoon, which was to recline in front of his TV and anesthetize himself with a combination of sugar, carbohydrates, and popular culture, he instead marched back outside and joined a gym, ready and willing to embrace whatever long-term life transformation his one-day free trial membership with no obligation would bring.

Tina arrived back in the trans-dimensional vortex, and the moment she landed, her mental link with Claire was instantly severed; she was now simply too far away to read her thoughts or observe her life.  Tina’s psychic connection with Claire had limited roaming capabilities.

And traveling by way of wireless portal landed her smack dab in the Bureau of Digital Travel, a think-tank in the Institute of Enchantment run by magic techno wonks who subjected Tina to a long and tedious debriefing that left her more desirous of drink than ever.

Tina finally returned home to her bookshelf condo late that night with her wand and her wings fully restored (the red tape involved in getting them back was the usual nightmare in duplicate and triplicate).

Most evenings Tina went out, even though she didn’t really have any friends, just acquaintances she got drunk with in restaurants, cocktail lounges, and whatever parts unknown her blackout binges took her.

But tonight she just didn’t feel like reuniting with strangers, so she waved the wand and a beaker of vodka martinis appeared on her nightstand. Her plan was to stay in and rent of movie, because she really wanted to see “The Adventures Of Princess Priapistress.” She waved her wand again and a DVD of the film instantly arrived, but it was a Region-2 disk and she was unable to watch it on her player, so she downloaded it from the internet onto her laptop and then she sat back to see what all the fuss was about.

From the moment the movie started, Tina was riveted.  Not because it was any good; in fact, it was awful.  But seeing Claire Hyde degrade herself in scene after scene, most of which involved her being naked, or tied-up, or both, left Tina with a great deal of admiration for Claire.  Not for her acting ability, although she seemed like she might be good if ever given the chance in a better movie, but because it was astounding that Claire could sink to the depths of “The Adventures Of Princess Priapistress” – the cinematic equivalent of being face-down in a dumpster – and still manage to hold on to, if not her dignity, then at least the idea that dignity might somehow still be an option.

When the film finally came to its breast-soaked finale, Tina realized that she had watched the whole movie without once dipping into the martini pitcher.  On a whim, she waved her wand and turned the booze into iced coffee, which she drank in one sloppy gulp.  She then put on the one sparkly fairy dress she had left, jumped into the air and flew outside, taking a caffeinated trip between the skyscraper-sized castles of the trans-dimensional vortex’s business district, enjoying the brisk wind against her face and finding comfort in the steady card-shuffling sound of her rapidly flapping wings.

Eventually dawn broke and she remembered a hectoring wizard had once told her of a room in the basement of the Institute of Enchantment where round-the-clock versions of the same kind of folding chair and coffee cult that Claire had attended on Earth took place. Against her better judgment, Tina flew into an early morning meeting, which was filled with alcoholic elves, meth-freak sprites, crack-whore fairies and predatory monsters only there for the free donuts.

Tina hated the meeting, just as she knew she would.  But she went to several more that morning and then one or two a day ever since.  She has never been able to explain to anybody why one day for no apparent reason she stopped drinking.  By all accounts she is still sober and doing well, although there has been talk among her friends that for her own good Tina should cease her habit of taking greasy hairy Ogres home from meetings and sleeping with them.

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