NOT EXACTLY A FAIRY TALE # 4
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.
“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.”
“I’ll be right back.”
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.
“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.
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