"Oh shut up!" Bailey said to Sir Kick-a-lot, who looked to be getting ready to live up to his name again. The black horse snorted his displeasure and continued to jerk on the reins, but nevertheless let himself be led forward, and thankfully did not lash out at Bailey.
As she pressed deeper into the pass, Bailey felt the sword that was hanging off her back, and she was comforted by its weight. It originally belonged to her grandfather, but her father, the current Lord of Pontus, had lost it on one of his drunken bets. Thankfully, she had been able to buy it back, but at the rate things were going, there would be no money left in the treasury soon.
Along the narrow path, the shadows grew deeper and Bailey noticed that the air seemed to grow thicker, while at the same time it started to shimmer, like the heat that comes off hot stones in the middle of summer. Bailey felt a shudder run down her spine as she reached the place on the rough path that was next to the first statue. She knew that it could not be true, but she felt that it was watching her. Stopping, she looked around while, behind her, Sir Kick-a-lot snorted again. She took a step forward and it was as if she was suddenly trying to force her way through a syrup or caramel. Her limbs felt heavy, and her brain felt fuzzy.
"Miss. Jennings," I don't know where you were, but we are learning about Alternative Alternate Angles. Now can you tell me what that would be for the lines marked 'M' and 'P' on the board?" Mrs. Lynch said, while brandishing the meter stick that she had just used to smash Bailey's desktop.
Bailey Jennings's brain snapped back to Geometry and looked at the whiteboard at the front of the room. On it were parallel lines that were being intersected by a third line that ran through both the parallel lines at an angle. Instantly her brain tried to remember anything about figuring out the angle, but nothing came to mind. "Uh...well first, you. Uh."
"Please don't bother. You were daydreaming during my entire lesson. See me after class, Miss. Jennings."
Bailey groaned inwardly. She knew she should have been paying attention, but if there was anything else on earth that was more useless to her than Geometry, Bailey could not think of what it would be. She waited until Mrs. Lynch's accusing blue eyes were no longer looking at her, and then she looked down at her book, which she had not even bothered to open. Glancing to her left she saw LeAnn Smith smirking at her and texting on her phone. No doubt she was gloating to her friends, all of whom shared her vapid expression, expensive clothing, and probably, Bailey thought, eating disorder. Whatever. That cow can think whatever she wants, Bailey thought, as she looked back at the board and then rapidly lost interest in the lesson.
Bailey had mostly given up on school, which was mostly due to the fact that they never bothered to teach her anything that she wanted to know. Geometry was a case in point. They said she had to know about angles, but she would have rather spent her time watching every single movie that won best picture for the last sixty years. Or they required her to take Biology, and while it was at least more interesting than Geometry, she felt her time would be better spent practicing her drawing. She had a book of Neal Adams work that covered most of his time at DC, and she had spent hours and hours trying to draw like he did. She could make a perfect Batman, a good Wonder Woman, and she was getting good at some of his Marvel work. Just as important to her in terms of her drawing, was the work she did out of The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes. She had found it at her house when she was six. At the time, she didn't really know how to draw, but she liked Calivn, and years later still felt as if he was the only person that every really understood her, which was odd, as he was definitely not real. Still that had been what she had learned to draw first, and she could practically make anything look like it was drawn by Bill Watterson. Including, Bailey thought savagely, a few of his strips that broke the laws of Geometry. She felt learning how to draw things completely out of perspective had taught her a hell of a lot more about parallel lines and angles than Mrs. Lynch had in half a year.
The bell rang for the end of class and school, and most of the students filed out; although Bailey noticed that LeAnn was moving slowly, probably so she could overhear the butt-chewing she was about to receive. Thankfully, Mrs. Lynch gave her a warning look that sent her scurrying for the door. Bailey collected her books and walked up to the front of the room and waited.
Mrs. Lynch was a whip thin woman with bright red hair, who seemed to only ever move at one speed: frantic. So Bailey was a little surprised when the woman practically collapsed into the chair behind the desk and let out a sigh. This was not what Bailey had expected, so she said nothing. Eventually Mrs. Lynch looked at her and said, "You know, I've been teaching now for coming up on twenty-five years and I like to think that after so long, I can reach just about any student. But you, Bailey. You just don't seem interested in anything. I've asked around about you, you know. Checked with your other teachers. Do you know that they all told me the same thing about you? You're sharp as a tack, but your brain is never here. So, why is that?"
"Probably because I don't care about school, and Geometry in particular," Bailey said, knowing that such a blunt answer would not make her life any easier. At the moment though, she just wanted to get out of the classroom and go do something, anything, that would make her smile.
"Really, and what do you care about?" Mrs. Lynch asked, not seeming offended in the slightest.
"Uh," Bailey said suddenly flat-footed. "Well I draw a lot. Mostly comic-book stuff, but also some Calvin and Hobbes. I also like to read a lot. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi. Stuff like that."
"I see. And you think that is more important that what I'm teaching."
Bailey suddenly sniffed a trap, but since it was such a direct question, she said, "Yes."
Mrs. Lynch got up from behind her desk and said, "You know Bailey, I'm going to level with you. The truth is all the teachers, as I said, know you are smart; we know you don't want to be here. So I'm going to, as they say, make you an offer you can't refuse, and it is this: not just in my class, but in all your classes, you will show me exactly how smart you are and bring your grades up to at least a B plus... something that I believe is entirely within your ability."
Here we go, thought Bailey.
"In return," Mrs. Lynch continued, "I have persuaded all of your other teachers to let you read whatever you want. To draw whatever you want, and to more or less ignore us, if you like, even during class. But that means you can't miss any assignments and we are not going to make special arrangements for you. If one of your teachers, like coach Carlyle for instance, has a regular tutoring session and you need the extra help, you can take advantage of that, but we will not individually tutor you. And that's it. You do the work. You do it at your pace in your way, but you meet our deadlines. In return, we will leave you alone."
"And I'm supposed to believe that?" Bailey asked, wholly unaccustomed to the idea of a teacher treating her like an adult.
"Well, I suppose you can believe it or not as you like, but the fact of the matter is, you do the work and we will leave you alone."
Bailey looked at the woman sitting across from her. She noticed that the red hair was dyed and for the first time she also clearly saw the crows-feet that were coming off the edges of her blue eyes. "Uh, it's not that what you're saying isn't cool, but seriously, you are going to get all the teachers to get off my back?"
Mrs. Lynch smiled, and for the first time since Bailey had met the woman, she saw an impish light start dancing behind her irises. "Oh, I got them all to agree to it yesterday. And trust me, it took some doing. Most of them don't like you very much, which I might add has a lot to do with your attitude. But what you have to understand is that you are my pet project. You see, every year I see bright kids like you who don't want be here. Don't want to work. And don't want to be bothered by the teachers. After fighting that for more than twenty years, I'm a bit tired, so I figure, if I can't beat the attitude, why not try and turn it to my advantage?"
A thought struck Bailey, and before she could stop herself, she blurted, "What about you? Do you like me?"
"Not as much as I would like to, but I'm hoping I can change that a little by giving you a way to prove to me I'm wrong."
Suddenly something that Bailey did not know was in her roared to life. Ten minutes ago, she could have cared less if Mrs. Lynch liked her or not, but now that she knew the woman didn't like her that much, she was angry and annoyed. Not like she had been with LeAnn. That had just been a kind of disgust. This was not disgust. This was a tooth and claw hatred of the fact that someone thought she was better than she was acting, but just as soon as it rose it also vanished. It had to be a trick, didn't it? She had to say something. Had to think of some way to find the con, but none came to mind, and then Mrs. Lynch said, "Well, I think we are done here. You have six weeks to show your turnaround, and then something else will have to be tried. In the meantime, I'm late for my date with my husband, so excuse me," and just like that, she left.
Bailey collected her things and walked out of the classroom. As soon as she reached the hallway, she saw LeAnn, who looked to be waiting for her. Sure enough, the instant LeAnn spotted her, she said, "I don't know who is more retarded. You or Mrs. Lynch. But, since you're so dumb the teachers are going to ignore you, I'm going to say it's you."
Bailey, who was not in the mood for LeAnn, picked up her pace and started to walk away, but the skinny blond trailed after her like a piranha swimming along after a bleeding animal. "Hey, did you know that you're so ugly that when you were born, your dad said, 'What a treasure,' and your mom said, 'Yeah, let's bury it.' And you're so dumb you would try and drown a fish But then, as Bailey reached the end of the hall, she saw something in the mirror that made her stop, and she burst out laughing.
"What?" LeAnn demanded, and the way the girl pursed her lips suddenly made her face look even more like a fish, which Bailey though ironic given the insult she had just tossed her way. It didn't matter though. LeAnn doesn't matter, Bailey thought, and instantly the incessant whine that was LeAnn's voice began to fade.
Bailey's mind shifted gears, and suddenly she found herself floating in a huge ocean in an advanced scuba suit. The water she was in was clear blue and filtered down through the rocks around and above her. From her point of view, it caused her to cast a shadow on the ocean floor that made it look like she was a manta ray, zooming though the water. Then, she turned her head and saw it, the ugliest fish she had ever seen. It had grayish flesh, was long and thin, like a worm, but it had huge lips that were out of all proportion to its body. These it kept grotesquely opening and closing as it whipped itself along, and for a fleeting moment, Bailey knew that seeing LeAnn in such a way was similar to how Calvin would turn people into monsters in his fantasies. The thought made her smile, but then she let it go so she could enjoy her new world.
She engaged the motors in her scuba suit and jetted off, a line of air-bubbles behind her the only clue that she had been there in the first place. On she glided until, in front of her, a gargantuan underwater canyon opened up. She could not make out where it began or ended, nor see it's bottom, but she just knew that whatever she was supposed to have lay somewhere below her. She pulled up her HUD, and as the map appeared on the inside plastic that made up her scuba helmet, she began plotting the coordinates and vectors she would need to keep track of her progress.
She dived and as the canyon walls grew taller around her, until she was surrounded. The light changed, but instead of growing dark and cold, the water grew warmer and brighter. It made her all the more hungry to find the the bottom, which she eventually reached. Bailey landed in a sandy patch, that sent silica particles swirling through the water like bits of stars moving in space. She stood there watching the sand glint and sparkle as they began to settle, and she suddenly knew that was the only thing she had been meant to see. It felt anti-climactic and somehow like a great adventure all at the same time. There had been no swords. No dragon. But then, just as she was turning to swim up to the surface, an image formed out of the floating particles. It was her, but she was older and sitting at a drafting table that had several of her own pencils for a comic done, one of which showed a worm-like fish very much like what she had just left behind impaled on a trident. On top of that was a letter that she had just finished writing. Bailey could not read anything on it except for Mrs. Lynch, Thank you. Then, it was gone.