Someone shouted Holden’s name. A girl’s voice, calling to him—or had he been dreaming? Either way, he didn’t like getting yelled at. He wanted to ask her to calm down, he wanted to ask what was wrong, but when he tried to talk his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth like cotton. He opened his eyes, but the bright light overhead burned spots into his vision. He closed them again and he saw little exploding stars.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, but his words didn’t sound right in his own ears. His thick tongue got in the way.
Then the dream—surely he must be dreaming—changed. A beautiful girl leaned over him. Almond skin and a dusting of glitter on her cheeks like frost. She wore a crown of leaves in her hair.
She whispered in his ear. “O, how I love thee. How I dote on thee!”
Holden knew that face. It belonged to Titania the Fairy Queen. Wait, that wasn’t right.
The Fairy Queen suddenly screamed his name, terrified.
The next time he opened his eyes there were monsters. They surrounded him, poked at him with spindly metallic arms. He saw himself reflected in their glassy eyes, multifaceted like prisms. A dozen Holdens all screamed at once, but someone had turned his voice off. There was no sound. When he tried to fight back his body wouldn’t do what he asked it to. He couldn’t even close his eyes anymore; he couldn’t blink. He had to watch what they were doing as they jabbed him with needles that made his body spasm.
“He’s awake,” said a voice near his ear. Rough, gravelly. Not like Titania’s at all. “You shouldn’t do this to him while he’s awake. It hurts him.”
All at once the metal spiders froze, like Holden was living in a video that had stopped playing. Buffering . . . buffering . . .
They came back to life as one of them jabbed another needle into Holden’s throat.
“It hurts him!” said the voice again, and Holden was looking into the face of one of the ugliest women he’d ever seen. Her heavy brow and broad, whiskered chin made her look almost simian. But she smiled at him with her yellow, crooked teeth and laid a hand on his forehead.
“Go back to sleep,” she whispered in his ear. “We’ll wake you when it’s all over.” There was a tiny pinprick as she stuck him with a needle of her own, but this one didn’t hurt so much. Within seconds all the pain went away and Holden was sinking into a warm, dark bath. The woman’s hands were rough and calloused, but she was gentle as she brushed her fingers over his eyes, closing them for him as one would for a corpse.
Two things occurred to him before he slipped back into darkness. First, he wondered if Titania would be waiting for him. And second, he feared that he hadn’t been dreaming at all.
Holden Black wanted to be absolutely sure he’d be the last one out of the building, so he sat alone in his dressing room and waited. It was really a storage closet, but for the weekend run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream it did double duty. For the time being, he had to share it with a plastic mop bucket on wheels and several crates of industrial-strength cleaner—the kind that was strong enough to dissolve dried gum off desks. Using grease paint from his makeup kit, Holden had drawn a smiley face on one of the bottles and started using it as a wig stand. Unfortunately, the school janitors still used this closet during the daytime, because when Holden arrived at half-hour tonight there was a note taped to it that read, “Pls clean! NOT a toy!”
Holden’s sparkly wig now hung on a mop pole instead.
Being the only male, Holden couldn’t dress with the other fairies, so he was stuck with a makeshift dressing room inside a janitor’s closet. That meant he was also closest to the “cafetorium” that doubled as a stage. Laughter and congratulations filled the lobby just outside his door. The closet didn’t lock from the inside, so Holden changed into his street clothes as fast as he could, making sure to keep his back to the door. Not that anyone would get curious about a janitor’s closet, but still. Holden could just picture that door accidentally opening onto a crowded roomful of teenagers and their parents, and him standing there in his boxer briefs and eye shadow. It would be a Holden moment to remember.
He nearly tripped over his own legs as he yanked his jeans on, but it was even harder getting off his glittery stage makeup. The only water in the closet came out of a slop sink, and Holden didn’t trust the brownish liquid that sputtered from that faucet, so he did the best he could with wet wipes and a handheld mirror. The glitter had gotten everywhere, and the eye shadow made him look like a raccoon. His fairy tights had given him jock itch.
I should take a picture of all this crap, he thought. Start a Tumblr called “What’s the stupidest thing you’ve done for love?”
He finished cleaning off his makeup as best he could, but there were still voices outside. People sure were taking their time high-fiving one another.
To pass the minutes, Holden used the...