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The First Crayon was Free

Trina is the Senior Writer and Creative Futurist at SciFutures, a science fiction prototyping shop in Burbank, CA. Her work has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. and AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. LinkedIn: Trina Phillips Facebook: facebook.com/trinamarie.phillips Twitter: @TrinaMPhillips

Jenna took the chocolate milk from the lunch line and moved forward. Truth was, she didn't like chocolate, but the Crayon Kid did, and she had an appointment with him in ten minutes. Jenna grabbed a seat nearest the cafeteria exit and scarfed down the tasteless algae grown pizza with soy pepperoni and the canned green beans that she was sure were at least two decades old.
It wasn't like they listened to her, anyway. She wasn't one of the math and science brains. A doodler, a dreamer, she'd been called them all, but that didn't stop her. As soon as she finished eating she grabbed the chocolate milk and headed for the bleachers near the handball court. There was a crowd, but they were all watching a heated Nation ball match between Sean and Nita, the two best players on the flats. Jenna slipped underneath where she found the Crayon Kid. He was the messy sort, with a mop of dirty blond hair and smudges on his face. Everyone knew he was a dealer, but art was seen as a victimless crime so most teachers looked the other way. The biggest challenge was hiding her treasures from her parents. If they found out she was an artist they wouldn't understand. They'd ship her off to the Math Academy where she'd never see another crayon again.
With the Crayon Kid there were no formalities. "I need red," Jenna said, and held out the chocolate milk. She had been in the middle of drawing an alien riding a fire truck when her last stub of red ran out.
The Crayon Kid laughed. "Red'll cost you a lot more than that. Heck, that won't even get you vermillion."
"But I really need it."
"That's a primary, Jenna. You know those cost more."
Jenna looked at him sideways. "CrayoColor?"
"Of course. You know I only carry the best." He did, which was pretty amazing since the company went out of business five years ago.
Jenna dug around in her pockets but came up with nothing. She should have snuck a couple of cookies from home into her backpack and hoped her mom wouldn't notice.
"I can bring you more, tomorrow."
The Crayon Kid shook his head. "I've only got one red left and I know Tommy's gonna buy it if you don't. I'm giving you first dibs because you're one of my best customers."
Jenna sighed. In an effort to sway him, Jenna withdrew a folded piece of paper from her back pocket. It was the drawing she was working on. "What if I give you the drawing when it's done?"
Part of Jenna hated giving away her drawing, but it did keep her from being discovered. Also, while the desire to make art burned in her soul, she was less concerned about what happened to it after.
The Crayon Kid took hold of the paper to examine her work. It was looking to be one of her better pieces. She'd made the alien periwinkle and had done a good job on the perspective, shading with violet. It really looked like the alien was riding the fire engine like a bucking bronco. There was no background, because coloring backgrounds used the precious crayons too fast.
"No doubt you're good, Jenna." He looked at her seriously. "You should come out about this. The world needs art, whether they think so or not."
"I can't do that. My dad's a coder and my mom's a scientist. They'll never tolerate it."
He shook his head, but when he looked at her his expression softened. "Okay, it's mine when you finish--and you owe me another chocolate milk."
Jenna started to object but he held up the red crayon. It was what she needed. She looked at her incomplete drawing in his hand, then back at the crayon. "Fine," she said, grabbing her drawing and the crayon and shoving the chocolate milk at him. Jenna pocketed the drawing and slid the crayon into the secret slot in her sleeve. A quick look around to make sure no one would see her and she emerged casually from beneath the bleachers. When she was six she'd learned the hard way not to run from a transaction. At eight, she was a lot smarter.
When Jenna got home she raced through her homework and then pulled out her perfect red crayon. Three times she had to stash her drawing so no one would see. And she had to finish with a flashlight under the covers, but she finished. Jenna held the paper up and smiled. Dreamer, doodler, troublemaker. They could call her all those things, but she loved drawing so much.
The next morning she snuck off to school with a pair of cookies in her backpack. She knew the Crayon Kid would accept them in place of chocolate milk; he had before. Better to get this over with. At recess, with more sadness than she expected, she gave the Crayon Kid her drawing and the cookies. With only a nod, he disappeared into the shadows.
After lunch the alert siren sounded and the classroom vidscreens lit up with the image of the school principal's beet red face. He was standing in the parking lot in front of his fancy hovercar. There, plastered on the window, was Jenna's drawing. Her shock registered along with all the others, but for different reasons. She couldn't believe what the Crayon Kid had done with her artwork.
The speaker blared. "I want to know who's responsible for this vandalism! Tell me, or you will all be punished."
No one knew, and every kid knew better than to lie because their bio-monitors would give them away under interrogation. The principal grew angry with their silence.
Behind the principal, Jenna saw the janitor set to work with a water bucket, sponge and scraper. The Crayon Kid had only used wheat paste, a temporary vandalism. Jenna watched as the scraper tore through her carefully rendered alien. At that moment, it felt like it tore through her heart. But then, as she looked at her classmates, she saw a few sparks among them. Those that loved the rebellion, that identified with her art. This made her realize that she did care what happened to her art after she finished creating it. As she watched the janitor scrape off the last bits of her beautiful drawing, she knew from here on out she wanted her art to mean something.
Jenna ran laps with all the other kids, their punishment for not coming forward and not turning in the guilty party. The Crayon Kid ran up alongside of her. They exchanged a knowing look.
"More?" he mouthed.
Jenna didn't risk answering but gave the slightest nod and the tiniest smile crept onto her lips.
Doodler, troublemaker, subversive. Her art was going to start a revolution.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 9th, 2016

Author Comments

Take something innocent, turn it into an illicit act for a noble cause and throw a little rebellion on top. All that made this story a lot of fun to write. The challenge was keeping the right tone so the kids didn't feel too grown up. To do that, I focused on the kids' goal's: crayons and chocolate milk. It's not until Jenna decides she wants her art to mean something that she takes her first step into a larger world.

- Trina Marie Phillips
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