Today’s Halloween-inspired tale comes from multi-genre author Val Muller. Her two Halloween works, Faulkner’s Apprentice (adult horror) and The Sorceress of Stoney Brook (spooky middle-grade mystery) are available at www.valmuller.com.
Look forward to next week’s tale, coming to us from Cathy MacKenzie, who you can stalk at
Hilda Bingen plodded down the linoleum hallway. Persnickety High School never had a working elevator, and the stairs always made her joints ache. Today was even worse, though, because she had just gotten over a week of the gak.
She picked it up taking a short-term subbing job at Pine Hill Elementary. The kids that age always got sick before Halloween, and they insured she had the worst Halloween ever. Those damn kids made her miss her favorite tradition, sharing her special brew with the teachers at whatever school she subbed at on Halloween. It was the one day she didn’t have to dress up, the one day when sharing goodies and drinks and snacks didn’t seem out of place, the one day where everyone’s attitudes were well-groomed for magic hijinks—and she had missed it.
Now here she was, a week late and exhausted. Her coven leader had required mandatory time at the polls for Election Day, and interacting with bright-eyed people eager to do their civic duty always wore her out. Today, bringing the magic brew felt like a chore rather than a favorite hobby. She huffed as she mounted the last stair, pausing to rest her cooler on the banister. She tried to remember the location of the teacher work room, searching her brain for the last time she had subbed here.
Ah—there it was. At the other end of the hall. Her new ballet flats crimped her toes, and her head felt naked where her hat usually sat. And pants—don’t even get started on the atrocities of pants! Drat, those germ-infested kids. Next year, she promised herself, no subbing until Halloween. She couldn’t afford to miss this again.
She set the cooler on the table next to the copier and set a stack of paper cups nearby. “Free Punch,” she scrawled, leaning the note against the cooler and chuckling as she returned to her assigned classroom for the day. Now she had only to wait.
During first period, she had to keep quiet. First period was usually too soon. The kids were rowdy, though. Probably still high on Halloween sugar. She chuckled, imagining how their energy would interact with that of the teachers. That is, once they had the brew.
While the students filled out a worksheet the teacher had left, Hilda peeked down the hall. There was a teacher, clip-clopping down the hall in heels, her hurried steps typical of the neurotic, controlling teacher type. Hilda chuckled. The teacher was headed toward the teacher workroom, her hand full of originals to make photocopies. Surely she’d be tempted by the mysterious liquid in the cooler. She peeked back into the classroom. The kids were doodling and making airplanes and such—as was to be expected on a day of a substitute teacher. Hilda left them once again and watched the other end of the hallway. When would the teacher emerge? And how much would she drink?
Drat. The teacher emerged much, much too quickly, her arms unladen with copies. The copier must be broken. That was a problem.
“Kids?” Hilda asked, returning to the classroom. “What happens when the teachers’ copy machine breaks?”
A few of the students gave high-fives.
“The teachers can’t copy anything for us,” they cheered. “They only have the one copy machine, and it’s so old, it’s older than us. The school will never buy a new one. I hope Ms. McAllister hasn’t photocopied our math test yet!”
Hilda sighed. When word of the broken copier spread, teachers would surely avoid the copy machine.
Several students in the back were having a paper airplane contest, seeing whose plane could come closest to hitting the wall.
“That is unacceptable,” Hilda told them.
Their lips smirked.
“If you’re going to have an airplane contest, you’d better see who can get their airplane stuck in the ceiling!”
The kids’ eyes bulged open, and the fatigue wore out of Hilda’s body as she folded a paper airplane out of the substitute lesson plans on the teacher’s desk. She licked her lips in concentration as she creased, folded, and creased. “Now,” she said. “Watch this!” She threw the airplane, and with a twitch of her nose, it spiraled up, up, up to the ceiling, where its pointed tip caught in the holey asbestos above.
“How many months you think it’ll be before that comes down?” asked a student, wide-eyed.
“Months?” Hilda laughed. “Try years!”
The students chattered about having such a cool sub.
“See,” Hilda explained to the captivated teenagers, “being normal is boring. It’s always fun to cause a bit of mischief. Especially so close to Halloween. And I’ve got an idea. There’s a bit of punch in the teacher workroom that I was hoping to distribute to the teachers today, but it seems with the broken copier, they won’t see it. Who wants to volunteer to bring a few cups around to the teachers?”
Every hand shot up.
“You know it’s against the rules for us to be in the hallways during class, though, right?” asked one of the students.
“That’s wonderful! Breaking the rules is always fun. Now go to the teacher workroom, all of you, take two cups of punch each, and distribute them to all the teachers.”
“Why do you want us to do this?” another asked. “What’s in the punch? Is it poison?”
“Oh, nothing like that,” laughed Hilda. “Just a bit of Halloween fun. I call it—opposite punch.”
Hilda watched her classroom empty and couldn’t wait until the teachers had a sip of that punch. Even just a sip would transform their personalities for the next eight hours, making them bringers of chaos and lovers of dissent. How chaotic and wonderful the next eight hours would be there at the school. Hilda licked her lips and waited.
Her students returned almost immediately, and they sat quietly at their desks, resuming work on the worksheet their teacher had left them. A few even got up to borrow a dictionary to check their spelling.
“Kids?” she shrieked. “What’s wrong? Let’s have another airplane contest. Did you distribute the punches already? It seems you’ve returned so fast.”
The children looked up at her, their lips stained the deep red that could only come from a sip of her famous potion, the opposite punch. A student in front raised his hand.
“I went to the main office to inform them that there are paper airplanes stuck in the ceiling that need to come down. It’s entirely inappropriate for an educational environment.”
Hilda squealed. “Did you—did you kids—drink the punch?”
“I put it near the vending machine,” one of the students responded. “The one the kids sneak off to when they have a bathroom pass. I thought—why should the teachers get to have all the punch? Students should get to drink it.”
“What?” Hilda’s blood boiled. “No! No, no, no! It wasn’t for you, it was for the teachers. Do you realize what a dreadfully boring day this is going to be? And I was looking forward to this day when I was home with the gak.” She shrieked and cried, her cackles turning into sobs.
A student in front cleared her throat. “Mrs. Bingen, could you please be quiet? We’re trying to finish our worksheets.”
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Catherine A. MacKenzie