Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story in which one character plays a prank on another. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, the young adult reboot of Hawthorne’s masterpiece, and Corgi Capers, the kidlit, canine-packed mystery series.
For this month’s rotation, we’re featuring guest writer Eric Egger, publisher at Freedom Forge Press, who will write this prompt with the added challenge of connecting it to the theme of freedom, as with everything having to do with FFP.
Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift
By Val Muller
Robbie Stewart was the kid she had every year. He came in different names, different bodies, he took different courses. But he was always there. Every iteration was a natural leader or especially talented, or at least had the potential to be, but he always squandered his natural charisma for ill and chaos. Sometimes he riled up the rest of the class. Sometimes he set off another conflicting personality and made a 90-minute class last all afternoon. Sometimes he popped into Ms. Spindle’s head as she tried to fall asleep. Or when she was cooking, one of his irritating antics would replay in her mind, causing her to burn dinner. Sometimes he appeared as a character in a movie or television show, ruining her immersion.
For thirty-seven years she had put up with the Robbie Stewarts of the world. For thirty-seven years she grinned and bore it. She’d always planned on going for just three more. Three short years to round her career to an even forty. Just three more years of Robbie Stewarts. But last month’s faculty meeting had put an end to that. The new initiative, following the latest educational trends, dictated that next year neither she nor any other member of the faculty at Piney Field High School would be allowed to hold students accountable to deadlines. Adhering to deadlines was not part of the academic standards, and it was harmful to student learning.
Theoretically, the Robbie Stewarts of the world could turn in every single assignment from September onward at the end of June. She knew this because Robbie Stewart, sitting in third block study hall, had gotten wind of the new initiative and was questioning her about it.
“So if it was next year, then if I held on to all my assignments and turned them in on June 1, you’d still have to grade them?” he asked, his mouth cracking into a smile. His face was oily with acne, and his teeth needed flossing.
She did not answer, but she suspected her involuntary cringe was all the encouragement he needed.
“And what if every student did the same? You would have to grade every single assignment from every single student on June 1.” He stifled mock concern. “That would take you hours. You’d have no time to yourself. Not on weekends, not on evenings. It would almost mirror the way teachers make students feel. Having assignments intruding into all our waking hours…” He was mumbling now, taking the joke beyond its natural stopping point, making a few other students chuckle. “…would barely even have time to shower, let alone eat.”
Luckily, this particular Robbie Stewart would graduate in a few weeks, but another would replace him, and next year’s R.S. would surely take full advantage of the new late work policy, exposing all the loopholes before the administration team even had a chance to address them.
“It’s not worth it,” her husband agreed over dinner that night. “You put in your time. Not everything has to be neat and even. Thirty-seven is just as good as forty.” Indeed, the difference in pension was a mere seventeen dollars and fifty-three cents a month if she stayed the extra three years.
“I won’t get my forty-year service pin,” she said. “Or my watch.” The district gave a fancy, engraved watch to all teachers who made it to the forty-year mark.
Her husband smiled. “I’ll buy you a watch, Mrs. Spindle. Any color you want. Even gold.”
She thought about Robbie Stewart. This year, he was big on taking pictures of assignments and distributing them to classmates. He didn’t charge for this service; he did it for the fame. She’d caught him in October with a copy of the vocabulary quiz, one he’d gotten from a recycling bin at the end of the previous school year. She’d caught him using his watch to send texts with answers to the fifteen-page history packet right before the due date. She’d tried to turn him in twice, but each time, Robbie Stewart cleared his phone so that when Admin searched it, they found nothing incriminating.
Except Mrs. Spindle’s repressed frown.
Robbie Stewart was on her mind that night as she agreed to the retirement with her husband. After that, her teaching took a noticeable dive. She relied on decades’ worth of material for the final weeks of the year. She took sick days to accommodate several three- and four-day weekends. She allowed students to view more movies in one month than she’d allowed in the last five years. And while they watched, she just stared and stared. The time was growing short. She had only days to make her move.
She had been watching carefully, these new smart devices students had. There were watches and jewelry and little fobs you stuck to your sneaker. They tracked movement, sent alerts and notifications, and even browsed the web.
Robbie Stewart had the most impressive watch of them all. It was a blue one, a unisex band not too thick. It was a serene blue, too, the color she imagined retirement would be. Whenever he got a text, the watch glowed, a pulsing blue light. And she knew he could send texts from it, too, and access the Internet. She wasn’t sure the details of how it worked; she knew only that she desired that watch more than she desired her service pin or the platinum-colored watch the district would have bestowed upon her three years hence. It was a symbol of the menacing power of Robbie Stewart.
She popped in another movie and opened her laptop. Years of creativity, repressed by student apathy and teenage angst, came flooding out. Her years of teaching journalism and research papers mingled together in the cauldron of her brain, coalescing into the perfect concoction. It was fed by the renewed energies allowed by her recent long weekends and lack of lesson planning. It was the inspiration of a career’s worth of self-indulgence, all packed into a single moment.
She experimented with fonts and columns, with stock art and bylines, until it looked the part. She left the class alone to watch the film and trotted to the copier. She photocopied the article once, then photocopied the copy and its copy until it had that worn-out look that made it seem genuine, like something the main office would distribute.
And then she left the bait. When Robbie Stewart’s class came in, she left it tucked between the chair in front of him and his desk. It stuck out just enough to intrigue the lad. Before she started the film, she channeled all her years of teaching Shakespeare. With a performance worthy of an Emmy, she feigned concern.
“Students, I seem to have left an important article somewhere. If you happen to see it, please turn it in to me at once. No need to read it. In fact—” she hesitated and tried to make her face turn red and then pale— “It’s actually a bit controversial. It has nothing to do with you, mind you. Just with some policies going to be implemented next year.”
She stifled a smile as Robbie raised an eyebrow. As soon as her back was turned, she heard him snatch the article. She made a show of searching under several student desks as the movie commenced, not minding the young lad reading quietly at his desk.
As the students shuffled out, Robbie tossed something in the trash, leaving the room especially quietly. She waited until they all left. The room was silent and full of the emptying scent of teenagers. As the air cooled and freshened, she bent down to unroll a wad of paper. There was her article, well read. High school senior expelled as smart watch reveals cheating; college admission rescinded. She smiled again at her use of quotations from the principal of the nearby county who was apparently receiving some kind of award for his groundbreaking sleuthing into student technology. Even the superintendent had been quoted, confirming the district’s ability to search student devices without warning.
She chuckled. If the article were true, Robbie’s watch probably contained enough evidence to get him expelled three times over. Too bad it was just really good fiction.
She wadded up the article to return to the trash when something twinkled in the trash can. There it was, in all its glory: Robbie Stewart’s blue watch. Abandoned for fear of it being a snitch. Her article had been more convincing than she thought.
The watch felt cool around her wrist, but it warmed almost immediately, and she swore she felt youth making its way from her skin into her blood and up her arm. She went to the main office right away to arrange leave for the rest of the year. Who needed to work three more years to make an even forty? She left school smiling, her trophy sparkling serenely around her wrist in the early June sun.
* * *
The Spot Writers is seeking another member. Have what it takes to write one flash fiction piece per month? Want it published on four different blogs? Need other flash pieces for your blog content? It’s a great way to stay motivated to write—and write for an audience. If interested, contact Val for details!
* * *
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Eric Egger: www.freedomforgepress.com/blog (guest this month)