Sunday 15 December 2019

Highly Commended Story in Buzz Words Short Story Prize

The Script by Fionna Cosgrove
The classroom was dark as I peered inside.
‘Well, Ella, is she in there?’ Penny, a smaller girl in my class asked.
I shook my head, ‘I can’t see her, but she’s only five minutes late.’
 ‘Mrs Snow has never been late in her life,’ Ivan, a tall boy with his shirt half un-tucked, scoffed. ‘She’d rather show up to school on a unicycle with her dress over her head, than be one minute late.’
The class erupted into giggles, and I shot Ivan a dark look.
‘What?’ he said defensively.
I shook my head and heard Ivan mutter ‘teacher’s pet’.
‘If you are all quite finished,’ a silky voice echoed around us, ‘I would like you to form one orderly line.’
I gasped as a tall man with dark spectacles and a thin protruding nose stood at the door. Everyone, including Ivan, went silent.
‘I will not ask again,’ he said.
Obediently, we formed a single line. The peculiar teacher opened the classroom door, and in silence, we marched to our seats. As I walked over the threshold, our eyes locked for a brief second, and I felt a trickle of cold water run down my spine.
The teacher glided to the front of the class. ‘You may refer to me as Mr King,’ he started, ‘I was told that Mrs Snow was in the middle of the creative writing component of your curriculum. Is this correct?’
Mr King’s eyes fell on me and my stomach twisted in knots.
‘Y-y-yes,’ I stuttered.
‘Wonderful,’ Mr King’s lips curled into an odd smile as he handed out workbooks and pens.
‘Umm… we’ve been using our iPads for our writing,’ squeaked Penny.
Mr King didn’t look up, ‘I find the power of the written word is so much more potent when etched in ink.’ He placed a pen and paper in front of each of us, eyeing us all curiously as he passed.
‘I would like you to construct a story,’ he begun. ‘A story that details why Mrs Snow has been delayed this morning. I want you to include every mundane detail. The colour of her shoes, to the taste of her breakfast.’
‘What, like anything we want?’ asked Ivan.
Mr King nodded.
‘So, like, could she have been eaten by a giant praying mantis?’ Ivan snorted.
Mr King moved towards Ivan’s desk in such a fluid motion, it was almost as if he flew. He reached Ivan, and leaned forward, Ivan, in return, slunk down into his seat. ‘You could write such a graphic description of your teachers’ expiration, if you wished. I would suggest something less horrific. But, again, it is your story. Your words. But beware, words, perhaps more than any other singular human creation, hold great power.’
Ivan snickered.
‘You disagree?’ Mr King asked.
Ivan shrugged, ‘It’s just a story.’
Mr King’s mouth twisted into an unnatural smile, sending goose bumps across my skin. ‘Let us hope it is not your pen that holds the creative key, for I fear we will all meet a horrid demise.’
Ivan’s face looked as confused as I felt.
‘You have thirty minutes,’ said Mr King.
Cautiously we all picked up our pens. The class was so quiet I could hear Penny breathing from across the room.
I blinked my eyes and tried to focus on the paper in front of me. I wrote my name in the top right corner, hoping that the very act of putting pen to paper would get some creative juices flowing.
It turned out it wasn’t such a bad idea. Once I started writing, it was as if the words were just falling onto the paper, the pen gliding along the lines as if dancing.
I started slowly, with Mrs Snow waking up to find her cat missing. I remembered what Mr King said about details, so I made her cat a three-legged tabby with bright purple eyes. Mrs Snow hopped in her car, but on the way to find her cat, she accidentally hit a cyclist. I made sure that the cyclist was okay, remembering Mr King’s warning. By the time Mrs Snow returned home with her cat, she was already half an hour late for work. I felt bad for writing such a bad start to Mrs Snow’s day, so I gave her ten minutes to get a coffee on the way in. It was 10:00 when she finally arrived in class.
I put my pen down and stretched my hand. Writing the story had been fun, and I had been so busy scribbling all the details, I didn’t realise our half hour was almost up, or that Mr King was standing right behind me.
‘Interesting,’ he purred.
The clock at the front of the room struck 10 o’clock and Mr King’s eyes widened as the door burst open and Mrs Snow barrelled in. Her face red and sweaty, and her hand clenching a takeaway coffee that was spilling over the edges. ‘Oh, class, I’m so sorry. You wouldn’t believe the morning I’ve had!’ Mrs Snow barely looked up as she walked to her desk. She put her coffee on the table and grabbed a few tissues, wiping the milky substance from her hand. ‘First it was my cat, then a stupid bike,’ Mrs Snow waved her hand in front of her face, ‘I don’t want to bore you with the details, let’s just say I couldn’t have imagined such a confounding start to a day.’
I felt my throat tighten. Cat, bike, coffee. I looked behind me expecting to find Mr King, but instead all I could see was a smoky silhouette of a tall figure disappearing into the shadows.
‘Is your cat OK?’ asked Penny.
Mrs Snow nodded, ‘Yes, yes, that cat has at least a dozen lives. Only has three legs my little Pip, but her spirit is as strong as a lion.’
I gulped. A three-legged cat. It couldn’t be. I wracked my brain trying to remember if Mrs Snow had told us about her three-legged cat or if I just made it up. Surely, she had told us and that’s why I put it into my story. Surely.
‘And the bike?’ Ivan asked.
‘All fine, nothing to worry about. Just a small scratch,’ said Mrs Snow.
Just a scratch. Mr King’s words were on loop in my head. Words have power. A noise like a curious groan, drifted out from the shadows.
‘I see you all have your workbooks,’ Mrs Snow glanced across our desks with an air of concern. ‘Where did you get these from?’
The class went silent. Everyone looked around nervously, searching the classroom for our mysterious teacher.
 ‘There was a man -’ I started, but Ivan stood up, his workbook falling to his desk.
‘I think we all need to leave,’ he said, a lump travelling down his throat as he swallowed. His eyes fell on me with an unusual look of concern.
‘What on earth is going on?’ demanded Mrs Snow.
Ivan ran to the door, pulling it open with enough force so that it slammed into the wall behind it. ‘Now!’ Ivan’s voice was so urgent, so convincing, that chairs were pushed aside as a tidal wave of kids rushed to the exit, with one very confused Mrs Snow trailing behind.
I was the only one who didn’t move. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. I watched, helplessly stuck to my chair as the class emptied.          Finally, when it was only me left, my legs cooperated. I was stumbling towards the exit when I spotted Ivan’s workbook. Without choosing to, I found myself moving towards his desk. Propelled by something other than my own mind, I picked up the book and read his story.
Ivan’s handwriting looked like chicken scratchings, but I could make out most of the words. Interestingly, we had similar ideas. There was the cat, the bike, and the coffee. But that was where the similarities ended.
My story had finished with Mrs Snow arriving at school. Ivan’s story ended in a much more gruesome fashion.
‘I am sorry, Ella,’ said a calm, silky voice. ‘You never can tell who it will be. You wrote with such flair, such elegance, I was almost sure it would be you. Alas, Ivan, despite his arrogance and idiotic tendencies, appears to hold the gift of script.’
I turned to look for the source of the voice. Mr King emerged from a dark corner, his eyes scanning the room, as if waiting.
I looked back to the book, back to Ivan’s handwriting, and I found my name. Only Ella remained when it appeared. The workbook shook in my hands.
‘Impossible,’ I said. ‘This can’t happen.’
‘Ah, but it already is,’ said Mr King.
‘Wait!’ I called out, but it was too late. Mr King was gone, and in his place, a ten-foot green insect stood, snapping its pincers in my direction.

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