by Tiffany Turner

Medusa Johnson’s Last Night
                Some people swore the house was haunted. Or, rather, they did…when they were smaller, more perceptive. The schoolhouse walls were as solid and unassailable as the reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, lesson they were built for. The windows were dusty and the floorboards were moldy. In the far corner the mouth of a black stove glowed with hell’s luminance between its teeth. Mice ruled the secret highways in the walls and bats were the kings of the inverted kingdom of the ceiling, occasionally making forays down into the human territory below. The grown-ups never knew; for all their worldly experience they were lacking in their awareness of a very vital part of it: magic.
               The good people of the town never wondered to the end of the lane to the schoolhouse on top of the mausoleum and the green, sickly tarn anymore; only the children were forced to brave these desolate lands anymore. The adults didn’t know, but the children knew: the animal in the black petticoat with the wild main of grey hair framing the cavernous, wart-plagued face was the witch! She relished the snap of the yardstick in her experienced hands or the sound of her nails raking the chalkboard to emphasize a consonant sound. The witch always wore an ugly grimace, excepting those all too frequent days when her pupils trudged home with tears on their cheeks and their heads bowed in shame.
               The resistance began small, in sideways glances between partners…Soon tiny notes passed under the desks from one set of little hands to the next. Finally, a stout boy of eight with hair only a shade darker than his milky skin, Kenton Hardy, passed the paper over his lunch pail to the next row. Silently, the message tiptoed around the room.
               Late next Wednesday the harpy crouched at her desk slashing helpless essays. Within the fire, countless unfortunate grubs and ants, having missed their chances to crawl off their wooden vessels and infest other domains, found themselves engulfed in the purring fire of the stove.
               Leaning back in her bone-wood throne, the witch smugly admired the cemetery of essays on her desk.
Thud, thud, thud.
              “Class was dismissed hours ago,” Medusa snapped at the front door.
Thud, thud, thud.
               “Oh, blame sake!” she cursed. With a lurch she stood from her desk and sauntered over to the door. “What in the name of Lucifer do you want at this hour?” But when she threw the door open, there was nothing there but the cold night air and the tumble weeds that frequented these desolate lands. She looked up, she looked down, and she looked all around. Nothing, No one. Not even a ghost. As she stood perplexed in the doorway-
Thud, thud, thud.
                 A chill ran up her spine, and she slowly turned to drop her blood-shot gaze to the moldy floor.
                The floorboards bounced from the impact of the demons against them, pushing, trying to break free.
               “N-Now stop that!” Medusa cried. “That is quite enough!”
               “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkk!” screeched the bats. One by one, and then in a swarm, they broke loose from the ceiling to charge the open door.
                “Stop that!” cried the witch.
                 Thud! “Eeeeeeeekkk!” Thud! “Eeeeeeeekkk!”
               The nails gave way. First with some cracks, then with some clean pops, the floorboards began to peel away from the earth. A myriad of dirty, worm –eaten fingers under the floorboards were at last managing to pry open the last barrier between their mausoleum and the awaiting Halloween moon. An unholy green light burst from their eyes, like the straight beams of bullets…and they landed on Mrs. Johnson’s ugly, horrified face.
               “Meat. Meat. Meat.” they growled savagely. The thud-ing tattoo grew louder and more earnest than ever.
                The towering, stately grandfather clock struck midnight—the final hour—oh, was it truly the last for Mrs. Johnson? She felt sweat dripping into her eyes. Wait! The front door! It’s still open—she can make it! And with a wild scream, she did. The lordly bats, confused by the unnatural shriek, resolved to sally out after it…and, consequently, Medusa had such a crown of bats about her that one may say her hair was of bats, not snakes as she ran all the way down the lane back to town and away from that accursed school.
                Kenton and the others replaced the floorboards the next Sunday, keeping a few of the worms to sell to the grown-ups for fishing in the green tarn. They never told their secret.
                Mrs. Johnson, said the grown-ups, sadly had to quite town on account of her health and move to the city, there to get the special help she needed. A new teacher, they assured the puckering children, would be hired as soon as possible.
                Nothing was ever the same after that.

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