A Lesson Well Learned: Part Six
“Mrs. Healey?!” cried Skeet, Briar and Ursula in unison.
The librarian got up from her seat and stepped towards the young Lutari, who had allowed the golf club she was brandishing to slip in her grip into a much less threatening position.
“What are you doing in here?!” shrieked the Aisha. “The institute is closed! You’re not allowed to be here!”
The obscurity of the situation suddenly settled upon Ursula as she glanced around the room she stood in the middle of. What had originally served as a storage area for tools and other clunky equipment with complicated names had been refurbished into a crude classroom, with Mrs. Healey as the sole pupil. The chalk board was adorned with a string of archaic Shenkuuvian typography, along with the appropriate translations. Had Piao not been physically restrained the scene would have been typical of an overly formal extra-curricular mentoring environment.
“What’s going on here?” Briar stepped further into the room, as if being able to see more of her surroundings would somehow cause them to align into something that made a modicum of sense.
“She’s been keeping us here, making us teach her things,” blurted out Piao. “Nitwit, Casey and some other kids, I don’t know who they all are. She’s had us all tied to the pipes and then brings us out for these psycho lessons.”
“No talking in class!” shouted Mrs. Healey. Her usually pleasant manner had been completely stripped away and replaced with one of anger, edged with an almost manic devotion to school work. She picked up her pencil case off the desk and lobbed it at Ursula. Fortunately she had a terrible aim, and so it sailed over her shoulder and scattered its contents across the floor.
Ursula looked at the pencil case, then at Piao, then back at Mrs. Healey. It started as a slight pulse in a vein in her forehead, then grew until it was a twitch in her eyebrow, a flare of the nostrils, a curl of the lip and finally a full on display of her gritted teeth. The golf club hit the floor with a metallic clang and she threw her entire body into a full-frontal lunge at the librarian.
“GrrraaaaAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGHHHH!!! YOU RUINED MY YOOYUBALL SEASON!!!”
The desk was sent flying as the pair fell to the floor and began wrestling with one another. Briar used the distraction to grab the golf club from the floor and let loose a swing at the edge of the rail above the chalk board loaded with as much force as her relatively demure frame could muster. The rail buckled and twisted away from the wall; it needed only one final yank on the rope from Piao to pull the screws loose and slip the looped end of his bindings free.
He motioned for her and Skeet to follow him through a door on the opposite side of the room and they obey, but not before the latter cast a glance back at Ursula. She was currently sat on top of Mrs. Healey, pinning her to the floor; clearly she had the situation under control.
“The others are down here,” said Piao, leading them down a narrow shaft lined with steel panels. “She kept us all locked up in here and then brought us out one at a time when it was ‘our turn’.”
He turned sharply and stood before a heavy metal, the label on the wall announced that this was the plumbing station for the building. He slid a half-rusted bolt out of its confines and heaved the door wide open. Inside, Skeet swept his torch around the walls and the beam of light fell on a procession of grimy faces that recoiled from the light like Lizarks.
Freeing them all turned out to be extremely easy; Mrs. Healey was thoughtful enough to have left a ring of keys to their locks on a hook just inside the door. The most difficult part proved to be helping them all out of the room, being forced to sit on a hard, stone floor leant against pipes for over a week had taken its toll on the mobility of a number of the captives. Briar was astonished to see seven students huddle out into the light, blinking heavily. She’d known that three of them were missing but to discover there were others that had seemingly gone unnoticed made her all the more glad they had arrived when they had.
The ten of them filed back out along the narrow passageway and into the ‘classroom’ where the revelations had begun. There they discovered Mrs. Healey, the sleeves of her torn, purple jumper tied together behind her back, her face daubed with the phrase “I am a nutcase” scrawled repeatedly in blue ink, and Ursula seated triumphantly on the desk beside her, pen still in hand and a grin on her face.
* * * * *
“So let me get this straight,” Judge Hog said, scratching behind one of his ears in bewilderment. “Mrs. Healey had been receiving secret lessons from the head of the etymology department, Mrs. Owen, and when she had to take leave from her post at the institute to tend to matters at home, Mrs. Healey began kidnapping students and forcing them to teach her instead, going on to flood the entire building to make sure that it was evacuated so that nobody would uncover her plan? Is that what you’re telling me? I just want to make sure I have this absolutely correct, that I’m not misunderstanding you in any way.”
“That’s what I said,” replied Nitwit proudly, once again pushing his glasses up his squinty little nose.
Judge Hog looked flabbergasted, but the story had been corroborated by each of the captives and so it really seemed like they were telling the truth. He thanked the young Chia for his insight and then went over to speak to the Acara nurse who had arrived on the scene to help care for the rescued students. She was in the process of carrying out a medical assessment of Piao when he approached.
“Is this the last one?” he asked.
“Yep,” replied the nurse, “all are a bit battered and bruised but no permanent harm done. At least she fed and watered them; we should be grateful for small mercies.” Piao winced as she cleaned a small cut on his cheek and she apologised.
Ursula, the hero of the moment, was leaning against the side of the ambulance with her arms folded. “What will happen to Madam Crazy Pants over there?” She jerked a thumb in the direction of Mrs. Healey, who was currently being restrained by Sergeant Brexis and Lightning Lenny.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of her from here,” said Judge Hog. “I don’t think she’ll be accepting any librarian’s positions for quite some time.”
The students gathered in the largest of the lecture halls for an assembly with the dean once more, just as they had at the beginning of the term. This time, however, much of the chatter was focused on the subject of the room’s new decor following the flooding, an event which had already been nicknamed ‘The Great Washout’.
“Where is she? She’s always late, that girl,” complained Briar.
As if on cue, her sister came dashing down the corridor, slowing to a more respectable speed as she drew into the eyesight of the tutors littering the hall. She pardoned and excused her way through the first four students on the row to finally drop down into the seat beside her sister.
“Here’s my hero,” joked Piao, reaching behind Briar to give Ursula a playful dig in the shoulder.
Ursula grinned; Briar rolled her eyes. “She wasn’t the only one who rescued you, you know,” she iterated for at least the fifth time since that most eventful of days. “Skeet and I were there too.”
Skeet wasn’t too forceful about reminding people of his part in the plan; he was happy to just quietly hug his knees whenever the matter was raised and hope that nobody asked him if he had been scared at all.
Their discussion, along with those going on all around them, was brought to an abrupt close by the appearance of the dean at the lectern.
“Now, now, settled down please, everybody,” he said. Once he had quiet he continued. “I’m sure you’re all very much aware of the recent happenings here at the institute, but I can categorically state for the record that those incidents have been entirely resolved, so there is nothing for any of you to worry about...”
“Psst,” hissed Ursula to get the attention of Skeet. “Say thank you to your mum for all that florangeade she sent me; that stuff is amazing.” Skeet beamed back at her and gave her a thumbs up sign. She didn’t see it, though, as his sleeve was draped off the end of his wrist, entirely obscuring his hand.
“... Ahem, Miss Woodridge,” said the dean, calling attention to her. “You may have been responsible for scoring the deciding goal that allowed us to advance to the next round of the collegiate Yooyuball tournament, but...” He was suddenly cut off by a raucous cheer and a spontaneous burst of the institute’s game chant from all in attendance.
“Yes, yes, settle down, please. As I was saying, you may have done that, but (this time he got in the ‘but’ before anybody could start up an encore of applause) that doesn’t give you permission to chatter during my assembly. Kindly keep your conversation until later.”
Ursula blushed slightly and bowed her head apologetically, more so because she was aware that everybody was suddenly looking at her.
“In other news,” the dean continued, “we are sad to see the back of our most recent acquisition, Dr. Eliv Thade. It seems he has been called back to his mansion, or something; couldn’t for the life of me understand what he was saying. Anyway, since Mrs. Owen still hasn’t returned, please join me in welcoming our new temporary etymology and grammar tutor, Edna! If nothing else, she can certainly teach you all a thing or two about spelling, eh?”
The dean began to laugh rather too hard at his own joke; everybody else in the room let out a collective groan.