Title: Graveyard School #20 – “Creature Teacher,” a.k.a. “The One Where Nola Thacker Apologizes For ‘Let’s Scare The Teacher To Death'”
Author: Tom B. Stone, a.k.a. Nola Thacker, a.k.a. D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Mark Nagata
Summary: A for Awesome. B. for Beautiful. C for Cool. D for… DEAD!
She’s so sweet. So nice. So different from the other monstrous teachers at Graveyard School. Everyone likes Ms. King, the substitute teacher. Even Bentley – who doesn’t like any teacher. But one day Bentley discovers something about Ms. King. Something awful. Something scary. And now he might have to stay after school. Forever!
It’s back to school time and we’ve returned to the hallowed halls of Graveyard School after a four month summer break. Here we are with the penultimate “Graveyard School” recap and I’m still not over the departure of Jordie Flanders-DON’T LOOK AT ME.
This is the only other book in the series you could consider a sort of sequel, even though it’s not a direct follow-up to Bent’s previous time as the protagonist. It does deliberately mention the events of “Let’s Scare The Teacher To Death” but not enough to spoil the twist for those who hadn’t read it.
Despite Jordie’s prominent role in the last book, she’s nowhere to be found in here. That sort of makes sense if we’re considering she’s been keeping her distance from Bent and no longer wants anything to do with him. However, Thacker does her best to sort of give Bent… CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. He’s nowhere near as frustrating as he was in book #8, and whether or not this was Thacker consciously realizing he was too unlikable or accidental, I don’t know.
However, this is the only time you could legitimately call Dr. Morthouse the villain of the story. While she’s always lurked as a threatening background presence, she’s never flat out been the direct antagonist before this one.
[Wing: I’M NOT READY FOR THIS TO END. #resurrectgraveyardschool2019]
Bentley “Bent” Jeste has still been having nightmares about the time he seemingly scared a teacher to death. He vividly remembers her large shoes sticking out from the bottom of the desk, the design of her striped stockings.
(Note the book doesn’t actually refer to Ms. Cheevy by name, nor mention what actually happened to her)
Bent wakes up screaming from his latest nightmare, but his dad is naturally wary about the possible cry for help coming from his son’s room. Having lived with a practical joker, Mr. Jeste was routinely incapable of trusting his son to be serious on anything.
Bent assured his dad it was just a bad dream, and tried to go back to sleep as he reminisced on the events following that fateful prank. Everyone expected him to straighten up and fly right after that little escapade. And he did…for a while. Was it his fault that Graveyard School was so… terminal? People need a distraction from time to time, and what better distraction than the old “Rubber cockroach someone’s lunch” gag? He still remembered how puke perfect Polly Hannah screamed her head off. The next day he broke out the trusty rubber vomit, and sure enough he was back in the game.
Bent the Bad, Gagman Bent, the King of All Practical Jokers had returned.
Bent’s looked back on his most recent gags and felt they were a definite improvement over his old shtick. He could live with no one trusting him, no one wanting to get close to him.
At Graveyard School, you had to laugh or die.
And Bent the Beast wasn’t dead yet.
The nightmares were annoying though. Bent decided to focus on the upcoming arrival of a substitute teacher, which meant a blank slate who’d fall for the easiest tricks because they’d never met Bent before. As Bent fell into dreamless sleep, he had no way of knowing Graveyard School was about to become a no-joke zone or that the words “Die laughing” would be redefine for the ages.
A new face greeted the front doors of Graveyard School the following morning. She had no way of knowing the school was basically cursed thanks to the abandoned graveyard that loomed behind the building. She couldn’t know how the students started their academic careers terrified of Dr. Morthouse, the school principal with a supposed silver fang in her mouth. Gradually over the grades their horror lessened, but that didn’t mean they weren’t cautious around this seemingly inhuman disciplinarian. To Ms. Angela King, all she saw was a standard school house built from bricks and stones. A place of learning, not of terror. She would look at the boys bathroom and not consider the idea that a ghost had recently haunted its various commodes. Why would she ever assume the lunch room once served dishes made from stolen pets? She wouldn’t consider the idea teachers had left because they mysteriously vanished off the face of the Earth.
No, to Ms. King, with her friendly smile, curly red hair, gold earrings, and warm colored clothing, this was a day for her to meet a bunch of brand new kids to enlighten and inspire.
She had no way of knowing how horribly things would go for her in just a few short days.
The students in the language arts classroom did not return Ms. King’s cheerful greeting as she entered, but she wasn’t discouraged. She was a bit put off when a girl dressed in butter yellow clothing asked why Ms. King was smiling.
“Excuse me, but why are you smiling?”
That caught the teacher off guard. She stopped smiling. She thought for a moment, then resumed her happy face. “Because I’m happy to see you all.”
Another girl, dressed in jeans and a giant rugby shirt, with dark hair and spiky bangs, raised her hand. “Maria Medina,” she introduced herself. “Why? Why are you happy to see us?”
Ms. King could only think to herself how none of the guidebooks on teaching prepared her for a question like this. She instead introduced herself properly, explaining she’ll be subbing until their regular teacher, Mr. Beakman, recovers. Recovers from what, we don’t know. Ms. King explains how she majored in language arts, so she’s sort of useless when it comes to answering math questions. In fact, numbers almost scare her to death.
Every kid in class immediately turned to Bent.
One time, guys. That was ONE TIME.
Still, Bent couldn’t conceal the challenging smile on his lips as he stared at Ms. King.
Ms. King proceeded to take attendance to learn everyone’s names. Polly Hannah, Maria Medina, Stacey Carter, Park Addams. When she got to Alexander “Jaws” Bennett and was told how he could eat anything (Even roadkill), Ms. King had no problem referring to him as Jaws as well. Ms. King chose to ignore the red “X” written next to Bent’s name on the roll sheet. What the previous teacher thought of his students, for good or bad, had no bearing on Ms. King. This was a new experience for all of them, and she was not going to let her views be biased. She wanted to get to know these kids on her own.
Ms. King decided to start off the lesson by talking about rhymes, mentioning how people once believed rhymes were magical and could be used to cast spells. Polly immediately asks if they’ll be graded on this, and Ms. King has to restrain herself from sighing. She thinks it’s horrible how kids can become so afraid of how they’re graded on their next test, they lose any real interest in learning new things just for the sake of broadening their minds. Ms. King can’t help but wonder what kinds of awful teachers they must’ve had in the past.
This is honestly a really refreshing take to find in a YA book, in a teacher whose goal is to help children learn and not by scaring them into thinking they’ll fail. So often the teachers in these books are apathetic dipshits who don’t really give a shit about what they’re doing or how they treat their students. It’s nice to have a book explain that putting emphasis on arbitrary grading and using fear to make a kid do better is not the way a teacher should act.
Ms. King clarifies they’re not gonna have any magic tests, and a couple of kids giggle in response while Polly can only frown in confusion. Moving on, Ms. King starts discussing nursery rhymes and asks if any of them know of a certain rhyme that was inspired by a plague. Polly again asks if this’ll be on a test, and Ms. King sighs openly this time before assuring everyone this is just for fun.
This did not comfort some of the students.
Ms. King recites a version of “Ring Around The Rosie,” explaining how it refers to the symptoms of a famous plague (which apparently may not be true), how people used to carry herbs in their pockets to ward it off, and how it affected the upper and lower classes of society. By the time she explains what “All fall down” means, Bent falls out of his seat with blood pouring out of his mouth!
Polly’s screaming Bent’s got the plague while Ms. King tries to stay calm and tells everyone to give Bent some air. Stacey Carter doesn’t let this go on for much longer, telling the teacher that’s ketchup in Bent’s mouth. Bent should’ve done a better job hiding the empty packets instead of tossing them on the floor. Maria Medina’s disgusted and tells Bent to leave Ms. King alone since she’s new. Bent’s wondering when Ms. King’s going to start yelling at him, but he looks in her green eyes and sees… hurt? She’s not mad?
Bent sheepishly says “Welcome to Grav-Grove Hill School,” and instead of punishing him, Ms. King only smiles and admits Bent definitely got her. She then asks they resume the lesson. Bent has no idea how to respond.
While waiting on line for today’s Gag du Jour in the lunch room, Park tells Bent how lucky he was that Ms. King didn’t cream him. As Park, Bent, Jaws, and Algernon “Algie” Green order the rice and beans, Bent’s still trying to figure out why Ms. King didn’t go ballistic on him? He wasn’t used to a teacher NOT getting angry for his pranks. It was disappointing in a way. For that, Bent didn’t like this new teacher who dared to break the norm.
Bent’s sentiments against Ms. King were not shared by his classmates. Park and Algie both like her, and so do Stacey and Maria. Bent can’t understand why everyone’s suddenly pro-teacher. Algie’s more empathetic than the others, telling Bent to leave Ms. King alone because he knows what it’s like to be bullied just because you’re new. Bent’s not convinced of Ms. King’s innocence, proclaiming she’s pretending so as to lull the kids into a false sense of security. Then WHAM! Pop quizzes and demerits until they’re all six feet under.
Park calls Bent out on his teacher-noia, but assures the Gagman just because they want him to lay off on Ms. King doesn’t mean they want him to stop pulling jokes altogether.
“I’m not saying you should send all your gags to the dugout permanently, you know? I mean, you have a excellent career average going. Your jokes are all-star. But give the new teacher a chance before you try out your pitches, know what I mean?”
Park you are such a NERD oh my God.
Bent tries not to focus on the betrayal from his classmates and instead focuses on how awful the lunch food is. Not that Jaws notices, of course. Algie offers the boys some of the hot sauce made by his Great Aunt Marie, which he acquired during his summer vacation outside of Graveyard School after he supposedly escaped the sixth grade and thus confirming these poor bastards are stuck in a time loop.
Jaws dumps some of the sauce on his food, nearly dies from heat stroke, and asks for more. Bent recalls how, in the old days, he could’ve used that sauce for a prank. Yet strangely he felt his classmates were getting to him, and somehow the idea of pranking Ms. King made him uncomfortable.
The moment Park’s told the sauce makes it impossible to taste the rice and beans, he orders Jaws to hand it over. He’d rather destroy his tongue if it’s for a good cause.
Sadly, Ms. King’s class was the only highlight of the day. In science class, Mr. Weazell had a surprise pop quiz no one was prepared for. Math class ended with the robotic Ms. Mandible, a.k.a. the Madmand, assigning double questions for homework after Maria laughed at something she said. Bent still didn’t trust Ms. King since she felt so out of place in Graveyard School. Or maybe not.
Was there something sinister in her sweetness, something killing in her kindness?
Nevertheless, Bent followed the wishes of his classmates and refrained from inflicting holy terror on Ms. King. It didn’t stop him from watching her like a hawk, waiting for her facade to finally slip so he could say “Haw-haw” to Park and the rest.
But why did Bent find himself looking forward to her class so much? In fact, Ms. King was practically gaining her own fan club at Graveyard School. Kids usually waited until the last second to get to class out of fear for their lives if they were alone with a teacher, but a lot of kids were getting to Ms. King’s class early. They were even willing to sit in the front instead of fighting over the seats in the back. Nearly everyone liked Ms. King, even Polly Hannah. Of course no one was holding their breath that Ms. King would be a good influence on the proverbial snitch and she’d change for the better. Ms. King was good, but she’s not a miracle worker.
Park jokes all it would take is a basic body swap; Ms. King bad, Polly good. Maria screams that would never happen, remembering all too well a certain April 1st. Stacey tells Maria to calm down since it was only a joke. Yeah…
The following class, Ms. King asked everyone to take out a sheet of paper. Bent immediately thinks this is a pop quiz until Ms. King adds they’re going to write poems. Four lines, as silly, creative, and imaginative as possible. Bent’s immediately suspicious, especially since Ms. King didn’t confirm whether or not they’d be graded. She did add this is for fun.
Several kids got up to read their poems, and Bent couldn’t believe how naive they were. Didn’t they sense the danger? Inside his head, Bent composed his own little rhyme.
Roses are red,
It’s all a trick,
The teacher is going to,
Do something sick.
By the end of class, everyone was laughing from the ridiculous poetry so Ms. King shared a poem of her own.
“‘Roses are red,
Your words were absurd,
Those are the silliest poems
That I’ve ever heard.'”
Now everyone was laughing even harde-OH SHIT IT’S DR. MORTHOUSE!
Notebooks fell to the floor. Pictures fell from the wall, a pane of glass shattered, a coat closed popped open, and someone at the back of the room screamed faintly.
The dreaded principal was seething with fury, her eyes red, her mouth pulled back in a silver snarl. She demanded to know what was going on, and she wanted answers NOW. Bent couldn’t believe it as Ms. King threw her shoulders back and stood her ground. Clearly this would be a massacre. Only Polly Hannah watched in sick anticipation, as if she couldn’t wait to see the carnage unfold. As Doc M towered over the petite Ms. King, the cheerful substitute calmly asked what was wrong. Dr. Morthouse demanded to know what she just heard, what that noise was. Ms. King doesn’t understand what Morthouse means by “Noise.”
“A foul noise, a beastly noise, a nasty noise, a noisy noise,” Dr. Morthouse said. She was breathing hard through her nose. Each time she said the word noise her breath came faster and the glint from her mouth seemed to grow sharper.
Polly quickly throws her hand up, exclaiming to everyone’s disgust that SHE knows what the noise was. The horrific look in Dr. Morthouse’s eyes is too much for Polly’s asskissing to handle and she backs up in her seat the moment Morty looks at her. Herr Doktor sweetly, dangerously, asks if Polly does indeed know what the noise was.
“Stand up, Polly. Tell us what the answer to my simple question is. Such a simple question – identify a noise. Can you identify the offending noise, Polly Hannah?”
Polly has to grip her desk to stand up, not noticing or caring her powder blue stockings were not-so-perfectly sagging out of fear for her life. She hesitates to tell the dastardly doctor that everyone was laughing. Ms. King quickly explains everyone was laughing at a joke she made, which causes the good doctor to finally snap.
“Laughter!” shouted Dr. Morthouse. “Laughter!”
Polly’s knees gave away, and the blast of sound seemed to blow her backward into her seat.
“I’d heard reports about what you were doing! But surely, I thought, one of my own teachers wouldn’t stoop so low. How wrong I was!”
“I don’t understand-” Ms. King began.
Very brave, thought Bent, and felt a faint stirring of admiration for Ms. King.
“Laughter. Is. Not. Allowed,” Dr. Morthouse interrupted. She glared at Ms. King. “Now do you understand?”
“No,” said Ms. King.
Bent couldn’t help himself. He groaned.
“Then let me make it clear to you, Ms. King. We do not laugh in class. School is not meant to be interesting. It is not meant to be fun. If I wanted my students to have fun, I’d send them to an amusement park.”
“Does this look like an amusement park to you?”
It looks like a house of horrors, thought Bent.
“No! It is a school. My school. So…no laughing! Or you’ll be sorry.”
Without waiting for an answer, Dr. Morthouse turned around and stalked from the room. She slammed the door behind her. Another picture fell from the wall. A shade snapped up. A plant on the windowsill in the corner lost most of its leaves.
…she’s entertaining, I’ll give her that, but Dr. Morthouse is definitely one of the things wrong with the education system in this country.
Ms. King could only stagger back to her seat in dazed confusion. No one said anything until the bell rang, at which point Ms. King mumbled something about class being dismissed. As everyone left the room, Bent could only stare at Ms. King and felt… bad for her? Bent honestly thought he was having a heart attack before it dawned on him that he, Bent the Beastly, felt sorry for a TEACHER.
Bent’s feelings of confusion only got worse after he realized he’d forgotten his math book before leaving. Walking down the dark hallway, he thought he was imagining things when he saw Ms. King entering THE SCHOOL BASEMENT. Bent knew about some of the awful things that lurked beneath the school, like the bizarre Mr. Bartholomew, a.k.a. Basement Bart. He had to step in and save Ms. King before it was too late!
Bent opened the door and surprised Ms. King, who was halfway down the steps. He told her they had to get out of there before it was too late, but Ms. King said she needed to leave a note about the broken window in her classroom. Bent couldn’t believe how innocent she was. Bent still didn’t trust her, but he knew it wasn’t her fault she was weird…
Or was he the weird one?
Maybe he’d forgotten what a normal teacher was like – if he’d ever known.
Bent tried to get Ms. King out of the basement as soon as possible, quickly telling her everyone just leaves their notes for Basement Bart on the door upstairs. They were almost up the stairs when they heard IT. That groan. That horrible groan. Bent tried to explain that awful noise was just the pipes.
The groan sounded again, low and hollow, animalistic.
It sent chills up Bent’s spine.
Ms. King couldn’t ignore it, saying it sounded like someone in pain. What if Mr. Bartholomew was hurt? Bent knows nothing on Earth could ever hurt Basement Bart, and almost considers leaving Ms. King to fend for herself. But not even he’s that cruel. Ms. King hurries down the stairs and finds a candle and some matches on a nearby shelf, figuring the custodian has them on hand in case of power outages. Bent’s not happy the candles are red, since for a moment it looks like Ms. King is holding up a burning, severed finger.
Bent’s creeped out by the way the shadows are moving around him and Ms. King, as if they were taking on lives of their own. They circled around the two like sharks in black water. Bent tells Ms. King to hurry, and as they moved the shadows kept their distance.
Ms. King calls out in the darkness, and for a horrifying second it appears something moved. It looks like the candle’s about to go out, but it doesn’t. Bent worries if Basement Bart would spare Ms. King just because she’s a teacher, and if he wouldn’t that means Bent’s not safe either. Thankfully, the two finally locate the source of the groaning. In a cage they find what’s got to be the ugliest, slimiest creature they’ve ever seen. A big chameleon.
Ms. King assumes the chameleon is Mr. Bartholomew’s pet, though it’s certainly not very friendly when it snaps its jaws at her hand. Bent’s more concerned with how little candle they have left. Bent tells Ms. King to be careful before she drops the candle, but she stops when she thinks she hears something else besides the chameleon. Getting more fearful but the minute, Bent tells her there’s nothing and asks that she MOVE HER ASS.
[Bent] took two steps, then stopped when a breath of air brushed his ear as lightly as an invisible finger. He turned quickly.
He thought he saw the shadowy outline of a hand disappearing into the darkness.
Bent stops himself from asking who’s there, telling himself it was a just a breeze coming from the open door. He moves as fast he can, feeling as if hands are reaching forward to grab his legs in the darkness. Bent hears Ms. King cry out behind him but keeps moving until he reaches the bottom of the stairs. He turns around and tells the substitute to go ahead of him, offering to hold the candle. The darkness is so thick Ms. King needs to use both hands on the railing to drag herself up. Bent feels like he’s wading through quicksand until finally the two manage to hurl themselves over the threshold and into the school hallway.
Ms. King throws herself against the basement door and slams it shut with her shoulder. Teacher and student are both unnerved by whatever happened to them in the dark basement, but neither says it. Ms. King figures they both should be getting home since it’s gotten so late in the day. Bent watched as she got in her battered red Subaru and Ms. King drove away, figuring he knows what she must be thinking. He imagined Ms. King was trying to convince herself what just happened was perfectly normal. That there was a logical explanation for finding the chameleon in the basement.
Bent figured it’d be her funeral.
The following Monday, a voice on the intercom said Ms. King was to report to the office. Everyone recognized the garbled voice belonged to Dr. Morthouse. Ms. King did her best to steel herself for her close encounter with the principal kind.
[Bent] could almost hear her telling herself, Don’t worry. What can the principal do to me?
Plenty, thought Bent.
Ms. King told everyone she’d be back in five minutes, in a way that reads as though she’s convincing herself more than them. Touching both her earrings in a gesture of luck, she instructed the class to start reading from their books while she’s gone.
Once Ms. King was out of the room, Bent turned his attention to the cardboard-covered window pane (the scar left over from Dr. Morthouse’s last attack) to his classmates. Most of them were staring back at him, expecting him to set up another screamer prank like the kind he pulled on Ms. Cheevy. For once Bent wasn’t going to take advantage of a teacher’s absence to set up a jovial joke only he would find funny. Maybe he really is sick. He hopes this new found sympathy wasn’t permanent.
Maria Medina still tells Bent not to do anything, snapping at him to leave Ms. King alone. No one believes Bent’s innocent act, so he thinks they’ve all turned into teacher’s pets. It doesn’t matter if she’s a different teacher, she’s still a teacher and this is still Graveyard School. But Bent tells everyone to relax, he’s not gonna do anything.
Polly Hannah proposes Ms. King’s still in trouble for last Friday. Maria practically bites Polly’s head off, saying they didn’t do anything wrong by laughing. When Polly tries to remind everyone what Dr. Morthouse said, Park cuts her off by loudly stating Dr. Morthouse doesn’t rule the world. Bent’s surprised Park didn’t lower his voice when he said that, since everyone figured Doc M could hear through walls.
Polly’s whining about Park not being quiet when suddenly everyone hears the voice of the dreaded doctor behind the classroom door. Dr. Morthouse sounds, horrifically enough, HAPPY about something. She’s SO glad she was able to reach an understanding with Ms. King like the reasonable human beings they are. Park wonders when Morthouse was ever human. Bent tries not to snicker when Morthouse cheerfully asks if she just heard laughter. Of course she didn’t, because Ms. King has got SUCH a well-behaved class.
“Remember, students should be seen and not heard.”
“Yes, Dr. Morthouse,” said Ms. King
Dr. Morthouse assesses the room one last time before leaving. Ms. King simply stands there, blank-faced, when she jerks her head towards Polly as Polly tries to get her attention. Bent notices Ms. King’s voice sounds a little flatter as Polly rats on everyone for talking, only for Ms. King to ask if Polly was talking as well.
“Were you talking, too, Polly?” asked Ms. King.
Polly tried out an innocent expression.
“Yes,” said Park.
“Then you are all guilty,” said Ms. King.
Park gave Polly a triumphant look.
YEAH NOT SO GOOD ON THE RECEIVING END, HUH POLLY?
Ms. King shocks everyone by ordering them to write “I will not talk in class” 27 times. Polly tries to worm her way out of it but Ms. King won’t let her spin a single excuse. Ms. King sits down, repeating Dr. Morthouse’s words.
“Students should be seen and not heard.”
The next class, Bent keeps his eyes on Ms. King while she has her back to the blackboard, watching the kids. Once the last bell rings, Ms. King gets out the roll call book and starts the attack. Park gets marked for being 1/20th of a second late and for arguing against that, daring him to argue more if he wants another mark. She hears Stacey’s incredibly low whisper, snapping at her to stand up and speak.
“Stand up. Speak!” said Ms. King.
“Speak? I’m not a dog!” Stacey said indignantly.
“No. But you are now a student who has three red marks in conduct,” said Ms. King. “One more and your grade goes down ten points.”
Maria and Polly both raise their hands, but Maria is called on first. As Maria begins to speak, Ms. King yells at Maria to stand up like she was told. Maria shouts she wasn’t asked to stand in the first place, at which point Ms. King breaks out the red pencil again as a threat. Trying to move on, Maria attempts to be diplomatic and asks Ms. King what happened. Ms. King’s confused as Maria explains she’s not acting like she used to. She’s… changed.
Ms. King tells Maria she’s not different at all, and orders Maria to sit down.
“But Ms. King…”
Ms. King raised on eyebrow.
Maria sat down.
Ms. King smiled.
Appalled silence fell over the classroom.
Polly raises her hand again and asks Ms. King why she’s smiling. Ms. King denies doing such a thing, even as she continues to smile.
A creepy smile, Bent thought, that reminded him of a snake, or that ugly reptile in the basement.
GEE I WONDER IF THAT MEANS SOMETHING.
After school, Park and Stacey cheerfully greet Bent as he’s trying to get far away from the school. Maria joins them, and they start venting about their crummy day. Stacey can’t believe how badly Dr. Morthouse got to their new teacher. And that homework assignment! “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” So lame, a ten on the yawn meter. Maria’s disappointed because she thought the newbie would be different. Park says it’s like some Dr. Morthouse clone took over Ms. King’s body, which Maria doesn’t appreciate hearing. At ALL.
Park moves the conversation along, telling Bent he’s now free to give Ms. King the patented Graveyard School welcome. Surprising everyone, especially himself, Bent says he won’t do it. Maria figures Ms. King only started acting like this to appease the principal, but she’ll be back to normal once the scare wears off. Bent doesn’t believe that, and Maria thinks he’s actually happy Ms. King took a 180 in the personality sector so he can say “I told you so.” Getting to say it brings Bent no mirth.
Stacey proposes they try a different approach, maybe show Ms. King everyone’s on her side. She suggests they buy her flowers or something. Park is so appalled he thinks Stacey’s gone nuts. Bent leaves the discussion as he heads for his house, knowing it was useless to argue. He could tell something had fundamentally changed Ms. King, turned her into a martinet. It was going to take more than flowers to change her back, but first he’d have to figure out what made her change in the first place.
Bent turns out to be right, as the flowers don’t help at all. When Ms. King sees the vase on her desk, she’s… less than appreciative.
“Flowers?” she sad, her voice soft. Her face contorted, as if she were in pain. She walked to her desk and stretched out a tentative finger. She touched a rose.
The rose wilted.
JESUS CHRIST SHE CAN KILL PLANTS WITH A FINGER.
Or, speed up the process at least.
[Wing: Can’t everyone do that? I certainly kill pretty much any plant I touch.]
Ms. King demands to know who did this, when Polly starts whining how no one told her they were bringing flowers. Maria ignores Polly, saying the flowers were a gift to show everyone appreciates Ms. King as a teacher. Ms. King seems confused, like she doesn’t understand what Maria’s saying.
“Ah. How sweet.”
Maria began to smile.
“A bribe,” Ms. King went on.
Maria’s smile faded. “No!”
“How touching. How naive.”
“I didn’t bring any flowers,” Polly concluded proudly.
Jesus Fuck you are such a tool, Polly.
Ms. King immediately sweeps the flowers into the waste basket.
“You can’t bribe me,” said Ms. King. “Just because I’m new doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re up to.” As she spoke, she walked toward Maria. She stopped in front of Maria and bent down until her nose was inches from Maria’s. “I may be new, but I. Know. All. About. You.”
With each word, Maria’s knees gave away a little more, until she sank into her chair in defeat.
Satisfied, Ms. King walked back to the front of the room. “No flowers. No bribes. No mercy,” she hissed. “Now, take out your homework. I want to hear all about how such sneaky, low, conniving, scheming children spent their summer vacations.”
Okay did this just cross over into fucking Matilda?
Once class was over, Maria told Bent he could do whatever he wanted to Ms. King. Nothing was too severe for her as far as Maria Medina cared.
“Fill her pockets with fire ants,” suggested Stacey.
“Feed her to the alligator,” said Algie softly.
Sorry Alg, that alligator’s probably in New York by now.
Bent says it won’t matter what he does, it won’t work. Ms. King was decent until their principal did… something to her. Stacey thinks all Ms. King did was chicken out, gave in like a coward. She deserves whatever she gets now. Bent argues there’s more than that going on. Park still believes they need to fight back. It’s not the first time they rebelled against a teacher. Bent tells them all to wait while he figures out a plan.
It turns out said plan involved getting to Graveyard School the next day before anyone else, even the teachers. Bent’s only comfort came from his parents knowing he was on his way to school, but it didn’t help much. Who would dare spend time in Graveyard School alone?
Bent was positioned near the back steps, able to hide when Dr. Morthouse and Vice Principal Hannibal Lucre arrived in their respective cars. A few other kids arrived, and then Bent spied the faculty parking lot as the teachers dragged themselves in.
They walked across the parking lot in their suits of somber gray, funeral black, depressing brown, tired taupe, uniform navy. They appeared neither happy nor sad. They didn’t speak to anyone as they made their way into the school.
I fucking love color commentary.
Checking his watch, once Bent was sure no one else was arriving he then made his way in. Immediately he caught the standard hallway stench: old socks, floor wax, and something rotting. Bent planned to wait in Ms. King’s class before she arrived so they could talk, but if not before class he’d ask to spea-HOLY SHIT SHE’S ALREADY THERE.
Ms. King snapped her head up from her desk in a jerky motion as she turned to Bent. She didn’t get up from her seat as she reminded Bent that class hasn’t started yet. Bent couldn’t help but notice how washed out Ms. King looked. Her green eyes looked dull, and her freckled skin was pale and ashy. She had the complexion of someone who spent most of their time in a library and never went outside. Her once colorful clothes were gone and she was dressed in a navy suit with a starched white shirt. She looked completely indistinguishable from the rest of the gruesome horde of teachers.
Ms. King snaps at Bent to tell her what he wants. Bent decides to ask when she got to school. He doesn’t believe her answer of “The usual time” and mentions he didn’t see her arrive. Ms. King gets angry, accusing Bent of spying on her. Their eyes lock, and something horrible happens. While Ms. King stares Bent down, he starts to choke. Something’s tightening around his neck, and he can’t help but recall how this happened in one of the “Star Wars” flicks.
Darth King keeps staring Bent down as he realizes the collar of his shirt is constricting around his neck. She angrily calls Bent a miserable little biped, threatening that he won’t be able to pull one of his jokes on her. No, she’ll have the last laugh on HIM. Before Bent passes out, the collar loosens and he’s able to breathe again. He looks at Ms. King in horror, reminding him how she feels about laughter and assuring Bent with sickening amusement it won’t be a pretty picture.
This is what Bent needed to finally convince himself the person they’ve been dealing with is NOT Angela King.
Bent was only able to discuss his suspicions with Park and Algie on Sunday. It had rained, so the three took in a double feature at MalloRama’s movie complex. Park and Algie are more worried about what a crappy movie they just sat through, offering film commentary that’s a decade ahead of its time.
“What a stupid movie! Why do they keep remaking the same movies over and over? Why can’t they try anything new? Do they think kids are completely dumb, or what?”
“I guess they figure if it works for adults, it’ll work for kids,” Algie said mildly.
“Well, it doesn’t,” said Park. “And this one was even worse than the remake of the dalmatian movie.”
“I don’t know. That movie was the pits,” said Algie.
“They should add a new movie rating – SMSP,” Park went on. He was getting into the subject. “Stupid Movies for Stupid People.”
Wing, proposal to use SMSP in any and all future film recaps. [Wing: Sure, go for it. Also good to know that the complaint about remakes and sequels is evergreen.]
Bent tries to get Park and Algie to believe him when he says Dr. Morthouse replaced Ms. King, but Park says that’s totally SMSP. Bent’s not sure how, but points out she was definitely normal until she went into Doc M’s office. Park says she got the POMS, the Principal’s Office Makeover Special. Like whenever Park’s sister goes into the bathroom and comes out with huge hair.
For once, Bent’s not joking as he exclaims someone kidnapped their teacher. But he can’t bring himself to judge the boys for not believing him.
So many weird things went on at Graveyard School, that it was easier to survive sometimes by pretending everything was normal.
See Wing? Willing denial.
Bent followed after the boys in despair as he dredged his mind trying to figure out a logical reason for how Dr. Morthouse made the swap. The painfully obvious finally becomes clear to Bent when he passes a pet store advertising “CHARLIE THE CHANGING CHAMELEON.” Bent’s attention zeroed in on a smaller version of the animal he’d seen in the basement, with a description saying how chameleons can change color.
Who should bump into Bent during his epiphany than Maria, who says she’s with Stacey. While explaining that Stacey’s shopping for a new book on bull terriers, Maria tells Bent how right he was about Ms. King. Bent tries to explain he wasn’t actually right about Ms. King being “Another Graveyard School psycho.” It probably wasn’t enough for the massacre Dr. Morthouse did in class that one day to change Ms. King so completely. She must’ve always been like that. In fact, Doc M must’ve known from the start and this was all a joke the principal and teacher set up beforehand.
Bent finally asks Maria to do him a favor, asking her to meet him at Graveyard School early Monday morning before anyone else arrives. He convinces Maria this isn’t a joke and it has to do with Ms. King, that she needs their help.
“Since when did you ever care about a teacher?” asked Maria.
“Since when did we ever have a decent teacher?” Bent shot back.
That got Maria’s attention. She studied Bent suspiciously for a moment.
“Please,” Bent said in a low voice.
At that moment Stacey shows up, ecstatically saying she found the book she was looking for, “Boodil My Dog.” She even bought an extra copy for Maria’s sister.
As a side note, this is an actual book Thacker’s referencing.
Stacey seems to have good taste.
Maria quietly tells Bent she’ll help, but she’ll also murder him if this turns out to be a joke after all.
Bent’s grateful Maria shows up the next morning like he asked, and tells her if it looks like anyone else has arrived at the school yet. Maria says no, and Bent explains they’re going to wait and watch for every single person who arrives next until the bell rings. For added measure, they’ll write down everyone they see.
Maria begrudgingly goes along with this, even though she’s not sure why. Five minutes before the first bell, Bent drags Maria inside the school and asks if she ever saw Ms. King arrive. Maria says no, neither of them did. Which is why she’s left stammering when Bent shows Ms. King’s already in class.
Bent and Maria do a repeat of their spying activity, checking off everyone who arrived in the morning as they leave in the afternoon. And again, neither of them saw Ms. King leave. Bent finally explains he believes the reason Ms. King never arrived at school is because she’s never left the school at all. She’s in the basement when she’s not teaching, because of Dr. Morthouse. Maria doesn’t believe him, but Bent chooses not to argue. He’s going to prove it to Maria, unveiling a role of duct tape and a plan to return to the school at night. Now Maria’s terrified even as Bent explains whatever it is they’re dealing with will be asleep at night, so they can find Ms. King and free her. Maria knows she’s gonna regret this, but she eventually agrees to help Bent. Even though, as she points out, this is a Graveyard School. And if things can go wrong in Graveyard School, they’re sure to go horribly, HORRIBLY wrong.
During the night it starts to rain in buckets, the only upside the storm creates low visibility and acts to shield Bent and Maria in case anything’s watching. Bent almost freaks when he sees the front doors open, until he reminds himself he put tape over the lock so it would stay open.
Maria needs to be convinced it’s safe, but Bent does a poor job of assuring her.
“Everyone’s gone,” he whispered.
“Everyone?” said Maria, and looked at him questioningly.
Bent said, “Everyone human.”
“Thanks,” said Maria sarcastically, glaring at him. “I needed that.”
Bent and Maria remove their yellow raincoats to make them less like targets and stash them near a water fountain. As the two make their way through the darkness, Bent thinks about all the kids who attended this school before him and wonders if there really is life outside of Graveyard School.
No, there’s not, because you’re all stuck in a repeating loop and will be in sixth grade for centuries until you finally get killed… possibly.
[Wing: They’re already dead and this is their purgatory.]
Bent can’t help but note the way the “Stay Out” warning on the basement door seems to pulsate with life in the dark, hoping it’s not really alive because they have enough shit to deal with. Armed with the feeble light of a flashlight he found in his family’s utility drawer, Bent leads Maria down the stairs. They figure if Basement Bart’s here, they’ll run hella fast. Like that would help.
Nothing looked familiar to Bent, and he prayed the giant pipes against the walls were really pipes and not giant snakes waiting to pounce. Out of the corner of his eye, Bent sees something move. Then something else. It’s the shadows again, which means they have to hurry. That’s when Maria saw IT.
Bent moved the flashlight beam onto a cage containing a sleeping chameleon. Inside the cage, next to the chameleon were two gold earrings. And next to that cage was a bigger one, containing Ms. King.
Maria almost panics wondering how they’ll be able to get Ms. King out of the cage because where could they be keeping the key, Dr. Morthouse’s office? Bent suddenly realizes no one’s seen Basement Bart in forever when Ms. King starts to wake up. She’s deathly pale, but glad to see two of her students. While Maria tries to find the keys, Ms. King explains to Bent that this is Dr. Morthouse’s “Retraining program.” The chameleon changes into a person by wearing something that belongs to them, so it’s a threat as long as it has her earrings.
Maria manages to return with the keys, being able to free Ms. King AND get her earrings out of the chameleon’s cage. Bent kept his hands on the lizard’s mouth to keep it from snapping, then they locked it back up. Ms. King announces they’ll have to teach Dr. Morthouse a lesson.
Bent and Maria follow Ms. King back to her house, which is in need of some dusting and those plants definitely need watering. Ms. King clearly wasn’t used to walking again after being trapped for so long. Having dragged the chameleon cage back with them, Ms. King makes everyone tea as Maria explains how Bent figured out what happened. Ms. King thanks Bent, and surprises the kids by revealing she’s staying at Graveyard School until Mr. Beakman returns. Oh but she’s definitely changing school districts afterwards. She’s going to keep the chameleon as her insurance policy against Dr. Morthouse…
The next day, Dr. Morthouse stalked the halls of Graveyard School when she heard that noise. That foul noise. That noisy noise that made her want to send everyone to the Great Detention Hall in the Sky. Zeroing in on Ms. King’s classroom, Doc M was in for a rude surprise when she burst through the door.
“I thought I told you,” she roared. “No laughing!”
The little teacher turned. She was dressed in a red sweater and brightly flowered skirt. Her soft red hair curled around her face, and tiny gold earrings sparkled in her earlobes.
Dr. Morthouse froze.
Ms. King walked calmly toward her. “No shouting in my classroom,” she said firmly.
Several students gasped. Polly Hannah turned an unbecoming shade of green, as if she were about to puke.
“Was I shouting?” asked the principal in a soft, deadly voice. “Forgive me.”
[Wing: Two things: 1, I love Ms. King. 2, I now ship her and Dr M. Is there fic for Graveyard School? *checks* A brief search says no, but I bet at least one story exists somewhere.]
Bent and Maria watched as Ms. King and Dr. Morthouse stared each other down, and for once Dr. Morthouse looked away first. As she glared at the kids, Park fell out of his desk the moment she looked at him.
Ms. King calmly told Dr. Morthouse she’s keeping the chameleon, so the good doctor better keep her distance from now on. Dr. M coldly warns the substitute she better not lose it. Ms. King isn’t afraid of her, and smiles as the principal leaves the room in defeat.
Ms. King turned to face the class. “Where were we?” she asked.
Bent raised his hand. “We were laughing,” he said.
Jesus Christ, Morty! If this is her retraining program, how many other teachers did she kidnap and replace with that fucking lizard? What was the end game, to keep using the chameleon until the real Ms. King was so broken down she could be molded in Dr. Morthouse’s image? SHIT DID SHE DO THIS TO ANY OF THE OTHER STAFF? DID SHE DO THIS TO LUCRE AND KINDERBANE AND THAT’S WHY THEY’RE SO DEVOTED TO HER?
This book really puts into perspective how terrifying Dr. Morthouse actually is when she stops lurking in the background, and makes it less amusing when she threatens the kids on a regular basis when she can do this to a full-grown adult and barely anyone notices. Did Ms. King have any family who would’ve noticed her missing? What was Dr. Morthouse gonna do if any of them came looking for her? And where WAS Basement Bart in all this? Was he in on the plan, or did even he have standards and she got him out of the way?
I’m really surprised Ms. King didn’t call the police when she could’ve shown them the chameleon changing in person as proof of her imprisonment. Of course, chances are if they showed up at the school there’s no telling what Morthouse would’ve done to them…
[Wing: Assuming the police aren’t in on everything going on at Graveyard School already.]
From all that, I really was surprised by the growth shown by Bent and his keen eye to notice the changes in Ms. King’s behavior and appearance. Clearly all that time playing jokes on people made him more adept at reading others.
I also found Park and Algie’s commentary on movie remakes hilarious, though I did kind of like the “101 Dalmatians” live-action film mainly because this was way before Disney started using bad CGI.
God damn it, after this we’re down to just one. And unfortunately for Wing, the last book’s about spiders. Be sure to join me next month for the final Graveyard School recap as we say goodbye to Park, Stacey, and all the others.
Activities Section: A word scramble made up of character names.
Polly Hannah’s Wardrobe:
- Butter yellow top, butter yellow tights
- Powder blue stockings and powder blue shirt