Part Two: "Dismissals"
A week had passed since the mysterious disappearance of Brenda Foster, Tracy Steed, and Noreen Green. The whole school was still in a state of shock, as students and teachers alike walked from class to class in a daze, occasionally answering questions for police officers or reporters pursuing any possible explanation. To most of the occupants of Helmswood High, it was as if the "Three Amigas" had disappeared into thin air. Only one person knew otherwise. Alvira Jones knew exactly where the girls were: in her aquarium, on her mantle, and in her lingerie drawer at home.
But while there was no hard evidence of foul play, rumors had begun to circulate through the school. Friends of the girls, particularly Brenda’s swim teammates, and the girls on the cheerleading squad who knew Noreen very well, discussed with each other how the girls had hated the strange Ms. Jones, and were planning some sort of trick on the old woman. Maybe the substitute was more than odd – maybe she was crazy. And when she discovered the Amigas’ plans, she did away with them in a murderous rage. One of the members of the swim team, Carol Clark, even convinced her father to pay the janitor to go through the ashes of the incinerator, believing the old woman had tossed the girls into the furnace, and their bones may still be left behind.
The fact that there was nothing to indicate that Alvira Jones had anything to do with Brenda, Tracy, and Noreen’s disappearance did not stop the rumor mill. It only changed the character of the rumors. Since there was nothing to prove that Ms. Jones did any physical harm to the Amigas, the rumor began that some sort of magical, demonic evil had befallen them. And that the source of that evil was Alvira Jones. Historically, such rumors had always brought persecution and woe to the innocent accused. But this time, the risk fell on the accusers. Because this time, the accused was not innocent. This time, the fantastic rumors – were all true.
School had been out for nearly thirty minutes. Only a few students and teachers remained. The girls’ swim team and the cheerleading squad had stayed late, ostensibly for extra practice, but in actuality to meet with Principal Morgan and demand that Ms. Jones be fired. Janet Morgan had not risen to the position of principal at such a young age by catering to the whims of students, particularly when such whims were based on fear and hate and superstition. But other faculty and staff members, including her level headed secretary Roxanne Rivers, expressed concerns about Alvira Jones. None of the adults would say that she was a witch, but everyone seemed to think the woman had lost all credibility in the school, and that for the well being of the students, as well as the personal safety of the old woman, Ms. Jones’ substitute assignment should be terminated.
Principal Morgan dismissed the swim team and cheerleaders, telling them she would take their concerns into consideration, but not telling them that she had already decided Ms. Jones would be let go. As the girls filed out, she turned in her chair, crossed her well toned, dark stockinged legs, and faced the outside window, hoping to relieve some tension by staring at the beautiful spring day. After a few moments, she called Roxanne over the intercom.
"Roxanne, can you get me Alvira Jones’ home number? I think I should give her a call this evening."
The pert, short haired blonde secretary knew that her boss was planning to get rid of Alvira Jones, and that was okay with her. She didn’t like the old woman, particularly the way Ms. Jones stared at her legs when she wore stockings and a short skirt. Roxanne didn’t sense disapproval from the old lady so much as, well, covetousness, to use an old Sunday School term. She didn’t believe the students’ stories about her being a witch, but there was definitely something not quite right about Alvira Jones. Maybe she didn’t have anything to do with the missing girls. And maybe she did. Better safe than sorry.
Roxanne also knew her boss well enough to remember all the times she stuck by her staff to the bitter end. Janet Morgan was ready now to give Ms. Jones the heave ho. But if she thought about it for a few hours, she may change her mind. Fortunately, circumstances had worked against the old woman on this day.
"Actually, Dr. Morgan, if you need to speak to Ms. Jones, I believe she’s still in the building. Her car is still in the lot."
"Oh, well, I guess that’s a good thing. Better now than later, I suppose. Would you mind going down to Ms. Klein’s home room and asking Ms. Jones to come see me? "
"No problem," the secretary said. She got up, and carefully pulled down her skirt as far as it would stretch, which was still a couple inches above the knee. No use giving the old woman any crazy ideas. Before she could leave the office area, the door to Principal Morgan’s office opened, and Janet Morgan stood in the door frame.
"And Roxanne, you might tactfully suggest to Ms. Jones that she go ahead and close up the room and bring her things with her," Principal Morgan said, and then walked back into her office and closed the door. The secretary grinned. Looks like that’s all she wrote for Alvira Jones.
The girls on the swim team and the cheerleading squad had hung around the doorways near Ms. Klein’s room, waiting to see if something would happen to the old woman this afternoon. Many of them believed there was something evil about Ms. Jones, but were not afraid of her as long as they stayed together in a large group. One of the cheerleaders was the first to hear the distant clacking of Roxanne Rivers’ heels approaching, and shushed both the other cheerleaders and the swim team. The two groups moved back out of sight, as the attractive secretary walked up to the room where Alvira Jones was working late on some papers. She knocked on the door frame, and said, "Ms. Jones, Principal Morgan would like to see you."
A couple of swim team members said "Yes!" and were shushed by the others. Roxanne gave them a stern look, but smiled inwardly. A few seconds later, Ms. Jones joined Roxanne at the door. "Could it wait, I’m almost finished grading these papers?"
"No, Ms. Jones, I think she wants to see you right now. And she suggested you get your things and lock up," the eavesdropping girls now broke into applause, and then started chanting in a low voice, "Witch. Witch. Witch . . . ."
"I think that’s enough of that girls," Roxanne spoke up. "I believe you all are still here because you have practices to go to." She looked at the swim team. "At the pool." Then at the cheerleaders. "And in the gym. I suggest you go there, now. There’s nothing more to see here." With that, she gave them a smiling nod, and the girls knew for sure now that Ms. Jones wouldn’t be there tomorrow. Both groups turned and ran off, the swim team members down the stairs toward the pool area, shouts of "All Right!" echoing back, and the cheerleaders whooping and hollering running off to the gymnasium.
Roxanne stood alone in the doorway, as Alvira Jones had also guessed what was happening, and had walked back to her desk to retrieve her belongings – which was simply her old cloth bag. The secretary felt kind of sorry for the old woman, even with everything that had happened. Ms. Jones looked kind of, well, forlorn, straightening the desk, picking up her satchel, and then moving to the windows to close up the room tight.
"Can I help with you anything?" Roxanne found herself asking, out of pity.
Alvira closed the second of the four windows, and moved to the next one. "Well, this window always tends to stick, and the cord is hard for me to reach," she said.
Roxanne walked over to the window, joining the old woman. The window did stick a little bit, but youth and strength prevailed as the secretary closed it. The cord to pull down the shade, however, was just out of reach. Ms. Jones pulled over a rubber matted step stool. "I think if you step on this you can reach it. But I’d slip off those heels if I were you – they might get stuck in this soft rubber."
Roxanne slipped off her heels and stepped onto the stool in her stockinged feet. Her attention was focused on the cord, nearly reaching it, and having to stand on tiptoes and stretch, her skirt rising almost to the shaded part of her pantyhose. She did not notice Alvira Jones pull four golden needles out of her bag, and reach up toward Roxanne’s leg with one of the needles. As she saw the old woman’s hand reach up, the secretary thought the old woman was simply trying to help. But then she felt a slight jab in her leg, and heard Ms. Jones chant: "One needle and you vibrate from head to toes," And then things happened rather quickly . . . .
After a few moments of chanting, vibrating, moaning, and then a puff of smoke, Alvira Jones emerged from Ms. Klein’s homeroom alone. Her old cloth bag was in hand, containing all her possessions. Including her latest possession, a beautiful new pair of pantyhose. She looked forward to a similarly fruitful meeting with Janet Morgan, but then she looked toward the stairs heading for the pool, and the door to the gymnasium. First, she needed to say a few more good-byes.
The imminent demise of Alvira Jones had invigorated the swim team, and under the watchful eye of Coach Vicki Thomas, the girls had finished their half pool length sprints faster than ever. Coach Thomas was giving the athletes a short break, while she read off their upcoming meets. The girls were barely listening, having paired off at various places around the pool, and holding their own conversations. Jennifer White and her best friend, Cindy Cromartie lounged on inflatable preservers at the west side of the pool. Marlene Fishman was trying to impress Skye Overton with another of her many tales of weekends on the family yacht, this time how her Dad’s attempt to land "the big one" had failed in slapstick fashion. Carol Clark and Tamara Weiss stood with their backs to Coach Thomas, adopting the cool chic postures of runway models, while Carol told Tamara that her mother knew a detective on the police force who believed Ms. Jones was definitely a suspicious character.
Even in her coaches’ garb of white shorts and white knit shirt with "Helmswood Athletics" sewn just over her right breast, Vicki Thomas still looked like the beauty queen/model/aerobics instructor she was before becoming a teacher and swim coach. And while her form attracted the constant attention of every male student and teacher in the building (except, of course, Mr. Clyde of the English Department), she was having no luck keeping the attention of her swim team on this eventful afternoon. After trying to be heard over the din of voices around the pool, she put down her clipboard, leaned back against the marble frieze of Ancient Greek athletes on the north wall of the swim area, and calmly blew her whistle.
"Ladies! The sooner you listen up, the sooner we can all get out of here!" The team members finally quieted down and gave Coach Thomas their full attention. Thus paying no notice to Alvira Jones slipping quietly in the door at the far end of the pool. The substitute took just a moment to assess the scene, and then reached into her cloth bag. She unfolded a long black piece of rubbery material, and plugged a small valve on the end. The material began to fill with air, and became a six foot long rubber eel. Ms. Jones put the floating snake gently in the water, and pushed it in the direction of Jennifer and Cindy. The eel floated with surprising speed up the length of the pool, and within seconds was only a few feet from the girls back. Jennifer reached back to gain a different grip on her flotation pillow, and the rubber eel’s head jumped forward and stung the young swimmer on the hand.
"Ow! What was that . . ." Jennifer and Cindy both turned their heads at the same time the eel raised its head and lunged at Cindy. She was stung on the neck, and screamed as she recoiled, "a snake!"
A brief panic ensued, but Carol Clark started pointing and laughing, "You dopes - it’s only a rubber snake." Tamara swam over and kicked the light as air eel far down the pool. She and the other swim team members started to laugh at Jennifer and Cindy, and raised Jennifer’s ire.
"Hey, you’d have screamed too if it would have . . ." the shapely brunette stopped suddenly, staring down her arm at the place on her hand where the ‘toy’ stung her.
"Yeah, and there was something sharp on it that scratched us," Cindy added. "Right, Jennifer?" She looked back at her friend, and then gasped.
The hand stung by the eel was swelling abnormally, along with the attached arm, up Jennifer’s shoulder and onto that side of her face. "Jen, what’s wrong?" Cindy asked, but then felt her neck begin to swell.
The chuckling among the other swimmers was fading now, as they began to be concerned with the reactions their teammates were having to the rubber snake. Coach Thomas moved closer, concerned at first that the two swimmers were having some kind of allergic reaction to the flotation’s material. But as she got closer, she saw that it was something much more - much worse - than a bad reaction.
The swelling that had started on Jennifer’s hand was quickly spreading throughout her whole body. "I . . . I don’t feel very well . . .oooohhh," her lips formed a circle after she spoke the last words she would ever say. The other swimmers screamed as they saw
Jennifer White’s skin turn an unnatural yellow, and begin to shimmer. The same thing was happening to Cindy Cromartie, only her face and short blonde hair had already become stiff and lifeless before the rest of her body began to change.
At first, Coach Thomas prepared to dive in, afraid that the ill effects being experienced by the girls would cause them to lose consciousness and begin to go under. But just the opposite was happening - the girls’ bodies were beginning to bob up and down in the water. Tamara was closest to the swimmers, and when she carefully reached out to grab Jennifer, she pulled back her hand, screamed, and swam quickly away. She had not touched skin at all, but rubber. Something from that eel had caused Jennifer and Cindy to turn into rubber dolls - life-size human floats!
"This isn’t possible," Coach Thomas thought out loud, "it must be some trick, some kind of magic trick."
At the sound of the word magic, the living, breathing remainder of the swim team looked back up the pool toward where the rubber eel had been heading. And there, deflating the eel and putting it back in her cloth bag, was Alvira Jones.
"Oh my God, she really is a witch!" yelled Tamara Weiss, boldly swimming toward the old woman. "Listen, here, you ugly bitch! You need to turn Jennifer and Cindy back to normal, right now!"
Alvira pulled a blue plastic container out of her bag, and threw it into the water near the belligerent swimmer. "And you need to chill out, young lady. Right now!"
When the container hit the water right next to Tamara, a blue fluid starting pouring out of it. The fluid quickly encircled the girl, and she began to shiver uncontrollably. As the other girls watched in horror, Tamara's’ violent shivering stopped abruptly, and the attractive young woman stiffened completely, and then gradually turned transparent and crystalline.
"She’s a statue!" Marlene cried out. But the immobile form did not sink under water as a statue might. Instead, her form bobbed in the water just as Jennifer and Cindy’s had.
"No, not a statue," Vicki Thomas observed in a voice on the edge of madness. "A sculpture. An ice sculpture." Everyone’s stare was fixed on the frozen form of their former teammate. Carol Clark was the first to notice the effect of the warm pool water.
"Oh, God, she’s starting to melt." She started swimming toward her. "We’ve got to get her out of the pool."
In her rush to aid her friend, Carol didn’t notice that a stream of the blue icing mixture was heading her way.
"Carol! Stop! Get away! The blue fluid! Watch out!" Coach Thomas yelled at the swimmer, and Carol did stop and turned back toward the opposite end of the pool. But the blue fluid was moving faster than Carol was swimming, and would surely overtake her before she reached the other end.
"Carol! Head for the side! Hurry!" The swim coach hoped that the shorter distance to the side would enable Carol to get out of the pool before she was engulfed by the evil liquid, and iced like her friend.
The other girls cheered their teammate on in this life and death race. In seconds, Carol reached the side of the pool, and began to lift herself out as the other girls raced to help her. But before she could lift her right foot out of the pool, it was stained by the blue fluid. At first, the girl was relieved to have escaped. But then she felt an icy chill flow through her foot, and screamed when she looked down to see that it had become just like Tamara. Clear and solid ice.
Panicked, she tried to hobble away. But the iced foot made her gait unsteady, and she began to feel the chill move up her right leg.
"Help me," she shivered, reaching toward her stunned teammates. But the other girls backed away in terror, fearful that one touch from their doomed friend would make them ice statues as well.
The icing effect moved rapidly through Carol, and she lumbered only a few steps more before both feet and legs were fixed in place, solid ice. As her waist and stomach and chest transformed, her forward motion was making her totter forward. She was falling toward the hard pool side surface, even as her neck and face crystallized. She was a complete ice figure only seconds before she hit the cement, and shattered into a thousand small pieces.
Marlene and Skye hugged each other crying, backing away from the sight of their transformed and broken friend. Alvira Jones strolled over to the icy pieces, and bent down to pick one up.
"No need for tears, young ladies," she said, calmly. "Your lovely friend is even more with us than she was before." As the old witch held up the small piece of ice, the young girls and their teacher noticed that it was not a broken piece of Carol Clark. It was a tiny figure - head to toe - of Carol in ice. The lifesize ice sculpture of the young swimmer had shattered into hundreds of tiny iced figurines of the young beauty.
"I guess I need to find me an ice cooler to take these cubes home with me," Alvira smiled, "She’ll look mighty fine in a tall glass of Coca-Cola, don’t you think."
"Is that your plan, Ms. Jones?" Coach Thomas boldly spoke up. "To freeze the rest of us?"
Alvira Jones looked at the attractive teacher, and then glanced toward the back wall of the pool area. "No, Ms. Thomas, I think just one more will do."
"Well, you’re not going to get any of us back in that pool," Vicki said forcefully, noticing that the blue fluid was already retreating back to its bottle, floating near the bobbing and melting form of the frozen Tamara.
"Ahh, I believe we have an interesting word problem. You mean ‘freeze’, "Ms. Jones said, nodding toward the water. "But I mean," now she looked back at the giant marble relief on the back wall, "’frieze’."
The witch raised her hand, and as she did, the lovely swim teacher lifted helplessly into the air. Ms. Jones moved her hand like a puppeteer, shedding Vicki Thomas’ clothing piece by piece - sneakers and socks, shorts and knit shirt, and under things. Marlene and Skye could only gape in horror as their nude swim teacher hung suspended in air, struggling against invisible bonds. Alvira Jones glanced a few seconds at several of the female figures in the wall display, and then moved her hands again, operating the invisible strings attached to Vicki Thomas. The beautiful young woman’s long golden hair began to rise and arrange itself in a deliberate fashion on top of her head.
Once the substitute teacher was satisfied, she slowly moved Coach Thomas’ attractive form toward the large band of art at the back wall. If Vicki Thomas didn’t know what Alvira Jones’ intentions were before, as she floated toward the wall and saw the marbled male and female figures in the display, she now knew her final destination.
Marlene and Skye thought their coach would be crushed against the hard wall and the marble figures. But instead of crashing and crumbling, their teacher seemed to meld with the wall as her body touched it. Coach Thomas moved only slightly as she reduced in size to match the dimensions of the other figures, and as her body was posed in similar fashion to the other female figures. Finally, when everything seemed proper, Alvira Jones dropped her hand, and Vickie Thomas’ body moved no more. Instead, it hardened and whitened and blended until she was one of the beautiful bodies in this frieze of permanent physical perfection.
The stunned girls only whimpered as they turned from Coach Thomas’ new sculptured form, and looked at Alvira Jones.
"Your turn, ladies," said the old witch, softly and simply.
The remaining swim team members screamed in unison, and started to run away from Alvira. But their movements were less coordinated than their vocalizing, and they wound up bumping into each other. Skye fell back hard onto the concrete, and Marlene lost her balance and wound up tumbling into the pool. The young swimmer screamed as she entered the water, fearful that she would be frozen stiff like Tamara and Carol. But when she realized that the blue fluid responsible for their icing was gone, she started to swim rapidly toward the other side of the pool.
Ms. Jones considered the relative positions of the remaining victims quite fortuitous as to her intentions. Reaching once more into her cloth bag, she pulled out a vial of thick green fluid, similar to that first used on Brenda only days before. But this was a much stronger dosage. She tossed the vial into the pool, and a green streak headed quickly toward Marlene. The girl looked back only once, but the delay was a costly one. The green fluid caught up to her kicking feet, and quickly spread over the length of Marlene’s body.
Skye’s moans of pain from hitting the concrete floor hard turned to cries of terror as she witnessed her friend’s transformation. Like Brenda days before, Marlene’s legs were melding together, and her skin was turning scaly and a blackish green. But this time, the transformation continued to the upper half of Marlene’s torso, contorting her face, squeezing her head, extending her nose to a ridiculously long shape and sharp point. In just a few moments, the attractive coed had become a giant fish, leaping and splashing in the deep middle of the pool. Skye remembered seeing such a fish once before, while sailing with Marlene and her family on their expensive yacht, on one of Mr. Fishman’s deep sea fishing expeditions.
"My, she’s a big one, isn’t she?" Alvira pulled a small pole out of her bag, with a line and reel attached. She cast the line into the pull, and quickly snagged the giant fish that Marlene had become. With unnatural strength, she pulled her out of the pool, and reeled her in to the concrete floor. The giant fish flopped around for several moments outside of the water, but could not survive for long.
As the old woman’s attention shifted to her amazing catch, Skye struggled to her feet, and half limped/half ran around the back of the pool, trying to avert her eyes from the small marble nude on the wall frieze that had been Coach Thomas. Skye knew that the old woman would notice if she tried to run out the main door. But there was an office just beyond a shelf of pool supplies and a large dryer used for swimsuits. Maybe she could call for help.
Skye looked back one more time, and didn’t notice a large puddle made by the struggles of Marlene as she was hooked by Ms. Jones. The young girl slipped on the wet area, and slid directly toward the dryer. Only it wasn’t a dryer, anymore, though it still looked vaguely familiar. It was more like some kind of giant metal cabinet with a door handle on the front and a large hole in the top. The front hatch lifted up and Skye slid right in, landing on a small stool inside the cabinet. The hatch quickly closed and latched tight, and only Skye’s head poked out the top. The panicked girl wondered what she was trapped in, but then started to cry, "No! No!" as she saw Alvira Jones walking towards her.
"I haven’t seen one of these in a long time - so I wasn’t sure I could make one." The old woman inspected the large contraption. "I think it’s a mighty fine sauna, don’t you, Skye?"
So that’s what it was, Skye thought. She had seen ones like this in old television shows. But why did the old woman put one here, and manage to put Skye in it?
"Skye. What a lovely name. I know you all think I couldn’t possibly be interested in beautiful things like a clear blue sky filled with lovely clouds. But even witches admire beauty, you know." Alvira reached for a dial on the side of the machine, and turned it several notches. Skye immediately begin to feel the inside of the sauna get very hot.
"Please, Ms. Jones. Please let me out of here. I won’t tell anyone what happened. I promise." The young swimmer begged in tears.
"No reason to cry, my dear. I believe your promise. And I plan to grant your request. After," she turned the dial a few more notches, "a few changes."
Now the inside of the unit was very hot, and Skye could feel sweat pouring down her head, and covering her whole body. "It’s so hot. I feel like I’m melting," she said, her voice getting weaker with each degree of heat.
"Actually, ‘melting’ is not the precise terminology, Miss Overton. I believe this would be closer to ‘evaporation.’" The witch turned the dial completely to its highest level.
There was a quick blast of intense heat, and then Skye felt the sensation of rising above the floor and the sauna and the entire pool. She looked down to see Alvira Jones staring up smiling. And then she raised her arm to stare at her hand, and saw only a cottony like mist in the shape of a hand.
Alvira Jones spoke from the floor. "I like balance. One student as ice. A second," she looked in the pool at Tamara’s half melted form, "as water. And a third as steam."
Skye was now floating toward the glass retractable roof over the pool. "But, steam really doesn’t do you justice, my dear," the old witch said, following Skye back toward the pool. "When in fact, you are a very lovely cloud."
A cloud, thought Skye. I like that. I like that a lot.
As a female shaped cloud hovered over the pool, Ms. Jones finished her work in the pool area. The Jennifer and Cindy floats were pulled out of the pool, deflated, and carefully folded into rubber squares and placed with other deflated floats on a storage shelf. Ms. Jones put several of the miniature ice sculpted Carols in an ice pack, and placed it in her bag to take home. The rest of the miniature Carols, along with what was left of the frozen Tamara, were placed in a large wooden crate. Tucked in the ice was the altered, lifeless form of Marlene Fishman. The crate was addressed to "Tri-State Taxidermy," and inside was an invoice for "one stuffed and mounted marlin" to be prepared and then delivered to a "Herbert Fishman." Alvira then let all the water out of the pool, throwing in it any loose swimsuits, loose clothing and flip flops, and loose ends of the Helmswood Swim Team - all of which circled in the water several times before disappearing down a magically expanded open drain. And finally, Alvira Jones opened enough of the retractable glass ceiling, so that the beautiful cloud that once was Skye, became part of a much larger ‘sky’ overhead.
"Whew!" the old witch said aloud as she left the pool area. "That was too much work. I need something simpler next time around." And she headed for the gymnasium and cheerleader practice.
Like their friends on the swim team, the Helmswood Cheerleading Squad – minus co-captain Noreen Green – were physically invigorated by the fate about to be met by Alvira Jones. Unfortunately their energy boost was not translating into a coordinated and successful dance routine.
Ms. Jenkins, the cheerleaders’ coach, had seen enough. As the hip-hop music blasted, the girls were trying desperately – but unsuccessfully – to piece together some semblance of balance and teamwork. She walked to the mini-stereo, turned off the music, and then motioned for the cheerleaders to gather around her near the bleachers.
"Why’d we stop?" one of the girls asked, breathlessly.
"We stopped because we suck – that’s why we stopped," another answered, as a little dissension began to stir.
Melissa Jenkins broke in. "You don’t suck. But we stopped because I think you can do better, and because I think you need to focus. There’s just something missing." As soon as she said it, Ms. Jenkins was sorry she had.
"You mean ‘someone’s’ missing," the first girl said, hanging her head.
"Listen, ladies. We all miss Noreen – and you’re right, we’d do better if she were here. And we all hope that she’s out there somewhere, unharmed, and will come back to be with us." There were a few sniffles, and wiping of eyes. "But I also think that the one thing Noreen wanted the most was to be on that state championship plaque – and we have to keep that dream alive. And to do that, we have to clear our minds, concentrate, listen to the music, feel the music, move to the music, BE the music. Now, before we start again, I want to remind you about the Helmswood Toy Box."
That phrase elicited groans from most of the girls. Contributing to the Helmswood High Toy Box for Underprivileged Kids was Ms. Jenkins pet project, and one she mentioned over and over again to the squad.
"Now, that’s enough with the groans. Being a cheerleader means more than just wearing fancy outfits, dating athletes, and being envied by every girl in school." A couple of the girls gave each other a rather surprised look. This was news to them. "It means being a good example, and reaching out to others. We have not made a very significant contribution to this toy box." Ms. Jenkins pulled the actual toy box out from under the bleachers. She’s really laying it on thick today, the girls thought. "So I want your pledge that when the music stops, you’ll put something of yourself into this box. Agreed?" A few moaned okays. "AGREED?" The teacher asked louder.
"YES!" the girls shouted, and then all laughed.
At least for the moment, Noreen’s disappearance had been forgotten. As had Alvira Jones’ imminent departure.
"Now, I want you to try this move during the opening downbeat," Melissa Jenkins kicked off her heels, and stepped out on the gym floor. While the squad wore workout shorts and sweats for practice, Ms. Jenkins came straight from class in her dress attire. But even in her skirt and sweater, the moves of the former ballerina and stage dancer were precise, yet flowing. The girls watched closely as the young woman counted and moved to the count, her white stockinged feet gripping the gym floor. They started to copy her movements, and became enthusiastic about the new step. Another appreciative fan of Ms. Jenkins watched unseen from the wings. Alvira Jones.
"Okay, let’s try that," Ms. Jenkins started for the mini-stereo, but one of the girls spoke up.
"Ms. Jenkins, play the music over the loudspeakers."
"Yeah," another girl piped in, "and turn on the flashing lights. I think we’re pumped!"
The other girls were speaking words of assent, and the young teacher finally relented. "Okay. Okay. Maybe you’re right. The proper mood may be just what we need to get over the hump. Give me a couple of minutes to get to the control room. And get ready to start when you hear the first beat." Melissa walked up the short stairs to the stage, and then headed for the windowed control room stage left. The girls got into starting position on the floor.
The first thing Melissa Jenkins did in the room was select the correct CD, put it in the player, and adjust the volume. As the loud beat started, and the girls began the step she had just showed them, the second thing Melissa Jenkins did was select "Flashing Lights" and "Red" and "Green" on the light panel. The effect of the lights on the girls routine was indeed energizing, and their movements picked up in intensity. The third thing Melissa Jenkins did was let out a muffled scream, as Alvira Jones placed a strong hand over her mouth and held her tight with her other arm.
"No use struggling, my lovely. I’m just here to help." While Ms. Jenkins squirmed, Alvira waved a quick hand at the light panel. "First, let’s see if we can do something special for those underprivileged kids."
The red and green lights were pulsating even faster now, and as the girls danced, each seemed to be wrapped in a yellowish glow. The cheerleaders kept dancing – they had never felt so incredibly loose and free. Actually, what was loose was their exercise outfits, as the girls bodies began to slowly shrink, even as they continued their rhythmic movement. In another moment, each girl sensed something was wrong, but they could not stop moving to the music, while the lights were making them looser and smaller.
While the girls changed on the floor, changes were in store for Ms. Jenkins on stage. Ms. Jones had dragged the young teacher onto the stage, and magically forced her to collapse on a sofa left behind from the last drama production. Initially, the old woman intended to use her magic needles on the young French teacher, making her another pair of pantyhose, something in white, lithe and full of youthful movement. But as she advanced on the helpless teacher, the old woman glanced at an end table beside the couch, and saw there a lovely music box, topped by a mountain scene snow globe. She fell in love with the piece, and remembering the young teacher’s steps on the floor, as well as her dancing background, she turned the key on the base of the globe, and as the music started she waved her hand over the teacher.
Hypnotically, the young teacher stood, and began a graceful ballet. As her legs moved, she quickly removed her blouse, then unzipped her skirt and danced out of it. Now she was clad in only a short slip and stockings. Ms. Jones waved her hand at Ms. Jenkins shoulder length hair, and as she danced, the hair began to move and arrange itself into a stylish bun on the top of her head. As the music box played, and Ms. Jenkins danced, Alvira Jones congratulated herself on her sense of style and art. Before the music began to fade, the old witch waved her arms grandly, and the teacher disappeared. She picked up the music box, still playing, and the mountain scene inside the globe had been replaced by the still dancing figure of Melissa Jenkins, only four inches tall, but just as beautiful and just as graceful. As the music faded, the beautiful small ballerina slowed as well. When the music stop, the shrunken form of the French teacher stopped as well, and stiffened into a lovely porcelain figurine, waiting for the music to start once again so she could continue her everlasting dance. Ms. Jones carefully placed the globe/box in her cloth bag, next to the pantyhose bearing Roxanne Rivers countenance, and the ice bag containing remnants of Carol Clark, and then returned to the control booth.
The lights and the music had continued their effects on the cheerleaders for a few moments by now, and when Alvira Jones looked at them now, she saw only small moving figures virtually buried by cotton sweatshirts, spandex shorts, and an occasional pom-pom. The figures were getting smaller, and now seemed barely a foot high. Ms. Jones let the lights flicker for just a few more seconds, and then turned them off. The lighted gymnasium floor still had several piles of clothes with dance-like movement inside each. But as soon as the old woman turned off the music, the movement stopped and each pile of clothes was completely still.
Alvira left the control room, her cloth bag in hand, and walked onto the gymnasium floor. But instead of walking toward the clumps of clothes where full-grown cheerleaders had stood minutes before, she carried her bag to the Toy Box. She looked in the box for a few moments at the contributions already there. Satisfied with what she saw – or didn’t see – within, she opened up her cloth bag, and began removing empty small cardboard boxes, with cellophane covers. As she opened the box, she pulled out various tiny outfits: a tutu, an aerobics leotard, even a cheerleader’s outfit. There was also a tiny working flashlight in each box. Replacing the items, she then carried a box over to the nearest pile of exercise clothes, reached inside, and pulled out a nude, plasticized doll, which looked remarkably like one of the cheerleading squad. She quickly dressed the doll in an aerobics outfit, put the doll in the cardboard box, closed and sealed the lid, and then put the package in the giant Toy Box. She walked to a second pile and dressed that doll in a different costume. But this time before putting the doll in the package, she shined the tiny flashlight on the figure. The doll began to dance in Alvira’s hand, similar movements to those of the squad practicing earlier. The plasticized surface of the doll was even becoming a little more supple and lifelike, the longer the flashlight shone. Before becoming completely human, the flashlight blinked off, and the doll stiffened once more. Alvira laughed. This is one doll even boys might like playing with, she thought.
Minutes later, each of the cheerleader/dolls was sealed in a package and sat in the giant Toy Box, waiting to be given to some lucky girl (or very lucky boy). This time, Ms. Jones decided to leave the piles of clothing behind. She was tired of hearing the phrase "disappeared without a trace" on the news. This time, there would be "a trace."
Now, to meet with Ms. Morgan.
Janet Morgan stood in the doorway just beyond Roxanne’s desk, looking down the hall toward Ms. Klein’s home room. She hoped to hear the clatter of Roxanne’s heels, and see the stylish secretary turn the corner headed for the office, any minute now. But "any minute now" had stretched into a lengthy wait. Initially she had considered going to Ms. Klein’s room herself to check on things. Who knows, maybe Ms. Jones had went off the deep end, even threatened Roxanne?
But that certainly couldn’t be the case. There was old, almost feeble Ms. Jones, and Roxanne "tough as nails" Rivers. That was certainly no even match. So what was the hold up? Perhaps the old woman had become ill from the shock of Roxanne’s visit, or her impending meeting with the principal? But, no, Roxanne would’ve rushed back immediately for help.
Every logical possibility for Roxanne and Ms. Jones’ delay had been considered and dismissed by Principal Morgan. Which left, of course, the illogical possibilities. First and foremost, that the girls she had met with earlier were right: Ms. Jones had some sort of supernatural power, was responsible for Brenda, Tracy, and Noreen’s disappearance, and now had done something similar to Roxanne.
Janet Morgan shuddered, then came back to her senses. Ridiculous! She had hesitated before, because she didn’t want Roxanne to think she was "checking up on her." The administrator tried hard to put the lessons of her recent course on delegation into practice. But this was taking way too long. Ms. Morgan stepped back into her office, and picked up the microphone she used to give the daily announcements.
"This is Principal Morgan, calling for either Ms. Rivers or Ms. Jones. I need to see you both in my office as soon as possible. If there is some problem, will one of you please come to the office and bring me up to date."
She didn’t bother trying to pinpoint the announcement, since the only people still in the building were Roxanne, Ms. Jones, and the swim team and cheerleading squad and their coaches. Maybe she should check the gym. Maybe Roxanne was trying to referee some dispute between the cheerleaders and Ms. Jones. The girls were very disdainful of the substitute, and could be giving the old woman a very hard time.
As she turned to the door, she jumped back startled to see Alvira Jones standing in the doorway of the outer office, holding her old cloth bag, smiling.
"Pretty good, timing, don’t you think?" the substitute said jokingly. But Janet Morgan wasn’t laughing.
"I sent my secretary to summon you quite a while ago, Ms. Rivers. I hope you have a good explanation why it’s taken so long – and why Ms. Rivers isn’t accompanying you." The principal had decided to take an aggressive stance with the old woman, even though she was beginning to feel the same unease around her as the female students had expressed earlier.
Alvira Jones stepped slowly into the office, and sat down very deliberately in one of the outer office chairs. "Well," she began slowly, "I’m afraid you’re going to have to choose, Principal Morgan."
Janet Morgan sat on the edge of Roxanne’s desk – trying to look calm and in control, while still maintaining a height advantage over her employee. When she saw the old woman glancing at her nyloned knee, and the couple of inches of leg showing above it when she crossed her legs, she pulled down her hem as inconspicuously as she could. "What kind of a choice?"
"Well, you asked for a ‘good explanation’ – I can give you an ‘explanation’, or I can give you ‘good’. But I don’t think I can give you both." Ms. Jones slyly answered.
"I’m not certain what exactly that means, Ms. Jones. I simply want to know why it took you so long to get here. And, why Ms. Rivers did not accompany you." The old woman’s continual glances at her legs was making the principal extremely uneasy. She preferred direct confrontations, but this time Janet Morgan decided to back off a bit. She picked up a water can from the floor near Roxanne’s chair, and started to water the large bed of ferns that Roxanne kept near the outer door while she spoke to the old woman. Staying close the door seemed to be a good idea at the moment.
The old woman stared for several seconds at Janet Morgan – not her legs this time, but her hands and face. "There’s a lot of pressure in this job – isn’t there? I mean, you’re certainly a young attractive woman, and yet the stress and strain is there in your eyes and face – and signs of aging in your hands. I never noticed it before."
The plant watering stopped for a moment, as the female administrator was taken aback by the old woman’s comments. "What an unusual thing to say at a moment like this, Ms. Jones?" Janet Morgan was being completely frank. Was the old woman trying to endear herself to her boss to save her job? Surely not, especially by making what amounted to a disparaging remark, albeit a sympathetic one, about the young woman’s appearance.
The substitute raised from the chair and walked over to Principal Morgan. She stood eyeball to eyeball with her boss as she spoke. "I did not mean what I said as an insult or a personal judgment. It’s just that seeing you like this alters my plans somewhat." As the two woman looked into each other’s eyes, Janet Morgan did not notice Alvira Jones reaching toward the soil bed of the ferns, and pushing a large green oval seed into the dirt.
After a brief staring contest, the principal broke off eye contact and took the water can back to its place behind Roxanne’s desk. "Ms. Jones, I feel we’re talking around the subject, here. I think it’s time to be forthright, and if necessary, painfully blunt."
"I agree, Principal Morgan."
"Good. As you probably know, some of our students have been rather uneasy with you since you’ve been here. Three of the most vocal of those students were Brenda Foster, Tracy Steed, and Noreen Green. Those three girls have since disappeared, no one knows where they have gone. That has caused several other students, and not a few teachers and staff members, to become even more suspicious of you, even to the extent of spreading some fantastic rumors about you. I apologize for that – those kind of accusations belong in the Dark Ages, not in these times, and certainly not in my school. But the widespread nature of this mistrust has created a situation in which you no longer have any authority or credibility as a teacher. And that situation is one I must address. This afternoon, I sent my secretary, Roxanne Rivers, to come ask you to report to my office. You have arrived, but only after a long delay, and with no sign of Roxanne. To add to the bizarre nature of this situation, instead of offering an explanation of events, you make strange comments about my appearance." Janet pulled out Roxanne’s chair and sat down. "I apologize if my brevity seems harsh, but I felt the need to summarize this situation and get down to the truth. I believe I deserve that, don’t you?"
Alvira stared at the soil where she planted the seed, and after seeing a few green sprouts emerge, she smiled and turned to Janet Morgan. "Yes, I believe you do." She returned to her previous chair, put her old cloth bag in her lap, and took a deep breath.
"Allow me to also offer a brief, and perhaps harsh, summary of the events, correcting a few of your errors along the way. First, I was aware of a certain degree of mistrust since I started here. I’ve grown used to that over the years. And I knew that Miss Foster, Miss Steed, and Miss Green were ringleaders in those sentiments. I also discovered that the girls had concocted a plan to get rid of me by planting marijuana and drug paraphernalia in my bag. I could not allow myself to be defeated by three silly girls. So, I turned Miss Foster into a miniature mermaid; Miss Steed into a lovely pair of pantyhose; and Miss Green into a bronze figurine on a cheerleading award plaque. And that is your first mistake, Ms. Morgan, someone does know their whereabouts. Me. Miss Foster now swims in my aquarium at home; Miss Steed lies in my lingerie drawer, until such time as I decide to wear her and absorb her beauty and vitality; and Miss Green is a lovely decoration on the mantle of my fireplace."
Janet Morgan’s mouth literally dropped open. She wasn’t sure whether to laugh out loud, scream for help, or run like hell out of the office. She was sure, however, that Alvira Jones was certifiably insane.
The old woman continued. "As for this afternoon. I suspected that my time here at Helmswood was short. And I have no hard feelings about that. I don’t like to overstay my welcome. When Ms. Rivers came to escort me away, I was taunted by the girls of the Swim Team and the Cheerleading squad. A mistake on their part – I would just as likely left without troubling them even further. But since they reminded me of their presence in the building, I paid both of them a visit. The swim team – and their coach – have all been turned into various aquatic related objects. The cheerleaders were turned into very attractive dolls, packaged, and placed in the Toy Chest for distribution to the needy. And as for Ms. Rivers, before I visited the students, I introduced your secretary to some very special needles I own. She will be joining Miss Steed in my lingerie drawer this evening – but not for long. I will be wearing her first thing tomorrow. And this was the second mistake in your summary. Ms. Rivers did accompany me to the office." Alvira reached into her cloth bag and pulled out a pair of dark pantyhose.
"Oh, my god," gasped Janet Morgan as she stared into the face of Roxanne Rivers, outlined in the panty of the hosiery. The principal stood upright when Roxanne’s eyes blinked and her lips moved. "What . . . How?"
Alvira Jones now pulled out a snow globe with a familiar figurine standing motionless inside. "I almost forgot Miss Jenkins. She was going to become pantyhose, too, but I decided she makes a much better tiny dancer. Don’t you agree?"
By this time, Janet Morgan was trying to stay calm – trying to keep her sanity would be more apt – and inch her way toward the outer door. Alvira Jones didn’t seem to be noticing as the old woman was replacing the transformed secretary and teacher in her cloth bag.
"And there was one more mistake in your account, Principal Morgan. My comment about your appearance was not out of the blue. You see, I had every intention of coming to the office and transforming you into pantyhose for my collection. After all, you are rather attractive and are dressed accordingly. But I realized that the responsibilities of this job have robbed you of much of your vigor and youth. So while you would look attractive on my legs, I would gain very little in the transfer. So, I stalled a little, to decide what exactly to do with you. And I think I have it."
"Stay away from me, you crazy bitch!" Janet Morgan screamed, and ran out the door. But as she did, Alvira waved her hand at the soil bed containing the ferns, and a long green vine shot out of the soil and followed the principal down the hall. The clattering of the woman’s heels sounded for but a few seconds, and then there was a shriek of surprise, followed by a series of screams, and then muffled grunting and the sound of dragging.
The vine was now moving back into the outer office, and Alvira Jones got up to look out the door. Just as she expected, there was the struggling form of Janet Morgan, her body wrapped tightly by the green vine. The old woman stepped back as the principal’s body was dragged into the room. Her kicking feet had already threw one heel off, and now the other went flying into the air as the vine picked the woman up and pulled her body toward the flower bed.
The look of fear and panic already on Janet’s face widened and intensified as she saw what was happening in the soil. A second shoot was coming out of the soil, and growing rapidly. But this one was taking on the shape of a giant snake. To accommodate its size in the box, the lower coils of the snake plant were making a tall stack. The snake was nearly ten feet long now, and still growing. It’s head was taking shape, and a gaping maw made of green leaves opened wide. A brown stem-like tongue, at least two feet long, shot out and began licking Janet Morgan’s crying face.
The first vine, which had captured and dragged the principal into the office, was now depositing the young woman’s body, stockinged feet first, into the tightening mound of coils. It then moved Janet’s head toward the snake’s mouth, and there was only a brief scream in the short moment between the first vine releasing Janet’s top half, and the snake plant taking her into its mouth.
Ms. Jones walked closer as the plant slowly began pulling the principal’s body deeper and deeper into itself. The plant’s insides were releasing a slimy lubricant, which was coating the woman, and causing her clothing to slide off and fall drenched into nearby ferns.
"Allow me to assume one more mistake on your part, and make one more correction," the witch said calmly, as Janet Morgan’s thighs and upper legs were pulled into the plant, and the lubricant was causing her hosiery and panties to slide. "You probably believe – not surprisingly, considering the circumstances – that you are being eaten. Well, not exactly. You see, this is a very special Chia plant that is engulfing you. And it has a very unique way of creating the seeds it uses to reproduce." Only Janet Morgan’s wet bare feet remained outside of the snake/plant’s mouth, and in a quick second, they too were sucked in. As her body moved toward the long length of coil, Alvira watched with pride the contractions of the plant’s outer leaves and bark, as it worked on the principal. The shape that had been Janet Morgan was becoming smaller and smaller as it moved down the plant’s coils. In but a few moments, there was but a small lump, and then nothing visible at all.
Alvira Jones walked over to the coils, and reached down until she found where it had come out of the soil. With a small tug, she pulled the root completely out. The snake plant, as well as the original vine, began to rapidly shrink and wither. But before it was completely gone, Alvira squeezed an oval green seed out of the root’s end. Then the original plants turned to dust.
The old witch held the seed up to the light, and with just the right turn she could see a familiar shape curled up inside. "I have a lovely pot and some special soil waiting for you in my greenhouse, Ms. Morgan." She carefully placed the seed in her cloth bag, waved a hand at the principal’s lubricated clothes making them disappear, then walked out of the office, and then out of Helmswood High School. Forever.
To Be Continued - Read "Alvira Jones, Pt. 3"