Authors: Sally Prue
It was the first day back at school after the summer holidays and the playground was full of excited children. Class Three were hopping up and down inside their enormous new
school coats, and Classes Four and Five were charging about shouting WE WENT TO THE SEASIDE AND EVERYWHERE SMELLED OF EGGIES! or else huddled in groups comparing hair clips.
But just inside the school gate there was another group of children. They were a bit bigger than the others, but they weren’t excited or running about. These children had pale faces, and
eyes that glittered with fear. From time to time a trembling child crept in through the school gate to join them, but not one of them took a single step nearer the school than was absolutely
One boy was just looking at his watch, as if in some forlorn hope that the hands would start going backwards, when from a long way off there came a rattling. It came closer and closer until a
small car came into view. Its bumper was tied on with string, its wings were patched with duct tape, and it was covered in grime and rust.
‘Here comes Rodney,’ said the boy with the watch.
The car stopped by the school gate and one of the doors flapped open. Out of the opening came a large foot. And then another.
All the children, their faces blue with terror, stared at the boy who got out of the car.
Rodney waved a big hand at them.
‘I span round really fast fifty-three times last night,’ he said, proudly. ‘And I
And then he shouldered his way through the group of children by the gate and strolled happily down towards the school building.
There was a long pause as the children watched Rodney walk away.
‘He’s not scared,’ said Jack, at last.
‘Of course he’s not,’ said Serise grumpily. ‘He’s too stupid to be scared. I bet Rodney’s too stupid to be scared of a charging bull, even. Or a runaway
double-decker bus. Or a shark jumping out of the canal with its jaws wide open.’
‘Or a witch,’ said Emily, in a small voice.
Everyone froze. Then they all nodded sadly.
‘The bell will be going soon.’ Anil looked at his watch again. ‘And then we’ll
to go in, won’t we.’
Emily started crying.
‘Four minutes, exactly,’ went on Anil. ‘Three minutes fifty-five seconds. Three minutes fifty—’
Slacker Punchkin put a flabby arm absentmindedly round Anil’s neck and tried to strangle him.
‘The trouble with Rodney is that he doesn’t believe there’s any such thing as witches,’ Slacker said. ‘He’s just like a grown-up that way.’
‘Yes,’ said Serise scornfully. ‘Stupid.’
‘I mean, even my dad said it was silly to worry about a witch,’ went on Slacker.
Winsome rescued Anil. ‘Perhaps it
Emily sniffed sadly. ‘But we’ve all seen it,’ she said. ‘Magic, all over the whole school. And we saw how peculiar last year’s Year Six went.’
‘I suppose so,’ agreed Winsome, frowning. ‘But then we never heard any of them actually say
my class teacher Miss Broom is a witch,
‘That’s true,’ said Jack, perking up a bit.
Serise turned on him with contempt. ‘No,’ she snapped. ‘But I’ve heard them say
Miss Broom’s a winter vest!
Miss Broom’s a weasel’s
Emily started crying again.
‘Yes,’ agreed Anil. ‘Just as if something was stopping them saying the word
Just as if they were all under some spell which stopped them telling anyone about
Winsome tried to look brave. ‘Well, at least year’s Year Six all survived, didn’t they? I mean, they didn’t end up turned into toadstools or piglets or
There was a short pause.
‘Although we never did find out where all those rhinoceroses came from that were out in the playing field that day,’ Anil pointed out.
Jack suddenly grinned.
‘Hey, it’d be brilliant to be a rhino,’ he said. ‘If I was a rhino I’d charge right through the Co-op spearing doughnuts on my horn and no one would be able to stop
‘Oh yes they would,’ snapped Serise. ‘Someone would shoot you.’
Anil looked at his watch again. ‘It’s nearly time for the bell,’ he said. ‘Ten...nine...’
‘No they wouldn’t!’ said Jack. ‘Rhinos have armour-plated skin, don’t they? And anyway they’re really rare so you’re not allowed to shoot them, not even
if they charge right into car parks and start crushing all the cars with their enormous great feet, and—’
BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIII IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGGGGG GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!
All the children jumped several centimetres into the air and clutched at each other in terror, and several of them screamed.
Slacker Punchkin shook his head sadly.
‘That’s it,’ he said. ‘There’s no escape, now. We’re doomed.’
Emily began jumping up and down.
‘I don’t want to die I don’t want to die I don’t want to die!’ she shrieked, but Winsome put her arm round her.
‘You’ll be all right,’ Winsome said. ‘Miss Broom would be sent to prison if she did anything bad to us. You know that really. Come on.’
The rest of Class Six looked at each other, and the sound of their knocking knees could be heard even above the chattering of all the other classes as they filed into school.
And then Class Six sighed, and they slowly and reluctantly began to trudge down the school path towards their new classroom.
And towards their new teacher, Miss Broom.
Miss Broom didn’t actually look that much like a witch. Instead of being as tall as a drainpipe and as thin as a stick insect she was shortish and had big bosoms. Her
face wasn’t green, her teeth weren’t black, and her nose wasn’t warty, either. She didn’t even have a beard.
‘I expect she shaves it off every morning,’ whispered Serise to Jack, behind her hand.
Miss Broom turned to the whiteboard and wrote:
Miss Wilhelmina Broom
in big letters, and Class Six took the opportunity to have a good look at her back. She showed no signs of having a tail, and her hair wasn’t witchy, either: it was bouncy
and sand-coloured instead of all black and jagged.
It was only her eyes, really, that gave the game away. They were shining amber like a tiger’s, and when you looked into them, instead of seeing your own reflection, you might see anything:
a full moon rising over a graveyard; a flock of fanged bats; a cauldron simmering by candlelight; a knitted tea cosy—
A knitted tea-cosy?
’ Anil had echoed incredulously, earlier, when Class Six had been comparing notes. ‘Are you
‘I suppose it might have been a woolly hat,’ Emily had admitted timidly.
‘You mean, like a football hat?’ Jack had said. ‘Hey, what colour?’
Emily had looked even unhappier.
‘United’s colours,’ she’d whispered.
Everyone had exchanged appalled glances, and Anil had shaken his head.
‘Being a witch is one thing,’ he’d said, trying to be fair. ‘I mean, you probably can’t help being a witch, any more than I can help being really good at maths. But
And that had been the moment when Class Six had really truly and utterly believed that they were doomed.
Miss Broom turned back from the whiteboard and smiled at all the children. It was a strange, creepy sort of smile that made everyone feel as if spiders were running down their backs towards
their underpants, but at least Miss Broom didn’t appear to have fangs.
‘Well, aren’t you sitting nice and quietly,’ said Miss Broom. ‘Now, let’s find out all your names.’
And she began to call the register.
Six small owls emerged from a hole in the front of her desk while she was reading out the names. They flew low over the children’s heads and perched along the top of the bookshelves. The
owls had bright amber eyes just like Miss Broom, but the pictures in their enormous eyes showed beetles and bats and mice.
Half-eaten beetles and bats and mice.
Class Six tottered pale-faced out into the playground at break time and stood in a trembling group, too shattered even to think about playing. They were too shattered to speak,
too. They stood, completely silent except for a strange slurping, crunching sound behind them like the turning of a badly rusted washing machine.
But that was only Slacker Punchkin eating his breaktime snack of three meat pasties, so they were used to it.
At last Winsome took a deep brave breath.
‘At least we’re alive,’ she said.
‘We are for now,’ said Serise dourly. ‘But who knows if we’ll be alive by lunch time. We’ve been at School Assembly ever since registration. By lunch time Miss
Broom might have turned us into gerbils.’