This morning at breakfast Aaliyah was playing up and Mrs Snodgrass was mentioned! I have not spoken of her for some time now. Mrs Snodgrass is a fiction. Or is she? We don’t threaten the children with the ‘thinking chair’ any more, but the occasional muttering of the legendary Mrs Snodgrass generally has the desired effect. Be good or you might just end up at ‘Naughty School’! There is one other character that has appeared within our family history and that is Mr Strickland. He runs a summer camp for naughty children who act like babies! Again, he has not been mentioned in quite a while.
Thor got quite screamy at dinnertime tonight and threw his dinner on the floor. Tara and Amritsar piped up ‘Call Mrs Snodgrass Dadda, call Mrs Snodgrass’. I pretended to dial a number on my phone ‘Mrs Snodgrass’ I said.
We smiled. Remember that Mrs Snodgrass is a fiction. Or is she…
Morning sunshine spilled through a window as Aaliyah rolled over, too tired to open her eyes. She and her brothers, Thor and Caleb, had been up all night. Again. Dadda had told them over and over to be quiet and go to bed, but, as usual, Aaliyah snuck out of her bed, knocked on her brothers’ bedroom door, and they began to play.
This lasted until after Dadda fell asleep. This continued until long after the moon rose, and only when the birds started to cheep, cheep outside did Aliyah and her brothers run back to their beds and try to fall asleep. But an hour isn’t enough sleep, even for a young child.
And so, Aaliyah moaned and groaned as Dadda knocked on her door. ‘Rise and shine, Aaliyah’, said Dadda. ‘It’s time to get ready for school. I’m waking up your brothers too, and we’re going to eat breakfast in ten minutes. Get ready!’ Aaliyah said, ‘Yes, Dadda’, but she sniffed, snorted, and snored. Aaliyah wasn’t getting up anytime soon. Or so she thought.
Suddenly, she opened her eyes, and Dadda was looking down at her. ‘Wait a minute’! he said. ‘You have dark bags under your eyes. And look, your slippers are by the door and not your bed. And what’s this? A toy in the hallway. I think someone was playing with her brothers last night and is too tired to go to school today’.
Aaliyah moaned and groaned. ‘But, Dadda, we had to! We couldn’t fall asleep, and so we had to play for a while’. ‘All night’? said Dadda shaking his head. ‘Boys’! Now Thor and Caleb came stumbling into the room half-asleep. Both boys’ pajamas were wrinkled, their hair stuck up, and their tongues hung out like little puppies.
‘These boys didn’t get hardly a wink of sleep’! Dadda said. ‘All right enough is enough. I’m calling Mrs Snodgrass’. Aaliyah shook her head. ‘No, Dadda, you can’t’! ‘Oh yes’, said Dadda. ‘I can. And I will. I have no choice! Dadda marched out of the room, determined to fix the problem. ‘Mrs Snodgrass’? said Caleb. ‘Who is that’?
Aaliyah and Thor turned to him, both looking pale and wide-eyed. ‘Haven’t you heard of Naughty School, Caleb’? said Aaliyah. ‘Mrs Snodgrass runs it with an iron fist. She whips children, puts them in dungeons, and makes sure they’re never heard from again’. Caleb laughed. ‘That’s silly’.
Thor grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled him close. ‘Haven’t you heard of Mrs Snodgrass’s Thinking Chair’? Caleb shook his head. ‘Is it like Dadda’s thinking chair’? Thor sighed. ‘Oh no! It’s the worst thing you can imagine, that’s what! Once you’re in Mrs Snodgrass’s Thinking Chair, you’re done for’! Caleb swallowed hard.
‘And that’s not all’, said Aaliyah, ‘they’ll make us eat porridge at every meal’. Each of the siblings stuck out their tongues and held their tummies. ‘What a disgusting thought’! said Caleb.
‘Wait’! said Aaliyah. ‘Do you hear that? Dadda is on the phone. Hurry let’s listen’. Each of the children pushed their way forward, jostling to get close to the partly open door. ‘Can’t hear’, said Caleb, and he inched his way out into the hallway. ‘That’s better’. Aaliyah and Thor followed him.
‘That’s right’, said Dadda, speaking into his phone, ‘Mrs Snodgrass. I’ll hold. Yes, Mrs. Snodgrass? We met some time ago. That’s right. I think my children need to visit Naughty School. Oh, enroll? Well, maybe just… oh… yes, of course, I understand. Well, yes, you’re right, maybe it’s time I decide for their betterment. Of course, so true. I’ll enroll them in Naughty School today. Yes. Three children, their names are Aaliyah, Caleb, and Thor’.
And with that, he hung up the phone and sighed. Aaliyah frowned. ‘He did it! He actually did it’. Thor shook his head. ‘We’re done for now’. Caleb got on his knees and clasped his hands together. ‘No, Dadda, not Naughty School’!
And then Dadda stepped in front of them. He crossed his arms and said, ‘I’m sorry, children, but you’ve left me no choice. When you stay up all night, don’t listen, don’t do your homework, well, then there’s only one alternative’.
Caleb sniffled. ‘Mrs Snodgrass’? Dadda nodded. ‘Yes, Mrs Snodgrass… and her Naughty School. So, pack your bags, we leave right away’! Suddenly Aaliyah, Caleb, and Thor dropped to their knees and shook their heads. They held out their hands like they were praying. ‘Please, Dadda, not Naughty School’! they pleaded. ‘Not Mrs Snodgrass! And not the Thinking Chair’!
Dadda sighed. He put his hands on his hips and scratched his chin. ‘Enrollment is today, but you don’t start until Monday. So, I suppose we’ll see how your behavior changes from now until then’. ‘We’ll be better’! said Aaliyah. Caleb nodded. ‘Oh, we definitely will’! ‘Yes, Dadda, no naughty school for us’! said Thor brightly.
And so, the siblings tried their best to be good little children, just like their two bigger sisters Amritsar and Tara. Though, they needed a nap after such a long night. But, come the next day, there was a shout from downstairs. Dadda dropped what he was doing and darted down the stairs, nearly tripping and flying through the air. And there, Daddy was standing, speechless and pointing.
‘What is it’? asked Dadda, looking around for a lion or bear. ‘What’s wrong’? But there was no lion. No bear. Not even a small dragon with smoking nostrils.
But there was Caleb, holding a tub of sudocrem. ‘Caleb’! said Dadda. ‘What have you done’? Caleb had somehow smeared his bottom and back with sudocrem. He looked positively a mess! As if someone had dipped him in a vat of cream from the dairy, pulling him out and letting him drip all over.
Oh, but there was more. Dadda turned to see a long trail of sudocrem on the hardwood floor. Splotches here and there, running back as if a house painter had drunkenly stumbled into the house. White marks were on the sofa, on Caleb’s brother, Thor’s, face and arms, and even on the television! There were marks on the chairs and the dining room table. There were marks on framed photos of Granny Hazel and Grandma Jean, and also on the painting Dadda made for Daddy’s birthday two years ago. ‘Oh my’, said Dadda. ‘Caleb’!
‘It’s time we have a sit on the thinking chair, don’t you agree, Daddy’? Daddy nodded. Caleb said, ‘No, not the thinking chair! Mrs Snodgrass has one, and they say it eats children! Dadda shook his head. ‘Oh no, it doesn’t, but you’ll be thinking about things for a very long time, Caleb’!
Dadda lifted Caleb high into the air, carried him across the room, into the hall and placed him on an antique chair. ‘Now, think about what you’ve done and… oh my, think about Naughty School too would you’? Caleb swallowed hard. ‘And you, mister’, pointing at Thor, added Daddy, ‘You’re the one who gave the sudocrem to Caleb’! ‘Well, I, uh…’ Thor mumbled. Big sisters Amritsar and Tara were sniggering at this point. They realised that this was a serious situation so both headed for the living room for some screentime.
‘Off to the thinking chair as well’! said Dadda. And Thor marched off, sitting in another chair, on the opposite side of the sideboard, slightly out of view from his brother Caleb.
Dadda turned back to Daddy, who said, ‘And who do you think got the sudocrem down to begin with? Who is the tallest’? Now Dadda turned to Aaliyah, whose face was burning brightly. Whose eyes were cast down on the floor. ‘Go on’! said Dadda. ‘Off to bed’! Aaliyah ran up the stairs screaming, off to her bedroom.
‘I don’t want to say it’, said Daddy, ‘but I don’t think we have a choice’. ‘Well, I already made the call, but I was giving them a chance’ replied Dadda. ‘I think they’ve all had their chance. We have no choice. When little boys and girls are this naughty, when they stay awake all night, when they smear sudocrem all over the house and giggle…’ Dadda nodded. ‘Oh, yes, you don’t have to say it. It’s time for Naughty School, Daddy because we quite simply, have no other choice’. Tara and Amritsar looked a little sad ‘But we will be able to go and visit them – wont we Dadda’? ‘Of course’ replied Dadda, adding ‘And of course, they will be home for holidays’.
And so, it began. Aaliyah and her brothers would soon be off to Mrs Snodgrass’ Naughty School for Children.
Not too far away, on a hill overlooking the city, a dark, gloomy, prison-like fortress stood under dark clouds. Even on this, the sunny day our story begins, it looked as if it were an overcast day at Naughty School.
The Naughty School had been built, well, nobody remembered when it had been made. It seemed as if it had always been there. Overlooking the city with its dreary gray bricks, its tall fence that looked like a prison with barbed-wire and guards at the gate. The gate itself was wrought iron and several feet tall. It had the letters ‘N’ and ‘S’ emblazoned on it in a bold typeface.
At the front gate, there came marching down a thin, pale woman wearing a tight black dress. Her long dark hair was tied up in a bun. On her sharp nose were glasses that were far too big for her with lenses that made her eyes look wide like a fish’s.
This was Ms Bettina, who was Mrs Snodgrass’s loyal assistant. She carried a small leather satchel with her from which she withdrew a red book. It looked like a datebook, and when she arrived at the gate, in front of the uniformed officers in black shirts, pants, and boots, she opened the red book. ‘Aaliyah, Caleb, and… let’s see, yes, Thor’. The guards nodded. ‘They should be arriving any moment now. Look sharp, men’. The guards snapped to attention and saluted.
Another man came marching down the driveway to the gate. He was tall, skinny, and broad-shouldered. He had a long face with a square jaw. He was balding and he, too, wore glasses, but these were small, round, and wire framed. He wore a tweed jacket with patches on the shoulders and elbows and his pants were a few inches too short, revealing black socks with little red polka dots on them.
‘Ah, Mr Strickland’, said Ms Bettina. ‘I’m glad you made it. How was Baby Camp over the Summer’? Mr Strickland frowned at her. ‘Too many babies,’ he said flatly. The guards swallowed hard. Even they, along with the other teachers at Naughty School, were afraid of Mr Strickland, who also ran the Summer Baby Camp, quite, well, strictly.
‘As alwas, Ms Bettina, I am here to inform you that if you have any children acting like babies in this new school term, you are ordered to send them my way. This, of course, is a direct order from Mrs Snodgrass herself’. Ms Bettina scowled. She didn’t like Mr Strickland very much, but she knew she had to tolerate him. ‘Of course, Mr Strickland’, she bemoaned. ‘I’ll make sure to do that’.
Now she turned to the guards. ‘Remember, send them straight to my office for intake’. The guards nodded, and with that, Ms Bettina and Mr Strickland left the front gate, going in different directions.
After a few minutes, a silver Mitsubishi Shogun 4 x 4 arrived and stopped at the gate. Inside was Daddy, Aaliyah, Thor, and Caleb. ‘I’m here for…’ said Daddy, but he couldn’t get out the rest of his words. One of the guards held his hand up and said, ‘Enough! Aaliyah? Thor? Caleb?’ Daddy nodded. ‘That’s right’. ‘Drop them off here. We’ll send them to Ms Bettina’. ‘Oh, well, I… yes, okay’. Daddy opened the door and got out. He then opened the door for his children, and all three slowly, cautiously, ever-so-carefully crept out.
Aaliyah and the boys looked up at Daddy and said, ‘One more chance’? Daddy shook his head slowly. ‘Sorry, children, I love you and I am going to miss you, but off to Naughty School. Go on now’. Daddy said goodbye, gave them all hugs and said that he would see them in a couple of weeks.
They shuffled along slowly, and the wrought iron gates slowly creaked open. The guards looked down at the children. One of them said, ‘Go on now, that way. March! We’re off to see Ms Bettina’. Thor turned to wave at Daddy, but the car had gone. Thor looked up at the guard who said, ‘No more of that. March! Go on!’ And so, they did, all three, Aaliyah, Thor, and Caleb, too, hurried up the twisting driveway.
Ahead, they saw the prison, sorry, the school, that is. Naughty School. Its gray bricks were covered with moss. A mass of ivy clung to its walls. Stone gargoyles looked down with beady eyes and sharp horns. There were tall windows that were cloudy and caked with what could only be smoke stains, though one guard mentioned that it was ‘fog from the children’s breath as they complained from sitting in the Naughty Chairs too long’.
And in one window, high above, Aaliyah spotted two bright eyes watching. They almost looked like red eyes. ‘Mrs Snodgrass’! she muttered. ‘Hey now, none of that’! said the guard. ‘No talking! Off to Ms Bettina, you go’.
The front door of Naughty School was embossed with brass and was covered with etchings of what can only be described as monsters chasing little children. And, once more, there were the letters ‘N’ and ‘S’ in a bold typeface.
Inside, the hallways were long and empty. Aaliyah saw a little boy, dressed in a black uniform, peek out from a classroom. But just as quickly, someone yanked him back inside with a little ‘yelp’ and the door slammed shut, nearly breaking the glass window. A blind was drawn rapidly, blocking Aaliyah’s view of what was happening inside the room. ‘We’re doomed’! she said. ‘Quiet’! said the guard.
And soon, they climbed a high set of stairs. Onto a landing, and then up to another landing, and finally to the third floor and an office that had big blocky black letters declaring that it belonged to MS BETTINA, assistant to MRS SNODGRASS. The guard snapped to attention and knocked gently on the door. The children gasped and gulped as they heard the click-clack of Ms Bettina’s high heels.
And the door opened. There she stood, the dark-haired administrator with her overly large glasses. Her large, fisheyes stared down at the children, and her thin lips were snarling. ‘In here NOW’! she commanded. And to the guard: ‘Leave us’! The guard turned around and left, leaving Aaliyah and her brothers standing awkwardly outside of Ms Bettina’s doorway. ‘RIGHT’! Ms Bettina shouted.
The children hurried in and piled onto three small metal chairs in front of an unusually high oak desk. Ms Bettina crossed the room, her footfalls sounding like CLICK, CLACK, CLICK. She climbed a small footstool to get onto a high-backed chair, and from there, she looked down over her large glasses at the children.
‘Biters, pinchers, hair pullers, screamers, shouters, naughty, naughty children’, she murmured. ‘Mrs Snodgrass will not be happy at all. Oh no, she won’t. Do we have enough Thinking Chairs for the three of you’? Aaliyah raised her hand timidly as Caleb and Thor rattled their teeth and sat on their hands. ‘What is it’? snapped Ms Bettina. ‘Wha… what… what are you going to do’? replied Thor. ‘Oh, it’s not what I’m going to do, little boy’, said Ms Bettina.
Someone’s throat cleared, and Aaliyah and her brothers whipped around to see…
A woman in her late fifties, dressed in a green tweed two-piece suit. Perched on her nose were a pair of brown horn-rimmed glasses. She looked quite like a School Head Mistress from 1954 come to life in front of them. ‘I’ll be dealing with you three personally’! said the woman with a shrill voice. ‘Meet Mrs Snodgrass, children’, said Ms Bettina. ‘The Head Mistress who will do everything in her power to get every last ounce of naughtyness out of you’!