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Miss Crawley by Hack Shuck

“Children, say good morning to Miss Crawley.”

She only taught us for one day, but no-one in our class will ever forget her.

Half a day, technically.

She knew her lesson plan by heart. Math, straight off the bat. What can be more awful than math, first thing in the morning? The problem we had to solve involved The Black Death; how to deal with all those decaying corpses, with so few men left alive to bury them. It was one of those complex equations: if each man can bury ten bodies each day, but it took twice as long to bury loved ones due to the additional, agonizing torment, and for every seven bodies buried, another healthy man caught the plague, yadda yadda. That took up most of the morning. Though she squeezed in a debate about what Charles Manson taught us about achieving our individual goals, before '11 o clock TV Time'.

It was always my job to wheel the ancient set out, on a trolley. Normally we’d watch a children’s show, something vaguely educational and rarely entertaining. Miss Crawley gleefully showed us selected highlights from the movie 'Cannibal Holocaust'. With plenty of freeze-frame, and analysis.

Many fled out into the schoolyard at lunch-break, but the brave few who stayed inside were treated to a very special performance-piece; a one-woman show, re-enacting the most brutal witch-trials from European history; from accusation, to interrogation, to baking, blistering perpetration.

That afternoon we sat rigid and leery in that claustrophobic old classroom as our substitute teacher stalked the silent aisles; desperately we tried not to meet her frightful gaze. She'd engaged us in a pop quiz, on the topic of the many methods of capital punishment, ancient and modern.

“PENDULUM”.

“Sorry, Miss Crawley. I don’t know.

“Ignorant girl. YOU! the fat boy; CRUCIFIXION.”

“I don’t know, Miss Crawley.”

“Good Christian children, and never heard of crucifixion. YOU! Glasses. CRUSHING!”

“Crushing?” Trembling, I lifted my head and met her eyes, mine wide with trepidation. “Well, sometimes they used elephants. If you were really bad, you lay down and it slowly stomped you into the dirt. But most often, in other countries, they put more and more stones, big rocks, on top of you, until you couldn’t take any more weight. Like that guy in the Salem Witch trials.”

“Giles Corey.” A smile spread over her cruel, thin lips as she spoke his name. “Pressed to death for refusing to play men’s wicked games.”

For a few more moments, we stared each other down. My heart pulsed with new and tumultuous feelings. Then she was called out from the classroom by our nervous head-teacher, never to return.

Except, perhaps, in spirit.

Most parents complained. Mine didn’t. Mine didn’t care. I myself was frightened at the time. I look back on it all now with a keen sense of fondness, nostalgia. My one happy day at school.

As a student.

It took me a long time to track her down. But it's important to receive a good education.

“Children, say good morning to Mr Crawley!”

I didn’t even last half a day.

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