Flash (holiday) fiction: Naughty by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write using the theme “The Christmas season.” Today’s prompt comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers mystery series.

Naughty

By Val Muller

She stood at the drying rack, studying the dripping canvas among all the others. If she was going to do this, she had to do it now, with the paint still wet. But, was this the kind of person she was? Is this why she went into teaching?

Then again, this sort of vigilante justice was a way of righting an unfair universe, was it not? One of the only empowerments of the job?

The last stragglers filed out of the hall. She heard them all screaming out front at the bus pick-up zone. The other teachers had fled to their cars, the week before Christmas break zapping all motivation from them. Mrs. Silks was alone. She could do this thing at her leisure.

And why not?

The kids were really bad this year. How could 2021 be worse than the pandemic year? It was a mystery all the teachers and professionals were trying to solve. All the articles, the training, suggested kids just needed compassion and understanding. But some of them—well, Mrs. Silks and the others joked that the kids this year were feral, that they didn’t know how to act in a public setting. And this was true. They couldn’t stay in their seats. They didn’t know how to string together a series of tasks without micromanagement. They had to be invited time and again to complete their work.

But Robert was more than feral. With the other kids, some of the metacognitive behavioral techniques normally reserved for the young students worked well. Mrs. Silks had more than her share of compassion, and she saw them all slowly grow toward more human, more humane, behavior, things they had forgotten in the many months of lockdown.

But not Robert.

The seventh grader was an utter terror, and that was not something she let herself think lightly. He bullied his friends, taking the best items from their lunches, mocking their clothing and their families. Why they put up with it, she would never understand. Whenever she addressed the issue, his friends were the ones to jump in and support him, as if they were under the spell of a demonic Svengali.

The other teachers shrugged it off—his friends were hardly upstanding citizens, and many thought they deserved each other. But Mrs. Silks could not imagine feeling unsafe among friends. No one deserved that, not even Robert’s friends.

She had met his parents in September, and they immediately jumped to his defense at her most vague reference to his behavior. They were perhaps not the cause of his demonic personality, but they were a catalyst.

Really what struck her the most was the way he treated his ex-girlfriend. The logic of dating Robert aside, she felt for the girl, truly. Whenever he could, he berated her in front of his friends, but never crossing the line that allowed disciplinary action. The counselor, after discussions with Robert’s parents, had to admit that Robert was only having conversations. He never actually crossed any lines, and if the girl were reading double entendres into his words, then maybe she was the one who should be called to counseling.

Mrs. Silks fumed, igniting in memory the conversation from class today. The class voted that the day’s assignment would be to paint a canvas having to do with the Christmas season. She gave them all a rubric with requirements, and they brainstormed ideas. Most of the discussion followed holiday lights, snow, Santa, the usual.

But one of the kids steered the conversation to Krampus, and in all her time she had never seen a student so scared as Robert. When he went to the bathroom, she overheard two of his friends talking about Robert’s fear of urban legends. His brave exterior had a weakness. That Achilles heel showed itself when he wouldn’t stand in front of a mirror in the darkness (Candyman), wouldn’t go into the woods behind his house, not even with his dog (he thought he saw Slenderman there at twilight, five years ago, and he has been terrified since), and in his angry reaction to discussions of the devilish Krampus coming for bad children.

It would be so easy.

Mrs. Silks imagined waking on Christmas morning and finding coal in her stocking for this. Was she carrying out justice or sinking to a new low?

Before she could answer herself, she looked down to observe her hands already working, mixing the paint from the still-wet palate Robert had left at his table. He had taken way too much, as usual, and it hung in globs on his canvas as well.

It wasn’t even a challenge, Mrs. Silks observed as she watched her hands pull sinister dark shapes into the globby clouds Robert had painted behind his Santa—a Santa who had gotten stuck, his chubby legs sticking out of the chimney top against a stormy sky.

Before long, the clouds revealed the awful form of beast-like Krampus looking directly at the viewer. But it was amorphous enough that, like an ink-blot test, it could be attributed to the viewer only. Mrs. Silks shivered at the darkness of the image and put it back on the drying rack, not daring to document her crime with a picture, though she really wanted to.

*

On Christmas morning, Mrs. Silks sat on the couch looking at her phone, remembering the class that followed, the last class before break. Robert had been moved almost to tears. He blamed all his friends for messing with his painting, but for once they stood up to him, denying any involvement.

Mrs. Silks briefly chided him for using too much paint, explaining that a lack of control in art could leave too much uncertainty to the viewer and cause them to see shapes like Krampus in the work.

When Robert went to the bathroom, she snapped a picture. She couldn’t help herself. He was quiet the rest of class and didn’t have a word to say about his ex-girlfriend’s gingerbread house.

In her Christmas PJs, Mrs. Silks put away her phone and opened her stocking, which contained a bag of small black objects. Coal. So she was bad after all.

On closer inspection, she smiled. It wasn’t coal, but chocolates, wrapped in black foil to look like coal. She ate one, enjoying how the smooth sweetness melted in her mouth. She had taken down a kid from the naughty list. She was like Krampus, like Batman. Her own modern urban legend. The Painter.

She opened another chocolate. So Santa winked: it seemed he approved of vigilante justice after all.


The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

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