Miss Snippet sat down in the teacher's lounge and tried not to sigh. She was sure that sighing as you sat down was a sign of old age; she could remember both her grandmother and her mother doing it, and she was determined not to end up like either of them. Which in her grandmother's case meant dead and in her mother's case meant trapped in a stifling nursing home chosen by Miss Snippet for its brochure's boast that it had better security that Alcatraz. She occasionally drove by the nursing home to check that there were no signs of a break-out, and forwarded all correspondance from them on to her lawyer.
"Pill?" said the young man at the other end of the couch, and she started a little. She gazed at him, her eyes narrowing as she realised that she didn't recognise him, either as a teacher or a student. They narrowed even more when she started looking for familial resemblances to the headmaster. He smiled and rattled a little brown plastic pill bottle at her. "On the house?"
"Who are you?" asked Miss Snippet, her words coming out like a growl. The young man looked a little taken aback, and lowered the hand shaking the pill bottle.
"Steve," he said, trying his smile again. He put the bottle down on the couch and offered his hand, empty this time.
"I'm not shaking your hand until I know who you are and what you're doing in here," said Miss Snippet. She adjusted her gaze to a glare, the one her class knew meant she was getting angry.
"I just said, I'm Steve." His hand didn't waver, but nor did Miss Snippet's determination.
"And what do you do? Are you the latest substitute teacher to discover why class 9K sent their teacher on a prolonged rest-cure in a not-a-mental-hospital-at-all-place by the sea?"
"No. Are class 9K a bit rough then?"
"Why don't you take them for a maths class and see?"
Steve lowered his hand at last and picked the pill bottle back up.
"Look, I'm just trying to help," he said. "You look like one of the good ones, right? I hear there's some right nutters who work here, driving everyone else mad, so I'm just here offering some free samples of the kind of thing my company supplies. They're just to help you keep your equilibrium when everyone around you seems to be going mad. In fact," and he leant across the couch a little to Miss Snippet, trying to create the illusion of intimacy, "they tell me there's a teacher here who treats her class like underage unpaid labour!"
"Oh really?" Miss Snippet almost leant in herself, but then decided that even Steve couldn't be so stupid as to not see that for the ploy it was.
"Oh yes!" His voice dropped a little to a conspiratorial hush. "They say her class built all three of the new annexes and that she hires them out to people to build paths, garages and the occasional two-storey extension. She's the kind of person it's hard to keep your cool around, and these little pills, teacher's little helpers, are just what you need. Look, I shouldn't tell you this, but we've even got a couple of little pills you could slip her, if you wanted a few quiet days."
"Have you offered these pills to 9K's maths teacher?" asked Miss Snippet, trying hard to sound conspiratorial. She felt she got about half-way there, spoiled only really by the tone of disgust in her voice when she had to mention the weak teacher that the kids were clearly doing their best to cull from the herd.
"No," said Steve. "I heard he's not easy to get to. Secure storage, and all that!" He even tapped the side of his slightly red nose with a long finger when he said that.
"Janitor's closet, actually," said Miss Snippet wondering if she could get away with twisting a finger at her temple. She decided against it. "The headmaster won't pay for treatment, so he's just locked away in a dark place until he stops screaming and trying to eat his own fingers."
"Really?" Steve looked very interested all of a sudden, and his fingers curled tightly around the pill bottle. "I might have one or two things that could help calm him down, now that you come to mention it. I could perhaps look in on the chap and check he's ok, got all his fingers still, that kind of thing?"
"Come this way," said Miss Snippet bouncing out of her chair like a fifties-waitress given a hundred-dollar tip. "I can keep an eye out for the headmaster while you talk to him. Poor guy doesn't get many visitors."
She checked her watch as she led Steve from the staff-room, and was pleased to see that her class should have finished pouring the concrete now, which would an ideal place for Steve to trip and fall and disappear into a supporting pillar.