By Suzanne Main
An excerpt from Suzanne Main’s How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot, a Junior Fiction novel that tells the tale of how Michael’s desire to get revenge on rich kid bully Angus backfires. Chapter 3 recounts the germination of a plan, and the introduction of the marvellous Miss Munro.
The final lesson that day was art. There was a buzz of anticipation before class. Everyone took their seats, eyes forward, waiting for Miss Munro to arrive. Art class is interesting, but not for the reasons you might think.
Miss Munro is new to our school. On the first day of term she showed up wearing a kimono, French beret and cowhide moccasins. When Duncan Copsey plucked up the courage to tell Miss Munro that fancy dress day wasn’t until the end of term, Miss Munro didn’t tell him off. She explained that she was embracing all the cultures of the world by bringing them together, and that only by doing this could we achieve global peace. Or something equally weird.
The bell rang. Miss Munro burst through the door, resembling a giant human highlighter pen in a fluorescent yellow sari. On her head was perched a red hat shaped like an upside-down flower pot. Her footwear: a pair of rubber flip-flops. “Namaste, citizens of the world,” she said in the sort of sing-song voice mothers use to talk to their babies. “Today we celebrate the diverse cultures of India, Turkey and Australia.”
“Namaste, Miss Munro,” the class chanted.
“Before we continue our explorations in art, I have exciting news to share with you. This year I have been entrusted with producing the school play. Tomorrow is audition day.”
A dozen voices called out, “Ooh, ooh! What play are we doing, miss?” Miss Munro held her hand up for quiet.
“I cannot yet divulge the name of the play. If you wish to take part, you must come to the hall at lunchtime tomorrow and audition.”
“Miss,” Florence waved her hand above her head agitatedly, “can we have the scripts now so we can practise?”
“Absolutely not!” declared Miss Munro, shaking her head until the red hat wobbled and almost fell off. “As director it is vital that I witness the pure, unrehearsed reactions of my actors on that very first occasion that they perform the play and connect with the ideas it offers and the feelings it invokes.” Miss Munro’s voice was growing louder and more excitable. “The actors must breathe life into the story together so that their emotions are genuine. Only then may they store that honesty and emotion in their souls to draw upon for future performances.”
There was silence as half the class looked at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces. “But—” Florence put up her hand again. “Mrs Connor used to let us practise.”
You must trust me,” Miss Munro shrieked. “If I allowed you to practise, your performances would be stilted and stiff. They would not be real!”
Florence didn’t look convinced but she put her hand down. Miss Munro is super-glued to her strange ideas so there is no point in arguing. The class settled down to finish the pencil portraits we had been doing of each other’s faces for the past few lessons. I could hear the drama-loving kids muttering to each other. As the lesson drew to a close, I stood back to admire the portrait I had drawn.
“Let me see,” said Elvis as the final bell rang. The classroom filled with excited chatter and the graunching of chairs being pulled back.
He studied the portrait I’d drawn and frowned. “My glasses aren’t that big.” Elvis’s glasses are huge. “Yes they are.” “No way do I have that many freckles.” “You do.” “Why is there a freckle inside my nose?” Elvis jabbed his finger into his left nostril. The one in the picture. Where I had drawn a dark lump. I raised my eyebrows. It took him a moment to figure it out. “Oh . . .” Elvis thrust the picture back at me and pulled a large white handkerchief from his pocket. I turned away to pack my bag while Elvis removed the lump from his left nostril. “Hurry up, boys,” called Miss Munro from her desk. “I need to lock up. My belly-dancing class starts shortly.” Elvis and I carried our sketches through the deserted classroom to Miss Munro’s desk. I dropped mine on top of the pile. Miss Munro glanced at it. “Lovely work, Michael.” She smiled across her desk at me and Elvis. “Who was your partner?”
I gave Elvis a pointed look and tipped my head in his direction. Miss Munro stared back at me blankly.
“It was Elvis,” I said, wondering if I should suggest she get her eyes checked. I decided against it.
Miss Munro studied Elvis’s face for a moment. Her eyes flickered back to the portrait I’d drawn. “Of course it is! Such a creative interpretation.” Miss Munro pulled her handbag out from under her desk, saying, “Look at the time. I really must fly. Boys, do me a favour and drop this on the big table in the school hall before you leave.” She plucked a large envelope off her desk and thrust it into my hands before herding us out of the classroom.
Elvis and I went ahead while Miss Munro locked the classroom door. Seconds later she scurried past us, her flip-flops flapping noisily as she hastened away. The only other people left in the corridor were the school receptionist and the caretaker. The caretaker was gesturing with his large hairy hand at a red, glass-fronted box containing the fire alarm.
Inside that glass box is a button that sets off a loud alarm. Every now and then some kid comes up with the brilliant idea to break the glass and push the button. For some reason they imagine they’re the first kid in history to think of it. “. . . test soon . . .” A fragment of conversation reached the front doors as I pushed them open. Miss Munro’s purple van raced off down the driveway, ignoring the speed limit. Elvis and I turned left outside the main building. We dawdled along the footpath alongside the emptied parking bays to the far end of the visitors’ car park where the hall sits apart from the other school buildings. When we reached the closed double doors of the hall, I gripped the door handle to open it, then stopped and let it go. I looked down at the envelope Miss Munro had given me. The flap wasn’t stuck down. It was neatly tucked inside the envelope. I gently wedged the envelope open.
“What are you doing?” Elvis’s voice was squeaky with anxiety.
I looked around. No one else was in sight. I slid the paper contents halfway out of the envelope. “Check this out.” I flipped through the envelope’s contents. “It’s the scripts for the school play.”
Elvis looked around and sidled closer. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” he read from the top sheet of paper. “I love that story. It’s super spooky.”
“What’s it about?” I hoped it would be better than the sappy rubbish we’d been forced to sit through the previous year.
“It’s about a wimpy school teacher who moves to this little town – I forget the name of it – where a beautiful girl lives. He tries to win her over because not only is she pretty, her father is the richest man in town. But he has to compete with the local hero for her hand in marriage. The hero guy isn’t happy about having competition, so one night he terrifies the wimpy school teacher with a ghost story about the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow. As the teacher makes his way home that night through Sleepy Hollow, he gets chased by a headless horseman who throws his head at him.”
“Awesome,” I said.
“The next day the townsfolk search for the teacher but all they find is his wandering horse and crushed hat. And a shattered pumpkin.”
“The headless horseman got him,” I concluded.
“And the shattered pumpkin?”
“Left over from Halloween?”
Elvis rolled his eyes. So that’s a no.
“Ohhhh, I get it,” I said. “The hero guy was pretending to be a headless horseman to scare the teacher away, and he used the pumpkin as a fake head.” Elvis nodded approvingly.
As we talked, I flipped through the stapled photocopies of the script. Miss Munro had made one copy for each character, printing the character’s name on the front page of each script. “Are you going to audition?” I asked Elvis.
Elvis shook his head. “I don’t harbour thespian aspirations.”
“What does that even mean?” Sometimes Elvis forgets he’s talking to kids his own age.
“I simply stated that I do not wish to become an actor.”
“Right,” I said. “Me neither. Acting is so lame.” And while it was true that I would never dream of taking part in the school play, it wasn’t just lameness that was stopping me. The secret truth was that I was petrified of performing. The thought of being on stage made my stomach spin faster than a clothes dryer. The problem had started a couple of years before. I’d been chosen to present some group work to the entire school. Minutes before I was due to go on stage, Fear had arrived, with his friends Pounding Heart, Sweaty Palms and Shaky Legs. I was so convinced I’d make a gigantic fool of myself that I pretended to have a fever. One of the other kids was made to do my presentation while I waited in the sickbay for Mum to pick me up for an illness I didn’t have. Although I was ashamed of my fear, I couldn’t shake it off. I kept my secret buried so deep even Elvis didn’t know about it. And I planned to keep it that way.
“Angus will get the lead.” Elvis’s prediction interrupted my thoughts. “He’ll choose the hero role over the wimpy teacher. And his mates will score the other main roles.”
I nodded. “It’s been a done deal ever since the day his dad donated all that sound and lighting equipment to the school.”
fd“Florence will play the pretty girl they fight over,” Elvis added. “She’s by far the best actress in school. I’ve never seen her fluff a line. Florence is script-perfect.” Elvis was right. Angus and Florence would try out for the main roles. Nobody else would even bother to audition for those parts. The same thing happened every year. Elvis was also right when he said that Florence would follow the script to the letter. She’s that kind of girl. As I slid the scripts back inside the envelope, I was struck by an idea for payback. It hit me so hard, it nearly gave me concussion.
Reproduced with permission from How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot by Suzanne Main (Scholastic NZ)
Text © Suzanne Main, 2017. Illustrations by Fraser Williamson.
How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot
By Suzanne Main
Published by Scholastic NZ