Cannibal Lunch Lady
by Lisa McCourt Hollar
Timmy heard his friends calling for him, their voices first angry that he was hiding from him and then worried. The same thing had happened last week when Danny hadn’t shown up for baseball practice. At first they had thought he’d ditched practice, still sulking over having to sit on the bench the last game because of the F on his math test, but then when they’d gone to look for him at home, his parents had said he’d never come home from school. That was last week and Danny hadn’t been seen since.
Timmy struggled against the ropes that tied him to the chair and tried to scream for help, but there was a gag in his mouth and all he could do was grunt. He tried to make his groans loud enough for his friends to hear, but the voices were getting further and further from the room he was in. Then he heard Mrs. Swans voice, the head cook in the school cafeteria. She’d always been stern, but for the most part Timmy had never had a problem with her, at least not until today. Principle Skinner had sent him to work in the kitchen instead of going to recess with the rest of his class. He’d forgotten his homework three days in a row.
“Maybe a little hard work will teach you not to be so forgetful,” Skinner had said, staring down at him with a huge frown. “Mrs. Swan will know what to do with you.”
It had been a long thirty minutes, and when it was over Timmy had rushed back to class, forgetting of all things his notebook. He would need it when he went home, so as soon as the last bell of the day rang he rushed straight back to the kitchen. Mrs. Swan wasn’t there and neither was his notebook.
“Maybe she put it up,” Timmy reasoned. That’s what his mother would do. But where would she have put it? Timmy began pulling out drawers, looking for his missing notebook. It had the math problems in it that he’d copied during first period. If he had to go back and ask Miss Winters to copy them again, she might send him back to Mr. Skinner. The last thing Timmy wanted was to spend another recess washing dishes.
He’d opened up all but one of the drawers, finding silver wear, cooking utensils, notepaper, but not his notebook. Then he opened the last drawer. It resembled the junk drawer his mother kept at home. There were keys, pencils, change, a few confiscated toys, his notebook and something else… Danny’s baseball cap. Danny had been wearing it the day he went missing. Timmy knew that because he’d taken it off of Danny’s head during lunch and he and Bryan Ciccone had played a game of keep-away with it…until Danny knocked over a pile of dishes, breaking them and bringing Mrs. Swan out from the kitchen.
Danny and Bryan had rushed back to their seats, leaving Danny standing in the pile of broken glass to take the tongue lashing the big woman had to offer.
“What are you doing here?”
Timmy froze, his hand on Danny’s hat. “I forgot my notebook.” Dropping the hat back in the drawer, he picked up his notebook and turned around, showing it to Mrs. Swan.
“Find something else there too?”
“No.” Timmy’s voice was shaking. He knew from the look on her face that she didn’t believe him. When she advanced on him he knew it was going to be bad. Very bad. He’d always had a problem with his bladder. His mother made him sleep with a rubber pad under his sheet. When Mrs. Swan grabbed him by the back of his collar and drug him out of the kitchen and into the utility closet he tried to scream, but instead he wet his pants.
“Look at what you did, you disgusting little thing.” Mrs. Swan sat him down on a chair, cracking the back of his head against the wall. Before he could recover she’d shoved a dirty wash rag in his mouth and wrapped duct tape around him, binding him to the chair.
“Don’t move,” she chuckled, before shutting off the lights and leaving him in the dark.
Now, as his friend’s voices began to move away he heard her voice again.
“What are you boys still doing here?”
“We’re looking for Timmy,” Bryan said. “Have you seen him?”
“I’m afraid not since he helped me with the dishes. Perhaps he’s gone on home, which is what you kids should be doing. Your parents will worry.”
“Maybe.” Bryan didn’t sound convinced.
“I’ll bet that’s what he did,” Mrs. Swan chuckled. “He really hated missing recess; he’s probably getting a head start on his homework so it doesn’t happen again.”
“I’m gonna pound him, worrying us like this.” That was David Jones. He was always pounding somebody. Timmy struggled harder, this time trying to knock the chair over. If he made a loud enough racket maybe they would hear him.
“Go on, get going,” Mrs. Swan said. “Don’t keep your parents waiting on you.”
Timmy felt the chair begin to tip. Pushing harder, he tilted to the side and then fell, hitting the floor with a loud thud. It hurt and he felt his wrist snap. Wincing against the pain, Timmy looked towards the door, hoping it would open and his friends would be there.
Outside he heard footsteps and hope soared within him. He was saved. Then the door opened and Mrs. Swan stood there shaking her head.
“What am I going to do with you?” Reaching down she straightened the chair and then pulled it out into the hall and into the kitchen. In the center of the room she’d cleared off the stainless steel counter of everything but a huge butcher’s knife. Timmy wet himself again when she took it and cut the duct tape from him. She wasn’t gentle about it and opened a gash on the side of his arm. Tears spilled from his eyes.
“Well, will you look at that?” Mrs. Swan clucked her tongue. “Now I’ve gone and scared you. Did you think I wanted to hurt you? You poor boy.”
Timmy’s heart started to slow a bit. Maybe this was all a mistake. She was just playing a practical joke on him. Trying to teach him a lesson about snooping. Now she’d let him go.”
“Were you scared,” she asked, bending over and looking him in the eyes. There was something in them that scared him. She didn’t look concerned, like his mother did when he fell off his bike. She looked like she was searching for something, but he didn’t know what. His heart started pounding again and a new fear rushed through his body. She smiled then, seeing the terror in his eyes.
“Good! I like it when you’re scared. Makes it so much better. See this?” Mrs. Swan pointed to a machine he’d never seen before. It had a grinder on one end that worked at pushing something through the other end. She smile, her grin stretching manically across her face. “It’s a meat grinder. We’re having bratwurst for lunch tomorrow. Guess who’s going to be the brat I put through the grinder?”
Timmy’s bladder was empty, but he felt his bowels loosen as the lunch lady lifted him from the chair and lift him onto the table. Then she lifted the butcher knife and the room went black.