The Cordova Incident
by Máire Flynn
Not for the first time, Josie found herself in the principal’s office. She opened up an older yearbook and began skimming through it; this was mostly to keep her mind occupied from the hell that was breaking loose all over the high school campus. What if this is also happening outside of school as well?
“Just shut up and keep looking at the yearbook. There, look at that guy on page twenty – what a total goober!” Josie, not for the first time, wondered if anyone else had such an outspoken inner-voice.
The office was disturbingly quiet. The secretaries were out in the hall turning away students by the droves; it was obvious what their problem was. From time to time, Josie could hear the principal shouting at someone on the phone from his office – probably the superintendent. After a few more minutes of shouting, she heard the phone slam down on its receiver; another minute or so, and the principal’s door opened and out he stepped.
“Josie, get on in here.” She closed the yester-yearbook and slowly walked towards his office. She could not place a finger on it, but she was afraid of the man. She had all but laughed in his face during all the times he had doled out detentions for smoking in the girls’ restroom . . . but by the tone of his voice on the phone with whomever, gave the feeling that he was becoming a caged animal. Now she was walking into his cage, which until today had been the throne-room of public school authority. Sitting behind his desk, he had been God on earth, with the power to ruin a child’s life.
The door was slightly ajar, and an obvious odor hit her nostrils. She opened it all the way and saw him lighting a cigar. He glanced in her direction as he puffed it to fiery life; once he got it lit, he took it from his mustached mouth and said, “Close the door, would you?” She complied, in total shock. One thing that he had spent a lot of time drilling into her head was tobacco products of any sort were prohibited on school property by law. Seeing the bewildered look on her face, which had been there since Drama II, the principal said, “Smoke if you got ‘em.” Josie blinked and only stared at him, then cautiously opened her backpack and pulled out a pack of cloves. He smirked and handed her his Zippo. “You know that makes your lungs bleed, right?”
“Yes sir. It’s really terrible, and hopefully one day I will be cured from this horrible addiction.” Her tone was flat, and she had said the same words every time he had given her detention for being caught smoking. He stared at her for a second before he burst out laughing, perhaps laughing a little too hard. Josie lit her cigarette and inhaled deeply, basking in the lung-bleeding embrace of a good smoke. She closed her eyes, holding the smoke in; an inner-peace filled her as the nicotine and clove went to all the right pleasure receptors in her brain. She exhaled, and the world seemed a little less insane . . .
. . . this sense faded a little when she noticed that the principal’s gray hair had become a solid black color since the last time she saw him. Moreover, the crow’s feet around his eyes had magically vanished. Hell, he looks rather handsome now. This realization made her blush, casing her to cast her eyes to the floor. It was odd how authority figures evoked the fear that they could read a person’s mind.
“Well, I didn’t call you in here to just violate school policy, so I had better get down to tacks with you.”
“Yes, sir.” Josie said, the timidity returning. She took another grateful drag from her cigarette and awaited his next move.
“Josie . . . tell me what you think is going on here.”
“I . . . I don’t know, sir.” Before he could say another word, she continued, “It looks like everyone’s getting younger by the minute.”
He leaned forward and put his hands together, like a man praying. “Not everyone . . .” Josie blushed irrationally, and stared at her hands. “Everyone in the school . . . students, teachers, janitors, and from what I can tell, probably everyone else in the city of Cordova, are becoming younger. All of us, except for you.”
“Everyone else in the city?!” Josie had been willing to accept that everyone in the school was affected, but she had never thought beyond campus. The whole town? “What about beyond Cordova?”
“We don’t know. Maybe, but nothing has aired on television. However, I am still puzzled about you . . . why are you the only person not affected by this?”
“I don’t know! Why are you asking me?!” Josie was exasperated at first, but a mixture of irony and the effect of the cloves made her laugh a little. “Are you that surprised that I’m the odd girl out in this whole mess? I think it’s hilarious that something happens to everyone else . . . but not me. Heck, if shit were worth something, I would have been born without an asshole.” She flinched at her own choice of words, but instead of the principal yelling at her, he only leaned back in his chair and chuckled.
“No need to get upset . . . after all, I’m your princi-pal. Cordova may be going to hell in a hand-basket, but you may be the only person who got off lucky today, and besides, you might be the only person who can save us.”
“But sir, how can I save anyone? I don’t know why this is happening!”
“No, but the authorities will be getting involved soon, and they might be able to find out, with your help. You might be our only hope, to be quite frank.” The thought of being poked and prodded by doctors made Josie nauseous, but she held her ground.
“Sir, what if they don’t find an answer with me?”
“According to Mr. Donnelson,” the biology teacher, “the lab mice became newborns, but stopped rejuvenating. Same with the frogs his twelve o’clock class was scheduled to dissect.”
“So, everyone will be fine, they’ll just be babies again, right?”
“Uhm, well, that’s true . . . but I don’t think any of us want to be newborns. Can you imagine the chaos of an entire town becoming completely helpless?” Sweat was forming at his brow.
“But what about this school? Why aren’t the parents coming to pick all of us up?”
“That’s out of the question, besides, it’ll be safer if all the children stay here rather than being scattered across town.”
“Scattered? They would be with their parents!”
“I might remind you that their parents are getting younger as well.” Josie’s eyes widened with frustration.
“But their parents are still their parents. If they want to pick them up, they should have the right to!”
“That isn’t the case today. The city council is declaring a state of emergency, and the Governor will probably make the same announcement this evening. We’re not trying to be a bunch of fascists here, we’re just trying to maintain order and protection for our fellow citizens.”
Josie got up out of her seat and slung her backpack over her shoulder.
“What? Where are you going?”
“The hell out of here!” Josie’s said, her eyes blazing with anger.
“Nonsense, even if I weren’t in charge here, the police outside definitely aren’t going to let you pass.”
“And what are they going to do . . . throw me in jail?”
“Maybe worse.” Josie paused there; that was the moment when she realized that the situation was growing out of control.
“So what am I supposed to do, then?”
“Well, until the authorities get here, your job is to make sure that none of the students hurt themselves, and if enough time passes, you’ll also be taking care of the faculty when,” he paused to blush, “we will need it.”
“So, I’m in charge, huh?” Josie raised a brow at him, waiting for his answer.
“In effect, yes.”
“Well then, I suppose I have a lot of work to do.” She was about to walk out of his office when he called, “And Miss Connely, mind if I have my Zippo back?”
“Sorry, but pretty soon you’re going to be a little too young to be playing with lighters. Consider this my first order of business.” With that, Josie left the principal’s office and eventually entered the main hall of Cordova High School.
What she saw momentarily took her breath away.
The hall was completely chaotic. A nine year-old was calling out, asking if anyone had seen his missing shoe, two little boys were fighting, and there were several girls sitting on the floor sobbing. One of them was clutching a bra that had once held a no-doubt healthy pair of breasts; about all it could be used for now was a handkerchief. These were but a couple of things she noticed in a sea of children, who weren’t exactly acting like high school students. With a little bit of shock, she was surprised that a group of girls were playing Ring Around the Rosies. Their pants were in a not-so-neat pile against the wall, and their shirts were doubling as dresses, being so large on them. One of the girls stopped and blushed, and quickly bent down to pull her oversized panties back up.
Realizing that her work was going to be cut out for her, Josie pulled out another cigarette from her pack and lit it up with the principal’s Zippo. She inhaled, and her mind came back into focus. Who needs Ritalin when I have these? She smiled a little to herself.
Several of the children stopped what they were doing and stared at her in a way Josie had never seen anyone stare . . . in awe. She was the only one of them who hadn’t regressed, and not only was she presenting an air of confidence, but she was smoking!
“Excuse me young miss, but what is that in your mouth?” a voice from beside her – a woman’s voice – asked.
“A cigarette, why?”
“Smoking isn’t allowed on school property, so you had better put that out right—”
“Excuse me, but who is in charge here?” Josie turned and asked, meeting the gaze of a somewhat younger Mrs. McCrandle. By the looks of things, she had gone from being a forty-five year old bitch to a thirty-seven year old one.
“The faculty is, Miss Connely, and I’ll have you know . . .”
“Wrong!” Josie’s voice boomed. “I’m in charge now, so you had better get used to it.”
“You?” She stopped a moment to laugh condescendingly. “A sixteen year-old girl? Just because you haven’t lost your age to match your apparent maturity level, you think you’re an authority?”
“Yeah, I think I am, actually.” Josie blew smoke in the woman’s face. “These kids, you, and even those armed thugs that call themselves police officers out front, aren’t going to be in the position to do anything pretty soon but be handed out bottles. So, Mrs. McCrandle, I would be a little more respectful of the babysitter, if I were you. Especially when it comes time for your first diaper change. If I have to end up changing some eleven hundred diapers, you can bet your ass I’m going to enjoy a cigarette at least.”
Mrs. McCrandle was about to open her mouth to speak, but quickly thought better of it. What she did instead was fix Josie with an icy stare. Josie, on the other hand, took another drag from her cigarette and smiled, indifferently.
Josie looked down at the whistle in the teacher’s hand and said, “Since I’m stuck with the responsibility, I think I’ll take that.” She reached out to take the whistle, but Mrs. McCrandle jerked her hand away, fearfully. Josie only smiled. “Oh, do you want to hold onto that for a while then? I’ll just take it when it starts to become a choking hazard for a certain baby.” That got through to the old witch. She held it out and dropped it on the floor, and stalked off – probably to the faculty lounge.
“You know, those things make your lungs bleed,” a teen’s voice called from behind her. Josie spun around in surprise at the voice, and was shocked to be confronted with the sight of a teen girl, very close to her age. She was about to ask if the other girl was also immune to the “curse,” but then the truth dawned on her. The woman standing in front of her was dressed like a schoolteacher, albeit, a more liberal style. It wasn’t often that girls Josie’s age dressed like that. Moreover, the clothes appeared to be somewhat loose on the her.
“Miss Jennings?” It had to be the student teacher, but she looked so, so, different!
“Just call me Carol, it seems a little more appropriate now.” If Josie’s lower jaw could have hit the floor, she would have been clamoring to retrieve it.
“You look . . . you’re so pretty!” Josie couldn’t help it, but it was true. The shorthaired redhead must have been a heartbreaker during her teen years – she would have needed a stick to beat the boys away. No, on second thought, she was a heartbreaker again!
“Oh gee thanks, was I an old hag at twenty-five?”
“No no no! You were always beautiful . . . it’s just that you’re so young and so . . . wow.” Josie blushed a little and looked away.
Josie gathered her thoughts and handed the partially smoked cigarette to Carol, and bent down to pick up the whistle. She stood up straight, took a deep breath and blew the whistle to the extent of her lung capacity. “Alright, listen up boys and girls! Principal Hollis has placed me in charge, so you need to do exactly what I say so we can help the authorities. If we keep everything straight, the faster they’ll be able to find out what’s going on. They’re not going to let any of us leave, so you’ll just have to remain sure that your families are fine, and that this is for the benefit of all of us. Now, we need to all move out of these hallways and into some place else, like the gym. Okay? Let’s all move to the gym, then. There’s plenty of room in there and you can sit on the floor. Just whatever you do, don’t leave. Oh yeah, and if there are any other students around campus, don’t go to get them. There are plenty of faculty members who can, including myself.” Carol stood beside her during the long procession of students, and Josie was thankful of the young lady’s company – for the entire faculty seemed to have isolated themselves from the student body.
Josie and Carol were the same age now, which made her happy and sad at the same time. She had always had strong feelings for the student teacher, but could not explain why. She just knew that they were there. She felt thankful and cheated simultaneously over what made Carol so young, and would continue to regress her.
After all of the students had entered the gym, Josie asked Carol to stay with them while she went to speak to the principal. When she entered Mr. Hollis’s office, he looked up at her with weary eyes that seemed to fight the regression that was working away at him. The rest of him looked fine for a healthy man of forty-two – only he was some eight years older than his appearance.
“Mr. Hollis,” Josie began. “I’ve gathered all of the students into the gym, but Carol – I mean – Miss Jennings and I are going to search the school for any other kids, okay? I need you to go get the other faculty and move them in there is well. I don’t think they’re going take any orders from me.”
At first, she did not think he was going to answer, but finally he said, “Yes, I’ll get right on it, Miss Connely.” She watched him stand up, and decided that the man was not quite broken, and still good for his word.
Going back to the gym, Josie found Carol and tapped her on the shoulder. When the cutie turned around and smiled at her, Josie nearly melted. “Mr. Hollis is going to get the other faculty involved with keeping an eye on the kids, but you and I need to look for any children left behind.”
“Sure, great. I bet it’ll be a little more peaceful of a task.” Carol said with a quiet laugh.
When the younger – but still adult – faculty ambled through the doors with the principal behind them, Josie sighed with relief and said to Carol, “C’mon, let’s go do this.” With that, the two young girls left the gym, both of them surprisingly happy – considering the situation.
(To Be Continued…)