he headteacher was speaking to the weekly assembly at Katie’s School.
“This will be an important day. It will be a proud moment for the school. The parents, teachers, the school governors, and, ah, yes, the children have all worked hard for this moment. It will be a crowning achievement.”
Everyone was bored because Mrs. Hepworth had been banging on about this for weeks. She was talking about the new swimming pool. The school had spent a year raising the money to pay for it, and the builders had been at work for another year. The extension that housed the pool was to be named the Hepworth Centre, and there was a to be a glittery, star-studded official opening at the end of the week. Eddy O’Neil, a parent who worked in a bank and had pots of money, had paid at least half the cost of the building works. His lovely niece, Tania O’Neil, was going to snip the ribbon. She played a junior doctor in a TV soap about a hospital. The school’s best swimmers were going to put on a display of synchronised swimming. Katie’s friend Isis was captain of swimming, and Katie’s worst enemy Samantha was also on the team. But Katie had no special part to play. Witches are a bit like cats, they don’t really like getting into the water unless they absolutely have too. A shower is fine. A bath is a bit iffy. Swimming is difficult for them. Witches don’t like to get water in their ears you see, as it can make their magic powers go a bit wobbly.
The builders were working on the new pool building right up to the last minute.
Now I don’t know if there have ever had any builders in your house. If there have, you’ll probably know that they can make a lot of dust, mess and noise. Also, if there is anything that can go wrong, it probably will. Quite often, when you think you’ve said goodbye to your builders for the last time, you will go back into your house and something will start to crack, or fall down, or spring a leak. And then they will be back banging away and making dust and mess all over again.
The school builders were different. They worked for Eddie O Neil’s brother, who was in the construction business, and they knew they had to do a good job. Unfortunately, in the last week, the chief plumber went on holiday, and they had to call in another fellow to finish the job. He was not quite sure which pipe was meant to be fixed to which drain, but he gave it his best guess and fixed them anyway.
It was the day before the grand opening. School had finished, and Isis, Samantha and the syncranised swimming team were set to try out the pool for the very first time. Previously they had been training in the public swimming baths. Samantha was the first to come out of the changing rooms and trot out onto the edge of the pool.
‘URGGGGGGGGGGG!’ she screamd. “It’s DIS-GUST-ING..’”
“What an Earth is it?” asked Isis as she hurried out to join her. And then
“EEEEE YUK it’s horrid it’s OH FULL ON !!!!!!!!!”
Needless to say the plumber had got his pipes and his drains mixed up rather badly.
This was, quite possibly, the worst moment in Mrs. Hepworth’s entire career in teaching. The school secretary had to spend the whole evening ringing governors, dignatories, benefactors, parents, and the soap star’s agent telling them that the whole thing was posptponed due to unforeseen circumstances.
It was a bad day too for the syncronised swimming team. Tania O Neil was going to shake all their hands and give them medals. A TV crew was coming from the local news programme. They were going to be famous for at least fifteen seconds. Now that was all off.
Samantha was particularly cross. She rang up Isabelle and said : “I bet I know what happened. That little witch Katie put a bad spell on the pool becasue she hates swimming. She’s always doing mean things like that but she gets away with it because not everyone believes in magic these days.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” said Isabelle. “It’s the only possible explanation.”
And that’s how rumours get started. Soon the whole school was talking about how Katie had had put a pooh spell on the pool.
“Yes,” said Jay, “Now you come to mention it, it all makes perfect sense, Katie did it.”
“Who else could have done it? It must have been Katie,” said Glenda.
“I can just imagine Katie doing a thing like that,” said Norma
“I always suspected that she was a bad witch,” said Oscar’s mum.
“Well I don’t believe a word of it,” said Isis firmly.
Naturally Katie knew that people were talking about her. She could tell by the way people were glancing at her across the playground. Besides, Isis told her about the rumours. She said to her best friend:
“Just so that I really really know, tell me that you didn’t do it,”
“What are you saying?” exclaimed Katie. “Surely you don’t believe anything like that?”
“No of course not. I’ve been tellling everyone to stop spreading dirty rumours about you. I just wanted to hear you say it yourself.”
But Katie was very upset. That evening she asked her mother :
“Why do people believe such silly rumours?”
“I’m afraid,” said her mum, “that an accusation has a special power. It’s a kind of bad magic that some ordinary people have. As soon as they say you did something, it’s alsmost as if you really did it. Mud sticks, as they say.”
“Oh I see,” said Katie, “But is there an innocent spell that can unstick mud?”
“If there was,” replied her mother with a sigh, “that would have saved witches a lot of trouble down through the ages. One of the worst things they used to do was to push witches into the water. If they drowned they said that was ok, they weren’t a witch, but if they swam they said they did bad magic and they were punished anyway. They just couldn’t win either way. But those days are long gone. I expect this will soon all blow over. If things don’t calm down I’ll ring the head teacher. But let’s just see if people find something else to gossip about soon. I expect they will.”
But they didn’t. Not yet anyway.
Samantha started to read up about witches on the internet, and she said that there were two types. She reckoned that Katie and her mother prentended to be Natural witches, mainly interested in things like herbal teas and charms to make colds go away. They were in touch with folk traditions and laws of nature that had been overlooked by scientists. But there were also evil creatures called Devil Witches who used unnatural magic to do evil in the world and break the laws of the universe. According to Samantha, she had proof that Katie was Devil Witch, and soon the whole school would see that it was true.
The rumours even reached the teachers. Of course, most of them were too sensible to believe such a silly idea. Mr. Smart the Biology teacher said it was dangerous that the children were accusing Katie of using bad magic, and they should put a stop to it before there was a full on witch hunt. It was an extreme form of bullying and had to be dealt. But Mrs. Hepworth wanted to talk to Katie first, just be absolutely certain of the truth.
“I do not doubt that it is bullying,” she said, “But it is often the case that the victim is the one who is really to blame.”
“Where does it say that in the scool anti-bulying policy?” asked Miss Vile, who was strict with the children, but who did have a strong sense of justice.
“It doesn’t,” said Mrs. Hepworth, “But the shcool policies are written by the Governors who know absolutely nothing about education.”
And so Katie was summoned to the Head Teacher’s study.
“Katie,” said Mrs. Hepworth sternly, “This is a matter of the utmost seriousness. You must tell me the truth. Have you committed a maleficium?”
“a male-what-eum?” asked Katie.
“I think you know what it means only too well,” said Mrs. Hepworth, “It is a bad spell.”
“There was no bad spell,” said Katie, “There was a bad plumber, that’s all. Why don’t you haul him in here and ask him if he did a male-whats-it in the pool?”
“Katie!” said Mrs. Hepworth – but Katie had already stood up and was heading for the door. “Katie!” called out the head teacher. “I’m sorry!” And Katie stopped and looked round. It was probaby the first time in history that any teacher the school, let alone the head, had said that word. “It’s ok,” said Katie. “You’re just doing your job,” and she went back to her class still feeling upset, but before she went through the door she made sure that there were no tears in her eye.
Of course Mrs. Hepworth did speak to the main plumber who had returned from his holiday. The problem, though rather spectacular in its effect, was not that hard to fix, and soon the pool was full of clean blue chlorinated water without anything horrible in it at all. Health and Safety from the local council passed it as fit for use. They set a new day for the opening.
In the meantime, Katie’s class even had their first swimming lessonin the new pool. Katie had to wear wax earplugs to stop water getting in her ear, which made it hard to hear what the teacher was saying but she managed more or less to hold the polystarene float out in front of her and kick her way up and down the lane. She hated it, but she knew that everyone has to learn how to swim.
Afterwards, in the changing rooms, Isabelle said “Hey Katie I’ve found out the true story of what happened in the pool. It was a lot of rot what people were saying about you.’
“Oh I’m glad you think so now,” said Katie relieved.
“Yes,” said Isobelle, “Pop out to the poolside for a moment and I will show you.” Of course nobody was allowed to go out to the pool without a teacher there. They were both nearly dressed and it was time to go home. All the same, Katie was burning with curiosity. She really wanted everyone to know that it wasn’t her that did the bad thing, and if there was solid proof – well she would like to see it. In fact, she had to see it. And so while the teacher was looking the other way, she followed Isobelle back out onto the the poolside. They walked up to the deep end.
“Just look!” said Isobelle pointing into the water. Katie looked. And then oh, somebody pushed her. It was Samantha.
Katie was in the water. Her clothes were drenched and heavy. She kicked and waved her arms around, but it was hard to stay aflaod. She gluped down a whole load of water. It tasted of chlorene.
“Hey Katie, if you are a witch, why don’t you fly out of there?’called out Samantha.
“Help I’ll drown!” she called back.
But then – Swoosh – Isis dived into the pool. She had her uniform on too, but she was a strong enough swimmer to get swiftly over to Katie and pull her to the side. A bedraggled Katie heaved herself up the steps.
“You needn’t have bothered,” said Isobelle, “We were going to throw the life ring to anyway. You don’t think we would have let her drown do you?”
“I don’t know what I think,” said Isis, “But what you did was incredibly stupid and dangerous and mean and cruel. I’m goimg to tell Mrs. Hepworth what happened you you’ll both get expelled.”
“No don’t,” said Katie. “I dont want to get anyone expelled. if you do they’ll have to stop the opening ceremony again. People will say that the pool’s got a curse on it or something. And besides, we’ll all get into trouble for sneaking out here when we are not supposed to. The pool’s out of bound when there’s not a lesson on.”
“Well at least we learned one thing,” said Samantha, “Katie’s a useless witch our she would have saved heself.”
Katie could have explained that witches’s are earth and fire. Water belongs to mermaids. But was the point? It was all way out the mental grasp of these two silly girls.
“Just never do anything dangerous again,” said Isis, “Or you really will be in trouble.”
And so poor Katie had to put her coat on over her wet clothes and hope that nobody noticed she was dripping on the way out. But I’m gld to say that there were no more rumours after that about Katie putting a bad spell on the pool.