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A Bit of a Sticky Wicket (2018 Flash Fiction Challenge, #2)

 

Professor Titmouse opened the door of his office after a week on holiday and braced himself for whatever might fall on his head. In thirty years of teaching he had never been able to open an office door without some kind of joke being played on him—most often the classic bucket of liquid propped on top of the door. Frankly, with a name like Thomas Titmouse he expected nothing less; especially jokes about Mrs. Tiggy-winkle and white shirt fronts. He was a mild-mannered history professor who specialized in ancient weaponry and whose classes were regularly full, with impressively long waiting lists. While on the whole his students seemed to like him, he saw the vast majority of them as immature little twits.

 

It didn’t help that he was a smallish man with a rather pointed nose and a cowlick that made his gray hair stand up straight like a bird’s crest, and that he mostly wore gray suits with crisp, white shirts that made him look remarkably like his bird namesake. Although he lodged routine complaints with Academic Dean C. Robin about the jokes and booby traps and sent increasingly urgent messages to the president of the university about the problem, no perpetrator was ever found out and punished for tormenting him. After such a long teaching career, Tom Titmouse had had his fill of jokes on his name and was sick of the mean, and sometimes destructive, boobytraps in his office.

 

When nothing happened this time, he stepped back out into the hall and looked around suspiciously while passing students looked at him curiously. He walked slowly back into the office, ducking his head in case the bucket hadn’t quite tipped far enough the first time he’d walked through the door. He felt something brush against his leg, and before he could stop his forward movement…

 

Splat!

 

Something hit him full in the face. “Cripes,” he thought angrily. “Here we go again!” He sighed and grumbled under his breath, “Well, at least it’s raspberry jam this time.”

 

He stumbled to the cupboard in the corner near his desk. He licked as much of the jam as he could from his mouth while felt around for a towel. Encountering something soft, he grabbed it and started wiping, only to find he was mopping his face with a wad of Hallowe’en cobweb fibers. Combined with the sticky jam, the fake cobwebs stuck firmly to his face and tangled themselves into his raspberry-matted hair. Turning around blindly he groped for his desk chair and, when he found it, plopped down, only to jump back up with a loud, “Ouch!”

 

Holding his behind and in mounting pain and confusion, he stumbled backward against the wheeled chair, which rolled away from him, causing him to fall to the floor. On the way down, he grabbed for the display cabinet directly behind the desk, which tipped precariously. Unable to stop his fall, he pulled the display cabinet down with him. Luckily, the glass didn’t break, but the top fell open and the contents spilled out—all thirteen stone knives, a handful of arrowheads, and seventeen of the nineteen iron knives and axe heads tumbled around him, piercing his slacks and jacket in various places and pinning him to the floor. Adding insult to considerable injury, another pot of jam had been placed on the edge of the cabinet, and its contents spilled over his face and chest.

 

Sputtering and cursing vociferously, he yanked an arm loose from its pinnings, punching himself in the face. Still blind from jam and cobweb fibers, he carefully groped around and pulled up as many of the sharp objects as he could safely touch, freeing himself enough to sit up. He stripped off his now-ruined suit jacket and used it as a towel to clean his face as best he could. At that moment, he heard a tap on his door.

 

“Yes?” Professor Titmouse barked grumpily from the floor behind his desk.

 

“Professor Titmouse, is that you?” said his confused assistant, Lucie.

 

“Yes, yes, what is it, Lucie? Have you lost something again?” he replied testily.

 

“No, sir,” Lucie said. “Well, yes actually, but that’s not why I’m here. Did you forget you had an appointment with President Henny-Penny first thing this morning?”

 

After a pregnant pause during which the professor finished freeing himself from six knives, three ax heads and a couple of arrowheads, he stood up and looked at the door. Standing in the hallway behind his assistant was the last person he wanted to see at that moment. Sally Henny-Penny always seemed fussily dressed to him but compared to his jam-covered self she looked pristine in her pure white, fluffy suit and red neck scarf.

 

Unable to meet her rather beady-eyed gaze, he glanced around the room, his eyes landing on a lovely specimen of an antique crossbow that he had discovered in a charity shop in Swindon, England on a trip he’d made the previous year. The crossbow was propped firmly on a shelf near the door, a piece of broken fishing line dangling from the trigger. Then the truth dawned on him. He knew exactly what had happened in the moments before the head of the university had showed up for their meeting.

 

In an attempt to catch a jokester, before he left on holiday he had rigged up a booby trap of his own and had forgotten until that moment that he himself had carefully set up the very ordeal he’d just been through. Unable to speak, he pulled up his desk chair and sat down, forgetting the prickly ancient weapon he’d placed there one week before.

 

“Ouch!” he cried piteously as he jumped into the air.

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