Fiction: Helen Mihajlovic ‘The Child’s Revenge’
The Child’s Revenge
Written by: Helen Mihajlovic
Dim clouds hover over an old Victorian school building as a storm brews amid noon’s sky. Ava hides her face behind her long ebony hair, thinking she is ugly. She has a pasty complexion and her slightly protruding ears poke out from her mane. Ava always sits on her own under a willow tree; it is not often that any of the other children speak to her. She trembles when she hears a savage mocking laughter intended for her.
Her eyes flare with fear as Darvis, a tall blond boy with a malicious stare approaches.
“Ava!” he shouts.
Ava’s heart pounds.
“Why do you cover your face?” he asks in a vicious tone. “Even that huge amount of hair cannot hide your ugly face.”
Ava’s shoulders wilt. He scrutinises her from head to foot. “Doesn’t your mother buy you any new clothes?” He turns his nose up at her. “Your coat is full of holes.”
Her eyes fill with tears, she looks onto his perfectly combed golden hair, his blue fitted jacket and his shiny black shoes. Her blood quickens when he advances. Fearing he will harm her, she hastily rises to her feet, runs across the field and out of the school gate. His roaring laughter grows faint as she runs far away.
Torrents of rain flood Ava’s path and her shoes fill with water. Her hair and clothes hang from her, drenched. On the way home she passes the little cemetery filled with corroding graves. She hauls the rusty iron gate open and ventures inside. Her little feet scurry through the mud to a tombstone at the far end of the cemetery.
“Mother, I feel lost,” she says. She takes out a handkerchief from her pocket and wipes the mud from her mother’s tombstone. “All the children are laughing at the way I look.” She wipes the tears rolling down her cheeks. “They think I am ugly.” She kneels down to kiss the wet tombstone.
The steady rain beats upon Ava’s weeping face. She is suddenly startled by the sound of footsteps behind her, clumping in the mud.
“Aye, watchya doin ‘ere in this vile weather?” A tall, gaunt man holding a shovel stands over her.
Ava gasps, she looks up at the gravedigger, her head shaking in fright. Without a word she jumps to her feet and dashes home.
Water seeps from a corroded gutter, flooding the veranda of the tiny white house.
Ava skirts the puddles as she scuttles up to the front door, which is broken and loose on its hinges. She knocks, exhaling loudly as she hears the slow shuffle of frail footsteps. A woman with a fine lined face and grey hair in a bun opens the door.
Ava rubs her frozen fingertips. “Hello Grandma.”
“Ava! It is too early for school to have finished!” The old woman frowns, concern creasing her brow.
Shivering Ava walks into the house. “But Grandma, they were teasing me again.”
She takes off her wet coat, hanging it on a coat rack to dry.
“Ava, do not waste your time worrying about those stupid children.” She walks back to her wooden chair near the fireplace and picks up an unfinished tapestry. “In the two months you have lived here, you have already come home twice before school has finished!”
“I am sorry,” says Ava.
“If you promise not to come home early again,” says her grandmother. “I will look at cutting you your own key to the house.”
“I promise.” Ava approaches the fire with her hands out before her and the warmth penetrates her skin ridding the cold.
Her grandmother brings the needle up through a hole in her tapestry, a small square
landscape to match the others already lining the walls of the lounge room. “I found something. I thought you might like to have it. It belonged to your mother.”
Ava’s face grows white. “What is it?”
“I have left it in your bed chamber.”
A little smile emerges on her grandmother’s face as Ava runs out of the room.
Upon entering her chamber, Ava sees a large, exquisite book laid on the small table by her bed. Her hands tremble as she picks up the cumbersome book and places it on the edge of her bed. She puzzles over its curious title; a word she is not yet familiar with. She says each letter out loud “G-R-I-M-O-I-R-E. What does it mean?” she murmurs to herself
Gold lines frame the winged creature embossed on the book’s cover. Ava raises her crescent shaped eyebrows, looking onto its elongated tail. Her fingers delight in gliding along the soft leather bound cover and the elaborate brass metal fittings in the shape of pentacles. When she opens the book the aroma of exotic ink reaches her nostrils and she can almost taste the metallic tang from the smell. With the turning of each ivory parchment the unusual pictures tickle her senses, piquing her curiosity; the strange creatures – divine goddesses, grotesque demons and mystical hybrid animals – fascinate her.
She moistens her lower lip with the tip of her tongue, considering taking the book to school; perhaps the children will be drawn to it. She holds back tears, perhaps they will finally accept her.
The school grounds are tainted with a strange murkiness and the wind stirs the dried leaves. Ava gazes at Bethany, a tiny girl from her class, with a crimson dress and curly blonde hair as her large hazel eyes absorb a page of the grimoire with delight. The girls sit together and pore over an image of the goddess Artemis surrounded by wilderness.
As Bethany turns to the next page of the grimoire, Ava catches sight of the blinking eye of a Cyclops. She reaches across, stops Bethany from turning another page. The girls examine the image, but Ava sees nothing more than the motionless Cyclops. She bites her lip.
“Can I have a look at your book?” someone asks in a loud voice.
Ava recognises Clarinda’s haughty tone. Clarinda, with her lustrous brown plaits and her dubious smile. Ava momentarily hesitates and Bethany cowers.
“I want you to be my friend,” says Clarinda. “We can sit together in class.”
A faint blush spreads across Ava’s cheeks; she has never heard this before from anyone. She hands her the book with a smile telling of her naivety. She and Bethany watch Clarinda turn the pages of the book, flipping through the images of deadly serpents. Clarinda stops to stare at a particular serpent with a long winding tail.
“What a spectacular serpent!” says Clarinda. A fiendish look enters the girl’s eyes.
Clarinda holds the corner of the page, but she does not turn it, she tears it. A violent wind rips the page from Clarinda’s hand carrying it away.
“This was my mother’s book!” Ava yells.
Bethany scurries away in fright, but Clarinda remains. She is grinning, still holding the grimoire, amused with Ava’s sorrow. The wind turns the remaining pages.
A large shadow rises from the grimoire in the shape of a man. The shadow conceals the sun’s emitted light and all darkens. A figure stirs within the opaque darkness covered in coarse brown hair, holding a black staff in its left hand. Her blood fiercely courses through her veins; she looks into its deeply set eyes encircled by dark hollows. His yellow pupils impart a livid stare at Clarinda.
She turns to look at Clarinda’s petrified body. The demon’s black staff pierces the back of Clarinda’s dress, lifting her into the air. Her plaits sway and her legs kick; she struggles to escape. The demon hurls Clarinda into the grimoire; they both shrink and eventually disappear. The book lies on the ground.
Ava’s mouth is agape. She walks warily to the book. It is the only possession she owns that belonged to her mother; realising no one is near she grabs the book and places it quickly in her bag.
Tears incessantly fall on Ava’s pillow. Had the monster really come to life from the grimoire? What has happened to Clarinda?
She hears her grandmother’s footsteps behind the door, hastily wipes her tears and ceases her sobbing. Her grandmother knocks on the door, turns the knob, entering with a tray.
“Ava, are you alright?” she asks.
Ava’s bottom lip quivers as she tries to hold back her tears. “Yes,” she says finally.
“I have brought you a cup of milk and a piece of dark chocolate,” her grandmother says, noticing Ava’s red eyes. “Ava cease your crying; you squander your tears on people who are not deserving of them.” She places the food on the bedside table. Ava sighs.
“Are the children being cruel again?”
“Yes.” Tears flood from her eyes; she reaches for her grandmother, hugging her tightly. “I do not want to go to school anymore.”
Her grandmother gently pats Ava’s back. “Years from now you will realise, it was never you who had the flaw. Their behaviour is the flaw,” says her grandmother.
Ava cries until the light of dawn pierces her chamber.
While the sun peers through the cirrus clouds, Ava’s mind is at unease. A day does not pass that she is not taunted by the children in the yard. Ava runs through the schoolyard to her willow tree. She sits on the grass, pulls the grimoire from her bag and begins to read aloud. “The Nachtmerrie1 is the most evil creature in the grimoire. It will guard the owner of the grimoire.”
Ava starts as she feels the pain of a clout to her head. She lifts her head to meet the cold stare of burly Gilbert and she hears the loud cackle of Nicholas, his gangling friend standing near him.
“You are the girl with the funny ears,” says Gilbert. He turns to Nicholas. “Look at her ears!”
Sorrow draws Ava’s eyes shut. Nicholas nods, bursting with laughter. He looks at the grimoire on Ava’s lap. “The writing in that book looks the same as on the parchment you found in the yard yesterday,” says Nicholas to Gilbert.
Gilbert stares at the grimoire. He takes out the parchment from his pocket. Ava gasps, recognising the parchment he holds as the one torn from the grimoire by Clarinda.
“It is magic,” Gilbert boasts. “Look what I can do with it.”
A large serpent emerges from the parchment, slithering towards Ava. Her mind fills with thoughts of death; perhaps the serpent will destroy her this time, not her enemies.
“Give me that book!” demands Gilbert.
Her blood stirs, she will not let them have her mother’s book. As she keeps a firm grip on the grimoire a scorching heat spawns from its surface. Her fingertips burn with the intensifying heat and she drops the book. A scourging flame surges from within the book and an intolerable heat consumes the air. Ava struggles to breathe; she steps back when two malignant horns ascend from the page, followed by a hideous black-scaled face.
Both boys stand transfixed as the creature’s vast wings erupt from the book. It flies into the air, followed by its baneful thrashing tail. Ava covers her face with her hands. She peers between her fingers, looking onto the most magnificent creature she has ever beheld; it is gigantic in form and its black scales glisten as its wings flutter in the air. The earth shakes when its clawed feet land on the ground near her. Ava looks at the majestic dragon that stands before her. It is here to guard her; if anyone tries to harm or frighten her, it will destroy them. She has seen its image in the grimoire. It is the most evil creature in the book; it is the Nachtmerrie, her fabled protector.
Gilbert and Nicholas scramble to escape. The long tailed serpent recoils. The Nachtmerrie growls, its finned tail extends, seizing Gilbert in its coil. With one deadly breath a flame emerges from the dragon’s dreadful maw, turning Gilbert to ash. Ava’s tongue moistens her lip as she watches the dragon’s formidable nostrils inhale Gilbert’s remains. Nicholas escapes and the dragon vanishes. Ava grasps her book walking back to the wooden school doors.
As night descends Ava lays her heavy head on her pillow. She thinks of Nicholas’ escape. “Will he tell people about the grimoire?” she mutters to herself. A chill surges through her limbs.
She falls into a deep sleep. Her dream brings her to a familiar room; the chairs are torn and there is an old wooden table in the middle of the floor. A toy doll sits in a corner, it is Ava’s doll from when she was five.
“Ava,” a soft voice whispers.
Ava turns to face two warm brown eyes. “Mother.” She reaches her arms out, her limbs stiffening as she embraces her mother’s cold body. Ava lifts her head from her mother’s shoulder, looking at her pallid face. “I do not belong anywhere,” says Ava.
“You must persist,” her mother says firmly, reaching out her bony fingers to touch
Ava sighs, her mind wanders to the book. “What is the grimoire?” she asks, leaning closer to her mother, expectant.
“It is a book of magic.”
“Why did you have it?”
There is hesitation in her mother’s silence. “It was my book of witchcraft.”
Ava wakes in a sweat. She leaps up, throws the blankets from her body, wipes the perspiration from her face and she shakes her head at the notion that her mother was a witch.
The old turret casts a shadow on the children playing near the school building. Ava’s head pounds and her eyelids are heavy from a lack of sleep. She ponders last night’s dream; perhaps her mother protects Ava with her magic, even after death.
As Ava walks past the large school windows, she catches sight of her reflection.
She has not seen her reflection in days as she usually avoids mirrors they only reveal her flaws. Her breath deepens. She becomes aware that her appearance has somewhat altered; her hair no longer conceals her face but is pushed back behind her ears revealing two long narrow eyebrows and a forehead creased with anger. Though she remains a child, her expression has hardened; the once-held innocence in her eyes has disappeared.
Her blood churns when she discovers a peculiarity deep inside her eyes. She walks closer to the window, standing still in disbelief. Within the depths of her eyes she sees a monster with a disfigured head, a strange triangular face with skewed features. She closes her eyes against the horrific image and on opening them she sees nothing there. She sighs loudly. “It must have been my imagination,” she says.
She runs to the rear of the school and her head fills with thoughts of her mother.
“It is my mother’s will that the children be punished for their ill treatment of me.”
Ava murmurs to herself. She sits on the grass.
“What did you say?” asks a soft voice.
Her head turns to look upon a new girl at the school with a caring face and chestnut hair. Ava hides the grimoire, laying it under her bag behind her.
“Do you have an unkind mother?”
“No, she was very kind,” says Ava. Her voice fills with melancholy. “My mother is dead.”
“That is sad,” says the girl. “When did she die?”
“Two months ago.”
“Do you live with your father?”
“No, since my mother died my grandmother takes care of me,” says Ava. “My father left us when I was four.”
The girl catches sight of the leather bound corner of the grimoire poking out from behind Ava. “Is that your book?”
Ava hesitates. “Yes, but it is a little weird,” she says.
“I am partial to a little weird,” says the girl.
“I never show it to anyone.” Ava shakes her head; she keeps the book behind her in fear the grimoire’s creatures will harm the girl.
Both are silent. Ava feels her cheeks blush; she wishes she could say something witty to befriend this nice girl.
“My name is Carmelina,” the girl says turning her attention back to Ava. “What is your name?”
“Can I eat lunch with you, Ava?” asks Carmelina with a gentle smile.
Ava’s eyebrows rise. “Yes.”
A click-clacking sound fills Ava’s ears. As the footsteps draw closer she begins to turn her head.
“Ava!” a voice yells.
Ava’s limbs startle. She looks up at her teacher Mrs Gray, whose expression is severe.
“Come with me,” Mrs Gray orders.
She runs to her teacher. Her mind races; perhaps Nicholas has told Mrs Gray that she is to blame for the disappearance of Gilbert. Ava grows dizzy. Her palms become clammy as she follows her teacher to a little white classroom with wooden desks and long windows that overlook the schoolyard.
“Ava,” says Mrs Gray.
Ava’s heart pounds while she waits to hear her fate.
“Your school-work has deteriorated in the last few weeks,” says Mrs Gray. “I am taking into consideration that your mother has recently passed away.”
Ava’s eyes cast to the ground.
“I would recommend you do some more reading,” says Mrs Gray. “Our school library is full of good books.”
Ava’s heart sinks at the mention of a book, as she remembers she has left the grimoire near her bag. She looks outside the school window and sees Carmelina is still there.
“The library has books on every topic imaginable” continues Mrs Gray.
Ava’s forehead drips with perspiration while she watches Carmelina sitting beside the grimoire eating her lunch.
“Ava,” says Mrs Gray, hardening her voice.
Wiping her perspiring brow, Ava looks at her teacher.
“I know this is a hard time for you,” says Mrs Gray. “We will support you as best as we can.”
Turning to the window Ava sees the grimoire open on its own, emitting a roseate light.
“I best not keep you from your lunchtime,” Mrs Gray smiles. “Off you go then.”
Ava politely bows her head, rushes out of the classroom and when she reaches the hall she begins to run.
Across the field, Ava can see Carmelina approaching the book. “No Carmelina!
Please do not touch it!” she shouts.
But she is too far away and Carmelina does not hear her. When Ava sees
Carmelina pick up the book she tries to run faster.
As Ava runs towards her, she hears the flapping of wings approaching from the roseate light. Ava stands still, watching two enormous Persian green eyes and golden claws emerge. A hooked golden beak and a bright lilac nape precede mammoth turquoise wings and a vivid ruby tail lashes from side to side. Ava is amazed by the myriad of colour. She holds her breath as the bird, twice the size of any other she has ever seen, opens its golden beak singing a harmonious tune to Carmelina’s kind heart. Ava turns to look onto Carmelina’s broad smile.
“I have found a true friend,” Ava smiles.
The grimoire is bathed in candlelight. Ava bites into a piece of dark chocolate while she lies in bed reading. She turns the page to see an image of a monster’s disfigured face staring back at her with its skewed eyes, akin to that which she saw in her reflection. She reads out loud: “An ancient sorceress who can only be seen in the eyes of a child witch in possession of immense power.” Ava drops the book. “It is not true.” She feels the blood drain from her face. “It is my mother’s powers that control the book and she chooses to use the power against the children!” Her ears perk up when she hears a loud knock on the front door and her grandmother shuffling down the hall to answer it.
“What can I do for you officer?” She can hear a tremble in her grandmother’s voice.
Ava’s heart pounds so hard that she imagines it exploding from her chest. “The police officer has come to imprison me,” she whispers to herself. She leans her head closer to the door, continuing to listen.
“A young boy of twelve has been missing for a full forty-eight hours. He was last spotted with a friend, another boy from the school,” the officer says. “The friend has informed his parents that the missing boy, Gilbert, was last seen with your granddaughter.”
“Ava!” her grandmother calls.
Ava is light-headed, her limbs tremble; she pulls at her hair, covering her face with it. She climbs out of her bed, listening while walking to the bedchamber doorway.
“Gilbert’s friend had a psychotic episode, with constant rambling about a dragon.”
“Dragons and monsters! A load of rubbish,” says her grandmother with an irritated tone.
Ava’s stomach turns she is overcome by nausea. Her tiny body stiffens as she slowly walks to the lounge room where the police officer stands questioning her grandmother. Her hair covers her face and she keeps her head lowered.
“Ava,” says her grandmother. “There is a boy missing from your school.”
“His name is Gilbert, a burly boy.” The officer glances at Ava’s wilting stance.
“Ava, do you know him?” asks her grandmother.
Ava feels like vomiting her entire supper on both of them. “No,” she says softly.
“Madam, sorry to have bothered you.” The officer heads for the door. “Good evening.”
“Good evening.” Ava’s grandmother closes the door after him.
Taking a deep breath Ava feels her heart rate return to normal. Her grandmother turns to Ava, a knowing look fills her eyes, followed by a mischievous wink. Ava’s jaw drops; Grandma knows.
A bell’s clanging echoes in the schoolyard summoning the children to class. Ava looks at the other children while they run inside in twos and threes. She sighs when thinking of her friend Carmelina, who has been ill for the past few days. Ava finds herself sitting on her own again.
As she places the grimoire into her school bag she hears a cruel and familiar laugh.
She gulps as Darvis, the boy with the perfectly combed blond hair, stands in front of her, in his new brown fitted jacket and shiny black shoes. His nose creases as he looks at Ava’s clothes. “Your mother still hasn’t bought you any new clothes. You wear the same old coat every day.”
“I have no mother. She is dead.”
“You have no one to love you.” His voice is heartless.
“I hope to find love.”
“A friend’s love.”
“You are too ugly.” His tone is monstrous. “No one could ever love you,” he says with a grin.
Her mind fills with thoughts of malice. She thinks of the book in her bag, perhaps it could help her. Ava’s limbs jolt when she hears a thunderous sound from her bag, which has begun to tremble.
Darvis leans closer to the bag. As Ava opens her shaking bag, she realises it is the grimoire that shakes. The book soars out of the bag and falls to the ground. Darvis snatches the book from the ground.
“What is this?” he asks with a smirk.
A gleam of pleasure emerges in Ava’s eyes as she watches Darvis gasp with terror when he opens the book. A long pale arm ascends from the page, followed by a gaunt face with sunken cheeks and very long wiry white hair. The ghostly figure grabs Darvis’ blond hair, pulling him into the book. Ava’s lips curl into a smile as she watches them both vanish. Darvis did not even have a chance to scream.
Ava bows her head in deep thought of the malice she bears towards the children who bully her and its connection to the grimoire. At that moment Ava becomes aware that it is not the book that is malevolent and it is not her mother who controls the magic of the book beyond the grave; her mother never caused any harm to any person. It is the owner of the book who controls the magic. Ava lifts her head, realising the book is controlled by the darkest desires of her soul.
To my beloved brother Bill and to all the children who were teased at school.
© 2015 Helen Mihajlovic
Hmm, reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale…loved it!
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