Disclaimer: The Doomspell Trilogy and all the characters in it belong to Cliff McNish.
It was a dreary day. Soft rays of sunlight filtered weakly through a blanket of stormy looking clouds, which spat great blobs of rain down upon the land. No one went out when this happened. Indeed, there was no point in going out, for venders never opened their stalls during a rainy day.
So why were Miss Reynard and her five year old daughter braving the weather, marching down a deserted street, heedless of the puddles that they were splashing through? Curious townsfolk peeked through windows dripping with water, and listened through mail slots if they could. They were not rewarded. A haunting, howling wind prevented them from hearing the hushed conversation Miss Reynard was obviously having with her child. Whatever was going on?
"Where are we going, mama?" Heiki asked yet again. She stared in wonder at the water, which was apparently falling from the sky. It fell everywhere- onto the already soaking dull street, sliding down foggy windowpanes, and it even made puddles in her almost silver hair, and slid down her flaming cheeks. Her mother had called it rain. An ordinary name for such a strange phenomenon.
"You will find out," her mother said rather abruptly. She, oddly enough, looked nothing like her daughter, whose silver hair and washed out blue eyes was often the centre of gossip. Her abundance of hair was covered by a mackintosh, but occasionally a stray dark lock could be seen escaping it. "You shouldn't be so impatient," she added as a reprimand.
Heiki sighed and gazed at the faces she could see hovering behind water-logged glass panes. "Is it to the bazaar?"
"The bazaar is not open today, silly girl. Look at the weather!" her mother snapped. Then, seeing Heiki open her mouth again, she said hastily, "As a matter of fact, we are going somewhere very special today. It will be a treat, just for you. You would you like that?"
Heiki's feet froze, and she stumbled as she forced them to move. A special treat, just for her! Her mother had never done anything like that before. She was speechless with excitement. All she could do was stare wide-eyed at her mother with a huge smile on her face.
"Well?" her mother asked, impatiently. "What do you think?"
Heiki thought before answering. "Mama?"
"Will there be other girls at the special place?"
"Of course, Heiki," her mother replied smoothly. "Everything that you could ever imagine will be there. Perhaps you will make a few friends."
"Oh!" Heiki gave a squeak of excitement at the prospect. She had never gotten on well with the girls at her local school. They were constantly twitting about her looks, and their relationship had become worse when Heiki had yelled to them that they stank like a camel's arse and that their parents regretted them ever being born, they were so nasty. It was something Heiki had overheard her mother say to her father once about their next door neighbours.
"Will they want to play with me?" Heiki could feel her heart leap with anticipation. "Will they be nice? Will they tease me? Will they be my age?"
"You will find out when we arrive, Heiki," her mother said, her tone holding a hint of displeasure.
Heiki ignored her, staring at the dull, dirty houses they were passing with every step. A new exhilarating feeling itched inside of her, almost overflowing. She could not stop herself from giving a little skip of excitement. When would they arrive?
Her mother glared at her what Heiki had come to term her 'Death Glare'. It was a stare that ordered Heiki to stop making a fool of herself, and start behaving, and if she didn't there would be serious consequences. The first time Heiki had receive the Death Glare, she had felt as if she were buried alive in a mountain of snow. Her legs and arms wouldn't move an inch from the spot, and that morning's breakfast had seemed to almost come up through her throat and into her mouth. She hadn't dared spew it out, in case her mother became even angrier.
Now, as her mother glared at her, Heiki did not feel chastened at all. She felt as if she were on top of the world. Nothing could bring her down, not even the Death Glare. Or the consistent drops of water being hurled at her from above. And so she stared right back at her mother, until her mother was forced to look away.
They walked the rest of the journey in silence. With every step Heiki felt a restless impatience grow in her heart. When would they get there?
Finally, as Heiki felt she could stand no more, they halted at a threadbare one story house. Above the door was a dusty sign, with a long, hard-to-read word on it. It was even harder to read when raindrops splashed onto her eyelids, blurring her vision.
"OR-PHA-NAGE," she read aloud, squinting around the raindrops. Pointing at the sign, she turned to her mother. "Mama, what is an orphanage?"
"It is a special place where little girls and boys come to for a holiday," her mother replied.
"Oh!" Heiki stared at a window near the battered door. A girl's face stared out at her, sad and ghostly looking. Heiki frowned. "They don't look very happy."
"Really?" Her mother peered absently through the window, and a tiny, secretive smile seemed to creep onto her marble face. "They look happy enough to me."
She turned to Heiki. "And you will be happy, too, Heiki. You will have everything you need here. You will want for nothing."
Questions filled Heiki's mind, but her lips seemed as if it were stuck together by sticky tape, and they refused to budge an inch. Was this the special place? This ordinary, dirty hovel with depressed, plain children in it? Heiki hoped not.
Her mother knocked crisply on the shabby, worn door. The sounds of pattering feet could be heard on a wooden floor. Seconds later the door opened and a young woman poked her head through the doorway.
"We are expected," Heiki's mother told the woman coldly. She touched Heiki's shoulder firmly with one ice cold hand, so cold that Heiki flinched. "This is Heiki."
The woman glanced at Heiki and smiled a wide smile full of warmth and vivacity. "Welcome! My name is Vera. You will be safe here." She held out a hand, and Heiki took it. It was as warm as Heiki's home was, during the frosty winter months when their fireplace was ablaze with tongues of flame.
Heiki's mother gazed at the two of them, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. It was as if a mask had been peeled off her face. Her mouth tilted slightly, but her eyes remained frosty and distant.
"I must go now. Be good Heiki," she said. Then she turned and marched as if the hounds of hell were at her heels. She did not look back, not even once.
Heiki paused for a moment, frozen with shock. Her mother was leaving her there? For one second she could barely think, her breath coming in panicked staccato gasps.
Then instinct took over. Yanking her hand from Vera's firm grasp, she began to run after the retreating figure. "Mama?" she called. "Mama, where are you going? Mama? MAMA!" Her mother kept on walking.
Suddenly warm, firm arms enveloped her. And then she was in the air, arms gluing her to Vera's chest like a brick wall. "Let's get you inside, Heiki," Vera's cheerful voice said.
"No," Heiki moaned, as Vera carried her through the pelting rain towards the door. "I want Mama. I want to go home! Let me go!" But all the kicking and struggling in the world could not free her. It was as if Vera's arms were one seamless iron wall, preventing Heiki from returning home with her mother. A boiling fury filled her heart to its brim. "Let me go!"
Vera held her tightly against her chest as Heiki kicked and shrieked and struggled. It wasn't until they were both safely within the walls of the orphanage that she gently lowered Heiki onto the dusty wooden floorboards. Heiki glared at her. "Why can't I go home?" she demanded.
"Because this is your home now, Heiki," Vera told her gently. Inwardly she searched for the words to make Heiki understand. "Your mother wanted you to have a happy future with another family, Heiki," she said. "She entrusted you to us in the hopes that you will grow into a good girl with a good future." She smiled, hoping to calm Heiki, who was trembling like a leaf in her arms. "You will be happy here. You are safe."
Heiki's eyes widened, and her trembling ceased and the truth dawned on her. Her mother was not coming back. She had meant to leave Heiki there, at the 'special place'. A deep, boiling anger brewed inside her heart. As she allowed Vera to lead her through the building, the anger and pain filled her heart and swept through her small body like a disease.
The world had forsaken her. No one cared about her. She was completely alone. The pain swelled until it became a fire of emotional agony, burning her innards.
Soft, soothing arms enveloped Heiki again. They encircled Heiki, were a balm for her agony. That was when Heiki realized. She was not alone in the world. It had not forsaken her. The rage slowly faded, leaving Heiki utterly exhausted. Vera murmured reassurances in her ear. She was going to be okay. She was safe. And for the first time, Heiki believed her.
A/N: Reviews would be very much appreciated!