The Birthday Gift

by L.M. Townsend

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Disclaimers: Although this story is told from a child's point of view, this is NOT a children's story; minimal violence; the subject matter may disturb more sensitive readers.

This is my take on old Girl Scout Camp "ghost story" told around the old campfire. Thank you to my beloved little Crow for inspiring the ending. :)

The package arrived the day of Genna's party and was placed on the table with all of her other gifts. It stood out in its plain brown wrapper amongst the brightly coloured and, for the most part, professionally wrapped presents. It sat there through Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Drop the Clothes Pin in the Jar, and a host of other silly games. Well, to Genna, they were silly.

She sat there hating life in her frilly pink party dress, a wide pink ribbon in her black hair, artificially curled and set by her mother's hair dresser just for this occasion. Genna sat there, wishing the whole ordeal was over. She didn't like most of the kids at her party. They didn't like her either, but their parents didn't know that. They wouldn't have cared if they did know it. They were busy having cocktails in Daddy's study while the maids, hired specifically for the party, watched the children. Genna's older brother, William, was in there, too. William was home from the University where he was studying law. Genna suspected he got expelled, as he had from the previous University, but she wouldn't say so; Mummy and Daddy loved William much more than they did her and they made no secret of that fact.

Genna sat on the couch, watching the games through the window. One of the maids, Sarah, came up to her. Genna actually liked Sarah. She worked full time for the family, unlike the other two whose names Genna didn't bother with since they were only here for the day. Sarah took care of Genna. She was there with milk and cookies when Genna got home from school. She helped Genna with her homework Sarah was going to school - to college, really - while she worked for Genna's Mummy and Daddy. Sarah was a much better help with homework than Mummy or Daddy, who were always too busy.

"Fetitshta - Little One, why don't you join the others?" she asked.

"I don't like those silly games," said Genna with a shrug

"Ach, Gen' - you're too serious for an eight-year old," said Sarah, shaking her head, but smiling fondly at the girl.

"I'm nine now, remember?" said Genna.

"Oh, of course - that explains it," said Sarah, taking Genna's hands and pulling her to her feet. "Did you see all your presents?"

"Yes," said Genna with a sigh. "It doesn't matter - you know Mummy will only let me choose one to keep - the rest go to charity. It's good for our family image - only no one who gives me the gifts is supposed to know that theirs is one we gave away. It really doesn't make sense."

"Well, that's alright - you have plenty of toys," said Sarah, leading the little girl to the kitchen. "Other children have none."

"Oh, I don't mind giving them away so much as I do having to pretend that every gift is so wonderful and that I'll play with it every day when I won't," said Genna, sitting at the counter to watch Sarah put candles on her big, pink, rose covered cake.

"I know the pretending is hard for you, isn't it?" said Sarah, sympathetically.

"It's just so stupid - like this dress and that cake - I hate pink!" said Genna, resting her chin in her hands.

"A little girl who doesn't like pink - imagine that," said Sarah. "Next you'll be telling me you don't like Barbie™!"

"You already know I don't!" said Genna, frowning. "And I know that at least half of those stupid presents are Barbies™."

"Well, at least you don't have to keep them," said Sarah, placing the last candle on the cake.

"True," said Genna.

Sarah carried the cake out to the table which was already set with fancy colourful paper plates, napkins, and party favour bags. Genna followed her and made to go back to sit on the couch, but Sarah took her hand and led her outside where the other children were running about, chasing balloons and screeching in delight. Sarah clapped her hands to get their attention, then finally placed two fingers between her lips and whistled loudly. The children stopped in mid-game and turned to the woman.

"It's time for the cake," she announced, putting one arm around Genna's shoulders. "And to sing 'Happy Birthday' to our birthday girl."

"I'll get Mummy and Daddy," said Genna, turning.

"No, no, Becky will get them for us," said Sarah, nodding to one of the temp maids.

Becky smiled, nodded and ran off to do the errand. Sarah led a reluctant Genna to the seat of honour at the head of the table. Becky returned with Genna's parents, who stood together in the doorway while the children sang to Genna. Mummy and Daddy continued whatever conversation they had been having in the study while the children sang. William sang, in his loud and booming voice which stood out over the children's half-hearted voices, "... You look like a monkey and you smell like one, too!"

Mummy and Daddy noticed the song was over, smiled, raised their drinks in a sort of half toast and went back to the adults in the study. Sarah saw this and frowned. She leaned down and whispered to Genna, "La multshii ani, Fetitshta - Happy Birthday, Little One."

Genna picked at the generous piece of cake on her plate. The ice cream had melted and ran into her cake, making it soggy and, to Genna, inedible. She waited patiently while the others finished their cake and ice cream and that red punch that stained everything it touched, including lips, teeth, and tongue.

"Open your presents!" the children clamoured. "Open mine first!"

Several of the colourful packages were thrust at her at once. Resigned, Genna began to tear the paper off of the gifts. She smiled, as was expected of her, and thanked each little guest. Sarah put the presents on display while one of the temp maids discreetly made a list of who gave Genna what gift so she could write her thank-you notes later.

The last gift for Genna to open was the plain brown paper-wrapped package that had been delivered that morning. The gift had waited patiently for Genna's small fingers to untie the string and rip off the paper that reminded Genna of a paper grocery bag. She opened the box and pulled out handfuls of newspaper and tissue until the gift was revealed.

Genna pulled the doll out of the box. Several of the little girls giggled behind their hands and the boys hooted and snickered.

"What is that?" asked a little girl named Megan, who lived next door and was particularly nasty to Genna at school.

"Someone's idea of a joke," said a boy named Jeff, who lived across the street.

"I like her," said Genna, gazing at the doll.

"You're warped," said Jeff, shaking his head.

The doll had long, matted blonde curls. Her blue satin dress was torn and stained. Her nose was chipped off and her porcelain face was cracked all the way down the middle, causing one of her blue eyes to remain closed, though both were made to open and close when the doll changed positions.

"Alright, Children," said Sarah, eyeing the doll. "Everyone get your party bags - your parents are ready to take you all home now."

The parents were milling about the foyer, waiting for their children to be delivered to them. A whirlwind of more giggling and shouted thank-you's from the guests and Genna's ordeal was almost over. She took the doll to her room and set her on the bed while she changed out of the hated dress and into jeans and a t-shirt, then went back downstairs. She went to her parents' study as was expected of her.

"Did you like your party, Genna?" asked Mummy.

"Yeah," said Genna, sitting on the leather sofa, careful not to put her sneakered feet on it. "Thank you."

"Have you chosen which gift to keep?" asked Daddy.

"Yes," said Genna. "I already took it upstairs."

"Good girl - now tomorrow you write your thank you notes," said Mummy, already dismissing her. "Tell Sarah to pack up the other things and distribute them appropriately."

"Yes, Mummy," said Genna, rising and starting to leave.

"Oh, and Genna?" said Daddy.

"Yes?" she asked, turning to look at him.

"You behaved very well today - I'm proud of you," he told her, already turning back to the papers on his desk. "Not like last year. We almost didn't give you a party this year after that. However, as your mother reminded me, the social contacts you make now will serve you well when you're older."

"Okay, Daddy," said Genna, remembering last year's fiasco and stifling a grin.

"Yeah, Brat," said William, nastily. "You finally learned to behave."

"That's enough William," said Mummy, smiling fondly at her eldest child.

Even William couldn't make Genna sorry for last year's party-ender. Megan, who lived next door (which made everyone think they were supposed to be best friends or something) went home wearing Genna's entire birthday cake after she made a nasty remark about Sarah. Sarah was Genna's only friend and no one, especially not that snotty Megan, was going to say mean things about her.

At last, she was free to go. She ran into the dining room to look for Sarah. Already the maids had removed all traces of the party - even the red punch stains were gone with the paper table cover.

"Where's Sarah?" Genna asked them.

Becky pointed to the kitchen, then started the vacuum. Genna went into the kitchen.

"Hi, Fetitshta," said Sarah, wrapping up the rest of the cake. "Did you want some more of this?"

"Ick, no thanks," said Genna, sitting at the table. "I was thinking about my gifts."

"Really?" said Sarah.

"Yeah - especially that doll - where do you think she came from?" asked Genna.

"I don't know," said Sarah, sitting at the table across from the little girl. "It's a mystery."

"It's probably from William - that would be his idea of a cool trick to play on me," said Genna.

"Perhaps," said Sarah, thoughtfully. "Your brother isn't very nice to you."

"He isn't nice to anyone," said Genna. "Actually, William wouldn't bother with me enough to send any gift. Still, I'm curious - it would really bug him if he did give it to me and I actually liked it."

"Well, you could ask him," said Sarah.

"I have a better idea. Where's the wrapping?" asked Genna.

"I should imagine it's in the trash," said Sarah. "Want to go check?"

"You know I do," said Genna, rising.

Sarah followed her out to the dustbin. The brown paper and newspaper were there. Genna pulled them out while Sarah reached in and grabbed the battered cardboard box.

"No return address," said Genna, stuffing the brown paper back into the dustbin. "And no postmark - how weird is that?"

"Pretty weird," Sarah agreed. "Maybe your brother brought it home with him so he wouldn't have to pay the postage."

"That actually sounds more like him," said Genna. "Sarah can you tuck me in tonight?"

"No, Baby, I have a class at six tonight," said Sarah, sadly. "Maybe your Mama ..."

"No, she won't," said Genna, resigned. "That's okay, I can do it myself."

"I know you can - next time your parents go out, I'll be here with you," said Sarah.

She knelt down and pulled the little girl to her, hugging her tightly and kissing her forehead.

"There, will that do for a good-night cuddle?" she said, smiling.

Normally, Genna was not an affectionate child, but she returned the hug.

"For now," she said, releasing Sarah. "Oh and Mummy said to tell you that you can send the presents in the hall off."

"Alright, I'll take care of it when I come in the morning," said Sarah. "I'll see you tomorrow, then, Genna."

"Okay," said Genna, turning and going into the house.

She went upstairs to examine the strange doll. Genna picked her up carefully.

"Where did you come from?" she said aloud, staring into the doll's one open eye.

She pushed the other eye open with one small finger. It fell closed again. Genna smoothed the matted hair back, then went and got a brush from her little vanity table. She brushed the doll's hair, gently, and got the matted tangles untangled, then braided it in two braids.

"There, now your hair's pretty again," said Genna. "Now for the clothes."

She went to her toy chest and rummaged around looking for a dress that would fit. She found none

"This will just have to do until tomorrow when Sarah can help me make some new clothes for you," said Genna with a sigh. "You sure are a mystery. I think I'll call you 'Agatha' after Mummy's favourite mystery writer."

The doll's closed eye opened slowly. Genna imagined that her painted lips smiled a little.

"Oh, so you like your name - I'm glad, Agatha," said the little girl. "Somehow, I'll make you look just like new again. I'm not sure just how to fix this crack, but that doesn't matter - I'll bet it's some kind of battle scar or something. Probably some kid got mad and threw you or something. I know how that is - William broke another doll of mine that way. But don't worry - I won't let him or anyone else near you."

Genna sat and read a book - aloud for Agatha's benefit - until eight-o-clock. Then she took her bath and got ready for bed without being told. When Sarah was there, Sarah always reminded her. Genna didn't need reminding, but she liked it when Sarah was there. After, Sarah would brush her long dark hair and braid it for her, then tell her stories from Romania, which is where Sarah's family came from, until Genna fell asleep. Tonight, Genna told a story to Agatha.

"Once there was girl named Vasalisa," Genna began. "And her mom gave her this doll right before she died ... "

It was a favourite story of Genna's. She always begged Sarah to tell her the story of the young girl, whose doll was a gift from her dying mother. The doll helped the girl to overcome the challenges set for her by the old crone goddess, Baba Yaga. In the end, the girl left her mean step-mother and step-sister and lived happily ever after.

"Just like Cinderella," Genna sleepily finished.

I can make your dreams come true ...

Genna's eyes snapped open. Was someone whispering to her? She sat up and looked around the dark room. It would be just like William to try and scare her like that. Stupid William - didn't he know yet that Genna didn't scare so easily? She loved thriller films and horror comics. She'd already read most of Mummy's mystery novels. Some of Sarah's fairy tales were pretty bloody, too, but after hearing them almost all her life, Genna wasn't scared of anything in the night.

She got up and snuck down to her parents' study where she stood outside the door, listening.

"It wasn't my fault, Dad," William was saying. "How was I supposed to know buying a term paper was cheating? I paid for the thing, after all - doesn't that mean I can use it?"

Genna shook her head. Even she knew that was cheating. Yep, William was home for the rest of the term until Daddy could pay his way back into that University or another. She didn't listen to anymore, though she could hear Mummy's voice, all soothing and sympathetic as she walked back down the hall and up the stairs to her room. She lay back down on the bed and closed her eyes.

She never talks that way to me, thought Genna, sadly. I wonder why she doesn't like me? I wish I had a mother who really loved me ...

I can make your wish come true ... feed me ...

Genna sat up quickly and looked around once again. Again, no one was there.

"Jeez, that was a fast dream," she said, lying back down and closing her eyes.

She was awake now, though, and would probably stay that way until Megan and Jeff's stupid dogs stopped barking at each other. Genna rolled over and bunched her pillow under head, squeezing her eyes tighter in the hopes that would make her fall asleep faster.

"I hate those dumb dogs," she muttered.

I'll take care of them for you ...

Genna sat up and looked at Agatha, sure now that was where the whispering voice was coming from.

"You can talk?" she said.

The doll's eyes were both open now even though she was lying flat, but she remained silent.

"Whoa, I must be tired; I'm imagining things," said Genna, lying down once again.

She closed her eyes and drifted off despite the barking dogs. The dogs seemed to bark louder in Genna's dreams. Weird dreams, they were, too. Genna dreamed of herself as Vasalisa, Agatha was the doll her mother gave to her. Mummy was as indifferent to Genna as ever because she was dead in the dream, just like Vasalisa's mother in the story. In her dream, the dog next door was a monster that Genna had to get past to get to Baba Yaga's house. Agatha told her to set her down in the yard and run; she would battle the monster for her. Genna did as she was told. The dog stopped barking and so Jeff's dog stopped answering it and Genna slipped deeper into sleep until morning.

She was awakened by a wailing sound coming from Megan's back yard. Genna sat up, almost knocking Agatha from her pillow. She caught the fragile doll before she fell to the floor and placed her back on the pillow before running to her window to look out. Genna saw Megan kneeling beside her fuzz mop of dog, sobbing.

"Megan, what is the matter with you?" her mother called from the house.

"Astrid's deeeaaad !" Megan wailed again.

Across the street, Jeff's dog barked loudly at the noise Megan was making. Almost, Genna could feel sorry for Megan. That is, until Megan looked up at Genna's window and glared at her.

"What are you looking at, you freak?" Megan yelled.

Genna's eyes narrowed in a frown and she stepped away from the window and went to pick up Agatha.

"Stupid Megan and her stupid dog - I'm glad it's dead!" she said, suppressing the tears which burned behind her eyes and hugging the doll to her chest. "I wish Megan were, too."

I can make your wish come true ...

Startled, Genna recognised the whispery voice from last night. She looked at the doll and noticed something different. Her hair was no longer braided, but hung in long, silky blonde curls.

"Whoa, how'd that happen?" said Genna, her eyes wide.

You fed me with your dreams ... feed me again and I will make all your dreams and wishes come true ...

Genna set the doll down on her bed and backed swiftly away from it.

"I didn't mean it!" Genna cried. "I don't really want Megan dead."

The doll remained silent. Genna ran downstairs to look for Sarah. She found the maid in the kitchen, making Genna's breakfast.

"Well, Good Morning, Fetitshta," she said with a smile. "What was all that noise next door?"

"Megan's dog died," said Genna, sitting at the table.

Somehow, with Sarah there, she didn't feel quite as scared about Agatha. In fact, with Sarah so close that Genna could smell the mingled soap and cinnamon-vanilla scents that she had associated with Sarah since she was a baby, Genna felt pretty safe. Thoughts of talking dolls and dead dogs faded from her mind as Sarah placed a warm bowl of oatmeal, with cinnamon, brown sugar and golden raisins, just like Genna liked, in front of her.

She ate her breakfast, then went upstairs while Sarah washed up the dishes before she left for her class at the University; Sarah would be back later to make dinner for the family. Genna sat in her room and stared at Agatha for a while.

"Okay - if you really can talk, talk already," she said.

The doll remained silent.

"Fine, don't," said Genna. "I'm probably crazy for thinking you did in the first place, anyway."

She went to her little desk and took out the package of thank-you notes that came with the party set and began to fill them out. Mummy would address and stamp them later. She set the list of who gave her what gift next to her and began to write. At the end of the list was Agatha.


Broken doll - ?


Genna looked at the paper and bit the end of her pencil thoughtfully. She turned and looked at the doll.

"Where did you come from?" she asked Agatha.

The doll remained silent, staring at Genna with her blue glass eyes. With a sigh, Genna turned and gathered the finished thank-you notes and took them to her mother's sitting room.

"Good girl," said Mummy, taking the little pink envelopes with the sprays of rosebuds decorating them. "Now you have the rest of the day to finish up your homework before school tomorrow."

"I already did it," said Genna. "Sarah helped me."

"Good for Sarah," said Mummy, turning back to her desk.

"Mummy, can dolls talk?" asked Genna, suddenly.

"Nowadays, they make dolls who can talk, walk and use the toilet," said Mummy.

"No, I mean, really talk," said Genna. "Like in the story about Vasalisa and Baba Yaga."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said Mummy, frowning at some papers on her desk. "Genna, Sweetie, Mummy's very busy right now - go and bother Daddy.

"Daddy went to the office to finish up some reports," said Genna.

"Then run along and play," said Mummy, exasperated.

"Okay," said Genna.

Instead, she went to Daddy's office and turned on his computer. She wasn't supposed to without permission, but Daddy always said yes unless he needed it. She signed on to the internet using Daddy's password - which she had memorised when he wasn't looking - and tried to find out about Agatha and talking dolls in general. Genna left the office door open a crack so she could hear if Daddy came home. Instead she heard Sarah and the tell-tale sound of grocery bags. Quickly, Genna signed off and turned off the computer.

She ran into the kitchen.

"Hi, Sarah," she said.

"Hi, Little One," said Sarah, smiling happily to see her. "You want to help with supper?"

"Of course - don't I always want to?" said Genna.

"Yes, you do - go ahead and wash your hands," said Sarah, emptying the bags. "Ah, ah - in the bathroom - you know better."

Genna left the kitchen sink and went to the small downstairs bathroom. Sarah had an aversion to hand-washing at the kitchen sink, though Genna didn't know why. She heard her parents arguing in the other room. Weird - how could anybody argue and still sound so polite? She didn't stay to listen, but instead ran back to the kitchen where she was allowed to wash and peel the potatoes with the special potato peeler that wouldn't cut her if she slipped. Genna knew that it took Sarah twice as long to make dinner when she helped - at least, her mother said it took her twice as long on Sarah's day off. Sarah didn't seem to mind. She'd taught Genna how to cook and to sew.

"Sarah, can you help me make new clothes for my doll?" asked Genna.

"Sure Fetitshta," she said. "Which doll?"

"My new birthday doll," said Genna.

"Of course," said Sarah, frowning.

"Sarah, do you think dolls can talk?" asked Genna, concentrating on the slippery potato in her little hands.

"Ach, Genna - you and that old story - I will have to dig up some new ones to pique your interest," said Sarah with an indulgent chuckle.

"Mummy didn't know anything about Vasalisa or her doll," said Genna.

"Your mother has a lot of important things to think about," said Sarah.

"Yeah - too bad I'm not one of them," said Genna.

"She thinks of you," said Sarah. "She loves you - she is your mama, after all."

"I don't believe that she does - nor Daddy either," said Genna, pretending not to care.

"Of course they do - maybe they just don't know how to show it," said Sarah, stopping her work to put a comforting arm around the little girl.

"I wish you were my Mummy," said Genna, quietly.

Sarah looked at her and smiled.

"That makes me feel really good, Genna, but I think it would make your mother feel bad to hear you say it," she said. "Listen, where my family came from, there's a saying - 'Be careful what you wish for ...' The idea is that not everything we wish for is as wonderful as it seems when we actually get it."

"Like that story, 'The Monkey's Paw'," said Genna, nodding. "Where the people wished for money and then their son was killed and they got the money from his life insurance?"

"What are you reading, Child?" said Sarah, shaking her head, but smiling. "That story doesn't seem like something one your age should be reading."

"It's okay - I'm in advanced literature in school - Daddy signed a permission slip for me to read it last year," said Genna.

"Okay, well, yes - just like that story," said Sarah.

"But Sarah, wishes can't really come true can they? Just like dolls can't really talk, right?" said Genna, looking up at her, her little brow pinched in worry.

"Genna, there is much magic in this world," said Sarah looking the child directly in the eye. "And I would be lying to you if I told you otherwise. Set the table for supper now."

"Okay," said Genna, now more worried than before.

She did as Sarah asked, then went up to her room and closed her door. She picked up Agatha and looked the doll in the eyes, one open and one closed. Again, she pushed them both open.

"I do not wish Megan was dead, okay? I wish Megan would be nicer to me, but I do not, not, not wish she was dead," said the little girl, intensely.

What do you wish for? said the whispery voice.

Genna stared at the doll, afraid to speak.

"I - I'll tell you later," she stammered, then set the doll down and went downstairs to supper.

The meal was suffered in uncomfortable silence, except for William's occasional attempts at lame humour - all at Genna's expense. Apparently, her parents were still arguing, but had the good manners not to do so in front of Genna. Finally her father spoke up.

"So, what did you do today, Princess?" he asked, not even looking up from his food.

"Oh, nothing," said Genna, moving the carrots around so it would look like she'd eaten them.

"Nothing? You spent the whole day doing nothing? Why didn't you go outside to play with your friends?" asked Mummy.

"What friends?" said William, laughing.

"That's enough, William," said Daddy.

"No, he's right," said Genna, quietly. "What friends?"

"Well, there's Megan Evans next door," offered her mother.

"Nah - her dog died today," said Genna.

"I heard - damnedest thing - Evans called me at the office to see if we'd heard anything last night," said Daddy.

"I heard that the dog was drained of all its blood," said William. "Bwa - ha- ha- ha - creepy stuff. Right up your alley, huh, Gen'?

"William, I hardly think Genna needs to hear such things," said Mummy.

"It's okay, Mummy. I don't mind," said Genna.

"Did you hear anything strange last night, Genna?" asked Daddy.

"Nope," said the little girl, suddenly not hungry at all. "May I please be excused?"

"Oh, dear, did William's little joke upset you?" said Mummy.

"No, I'm just full," said Genna.

"Alright, you're excused," said Mummy.

Genna picked up her plate and carried it to the kitchen where Sarah was sitting, reading one of her books while she waited for the family to finish eating.

"Why thank you, Fetitshta," said Sarah. "What, you weren't hungry?"

"Nah," said Genna. "I'm kinda tired."

Sarah reached out and touched Genna's forehead.

"You don't feel feverish," she said.

"I'm not," said Genna. "I'm just tired. Megan woke me up early with her yelling this morning."

"Yelling? You heard her all the way over here?' said Sarah, frowning.

"Well, her dog was dead - William said it was drained of all its blood," Genna said, whispering the last part.

"Ew, who would do something like that?" said Sarah, frowning in concern.

"Who ... or what," said Genna, softly.

"What do you mean, Genna?" asked Sarah.

"Oh, nothing," said Genna, wearily. "G'night, Sarah."

"Good night, Fetitshta," said Sarah, fondly. "Don't forget to take your bath and brush your teeth."

"I won't," said Genna, slowly climbing the stairs to her room.

She got ready for bed and took Agatha with her, whispering before she turned out the light.

"Please don't kill Megan."

Genna lay there for a while, listening to Jeff's dog howl.

"Probably lonely," Genna muttered meaningfully at the doll.

She fell asleep and again she dreamed. She was Vasalisa again and again the doll asked her to set her down and run. This time Jeff's blue-eyed Husky was the monster Agatha was going to fight. Genna couldn't refuse in her dream; she set Agatha down and ran from Jeff's yard, tripping over the dog's chain. Genna got up and ran home, then heard the Husky yelp once and grow silent. Genna slept more deeply until Sarah came in to wake her for school.

The little girl awoke with a start, relieved to see Agatha next to her on the pillow where she had been when Genna went to sleep the night before. She got up and began to dress.

"My goodness, Fetitshta, maybe you are ill - did you have a nosebleed in the middle of the night?" said Sarah.

"What?" said Genna, bleary-eyed from just waking up.

She saw the spot of blood on her pillow. Agatha's eyes were both closed, but opened when Sarah picked her up to change the bed. That wasn't all; Agatha's dress was no longer torn and dirty.

"Oh, Genna, I think you must have rolled over and broke your doll in your sleep," said Sarah.

"No, I didn't," said Genna, grabbing the doll away from her. "She was already broken - remember?"

"She is that doll?" said Sarah, smiling.

"Yeah," said Genna. "Sorry I snatched - that was rude."

"I'm sorry I touched your doll without asking first," said Sarah.

Sarah understood about that. Not that Genna minded Sarah touching anything of hers - Mummy and Daddy and anyone else, yes, but not Sarah.

"That's okay," said Genna.

"May I see her?' asked Sarah.

Reluctantly, Genna handed her the doll.

"You cleaned her up," said Sarah, smiling at Genna. "I'll bet she appreciates that."

"She's a doll, Sarah," said Genna. "Do you think she knows the difference?"

"Maybe - you never can tell," said Sarah, carefully handing Agatha back to Genna. "Okay," said Genna. "You'll be here when I get home from school, though, right?"

"I hope to be," said Sarah. "Now you need to hurry or you'll be late for school. My goodness - were playing outside in your pyjamas?"

Genna looked down in horror at her filthy night-shirt.

"Okay - don't worry about it - just toss it in the hamper - I'll do the laundry today," said Sarah, already stripping the bed.

Genna set Agatha on a small chair and went into the bathroom. The dream from last night came rushing back to her. Genna thought she was going to throw up. She sat on the bathroom floor, hugging her knees to her chin until Sarah called to her again.

Finally, Genna got up, dressed, and brushed her teeth and went downstairs to breakfast. William was already there, drinking coffee and smoking while he read Daddy's newspaper.

"You're not supposed to smoke," said Genna.

"Yeah? Well you're not supposed to be outside playing all night, either," said William, pointedly.

"I ... I don't know what you mean," said Genna, bending to eat her oatmeal.

"I saw you, Genna," said William, solemnly. "And I wouldn't be surprised if Jeff Chanson's dog was found dead this morning. I bet you're the one who killed Megan's dog and you liked it so much, last night you decided to kill Jeff's, too."

"Shut up, William," said Genna, quietly eating.

"Ooooh, why? Are you going to kill me next?" William said, laughingly. "They say serial killers start with animals and graduate to humans."

Genna ignored him and eventually William gave up his teasing in favour of ordering Sarah around with a list of personal tasks and errands for the day. Genna could see that Sarah was annoyed by William, but she would do as he asked rather than complain to Mummy and Daddy about their favourite child. Finally William left the table and said that he was going to Daddy's study to use the computer.

Sarah hurried Genna along, then walked her to the bus stop and waited there with her. Jeff didn't come to the bus stop that morning. Genna was finding it harder to breathe. Finally Jeff came running up just as the bus pulled over to pick up the children. Guiltily, Genna looked at him from under her bangs. His eyes were red and swollen and he kept sniffing.

"You okay, Jeff?" she asked, handing him a little package of tissue that Sarah always insisted she carry.

Jeff sniffed again and looked at Genna warily, then took the tissue.

"Yeah - I got allergies ... or something," he muttered, blowing his nose.

Genna turned away and climbed the steps to the bus. Once again, Genna sat alone all the way to school. She heard the other kids all laughing and talking with one another. She merely bent her head to her book and read all the way to school like she usually did. If she was very quiet, no one would notice her and the teasing wouldn't begin.

She rode the whole way with her eyes on the same page of her book as she listened to Jeff telling his friends about finding his dog dead this morning. Megan jumped in with her story and by the time they reached the school, the children decided that there was some kind of doggy vampire roaming their neighbourhood.

Well, at least they're blaming a dog and not a killer doll, thought Genna. Or worse, me.

The bus pulled up to the the front of the school and Genna sat there until everyone else was off. That usually prevented getting tripped up in the aisle.

"Have a good day, Genna," the bus driver told her with a sympathetic smile.

"Thanks, Mrs. Miller. You have one, too," said Genna, stepping down off the bus.

Mrs. Miller shook her head and shut the bus door before pulling away from the curb in front of the school. Genna walked to her classroom alone, just like every morning, and slipped quietly into her seat seconds before the tardy bell rang. Genna got through the spelling lesson and the grammar lesson, and finally reading. Reading was her favourite. Since Genna was in Advanced Literature, she got to go to another classroom and work one on one with Mrs. Wilson. Reading class for the other kids was only forty minutes, but Genna got a whole hour with Mrs. Wilson. She got forty-five minutes just to read and fifteen to talk to Mrs. Wilson about the book or story. That meant she missed the twenty minute first recess, but Genna didn't care - she spent all three recesses just reading a book anyway.

Today it meant that Genna also missed hearing Jeff talk about the "ghost" he'd seen in his yard last night, just before his dog died.

"There must be a dead body buried in my yard," Jeff said to a circle of listeners. "I saw the ghost dive into the ground and it was gone. Halley must've tried to dig up its grave or something and that's why it killed him. You know how he was always tryin' to dig holes all over the yard."

"Yeah? Well then why'd it kill my dog? Astrid never dug holes," said Megan.

Jeff thought on that one for a moment. He didn't like having his theory messed up with facts.

"Well, Astrid and Halley were friends - they were always talking back and forth, right? Maybe Halley told Astrid about the body," said Jeff.

"Oh, that could be," Megan said, nodding in agreement.

"Anyway, tonight I'm gonna stay up and watch for it again," said Jeff.

"Me, too," said Megan. "I want to catch whatever killed Astrid."

Genna got through the day. The fact that Jeff's dog had been killed scared her, but at least Megan was still alive. Sarah was waiting for her when she got home, grim and quiet.

"Your parents want to see you in their study," she said, though she wouldn't tell Genna why.

Genna set down her books and went to the study. She sat down on the couch, tense and worried.

"Genna, we're concerned about the dogs being killed here," said Daddy.

"Wh - I didn't have anything to with it," said Genna.

"Of course you didn't - they were drained of all their blood," said Daddy, frowning. "No little girl could manage that."

Genna breathed a sigh of relief, though she was still worried.

"Are you absolutely certain that you didn't hear anything while the dogs were being killed?" asked Daddy.

"No Daddy," said Genna, truthfully. "I would tell you if I did."

"Alright, then - go and do your homework," said Mummy, with a sigh.

It was another dismissal, one that Genna had come to recognise and usually welcome. She went to her room and pulled out her books to do her homework when her door swung open and there stood William, twirling Genna's dirt-smeared night-shirt on one finger.

"Looky-looky what I found," he sing-songed.

Genna jumped up and grabbed at the garment.

"Don't you ever knock?" said Genna, finally snagging her night-shirt away from her brother.

"Why should I?" asked William, sneering at her. "What deep dark secrets do you have, Little Sister? Are you planning more murders?"

"I wish you would just go away," said Genna, crumpling her nightshirt.

"Yeah, well keep wishing - I'm here forever," said William, smugly.

"Whatever," said Genna, sitting back down at her little desk.

Finally, William tired of teasing her and left her alone.

I can make your wish come true ... feed me ...

Genna closed her eyes, ignoring the voice and went back to her homework.

Dinner was a strained affair. Mummy and Daddy were putting their best faces on and trying to engage William in conversation about taking some time away from school to get a job. William was more interested in teasing Genna and discussing the dead dogs. When Genna could finally get away from the table, she went upstairs and got ready for bed.

"No whispering tonight, Agatha," she said, then turned off the light.

Again she dreamed. This time, William was a great big dog and Agatha said she would fight him for Genna.

Genna was awakened by bright floodlights outside of her window. She looked out and saw William in his undershorts, caught in the bright glare. Blood was smeared across his chin and at his feet lay another dead dog. Agatha lay on Genna's pillow. Her nose and fingers were no longer chipped off.

"What did you do?" asked Genna, horrified.

I made your wish come true ...

"Yeah, but I'm supposed to be careful what I wish for," said Genna, watching as the police cuffed her brother and led him to the police car.

The next day, the repercussions of her wish were made evident to Genna.

"Your father and I have pulled some strings, Genna, and we're sending you away to school," said Mummy, glaring at Daddy.

"Why?" asked Genna.

"Your brother cannot be released into our custody as long as you are in our home," said Daddy. "Some meddling social worker is worried about your being safe around him."

"Why? I'm not a dog," said Genna.

"Genna, that is very unkind," said Mummy. "Your brother needs our help and support. We can't leave him in that terrible jail. You are going away to school as soon as we can finish shopping for your uniforms and get your plane ticket - "

"Plane ticket?" said Genna. "Just where is this school?"

"In Wales," said Daddy, glaring at Mummy.

"It's a wonderful school," said Mummy. "Besides, you need a fresh start."

"Fresh start?" asked Genna, suspiciously.

"Yes, you need more friends," said Mummy. "And I'm afraid you've spoiled any chances around here for that to happen. Megan Evans says you were making fun of her yesterday morning when she found her dog dead. In light of your brother's apparent problem, this looks very bad for our family."

"Megan Evans is a damn liar," said Genna, hotly.

"Genna!" said Mummy. "I know Daddy says those words, but I don't want to hear them from you."

"Well, she is - all I did was look out the window to see why she was squealing so loud," said Genna. "I didn't say anything to her."

"You need more friends your own age, Genna," said Mummy. "You spend entirely too much time with the maid -

"She wouldn't have to if you were around more," said Daddy.

"Well, it won't matter," said Mummy, airily. "With Genna away at school, we can let Sarah go - "

Genna glared at both of her parents, then jumped to her feet.

"No!" she said. "You can't do that."

"On the contrary, we can and we will," said Daddy. "The tuition and board at that fancy school your mother chose will cost us enough without the added expense of a maid we no longer need."

"I'm not going," said Genna, startling her parents with her vehemence.

"Yes you are, Genna," said Daddy, already turning away from her in dismissal.

For once, Genna didn't want to be dismissed. Her fists clenched themselves tightly down at her sides and her face grew red, then pale.

"Oh, for heavens' sake, Genna, you are too old to hold your breath to get your way," said Mummy, also turning away in dismissal. "It's settled, the tuition check has been sent and cashed, you are going."

"They cashed the check already?" said Genna, her voice low and quiet. "So, William has nothing to do with this - you were planning this thing months ago!"

"Genna, it's such a wonderful opportunity for you," said Mummy.

"No it isn't - it's an opportunity for you," said Genna. "Why? I don't bother anyone here - why do you want to get rid of me so bad?"

"Genna, we don't want to get rid of you," said Daddy, impatiently. "We just want what's best for you."

"I won't go," said Genna, stubbornly. "And if you send me anyway, I'll ... I'll get expelled!"

"As I said, Genna, we've pulled strings ... called in some favours," said Daddy. "We will be very disappointed in you if you embarrass us by acting out."

"So?" said Genna, crossing her arms across her chest.

"So there will be repercussions," said Mummy, smiling nastily.

"What repercussions?" asked Genna.

"Reform school - lots cheaper than some fancy private girls' school," muttered Daddy.

"There's no such thing as 'reform school' anymore," said Genna.

Daddy opened the drawer of his desk and tossed several brochures to Genna. All were classfied "therapeutic" schools for "troubled" children or teens.

"Whatever the current terminology is, the schools themselves do exist," said Daddy, turning back to his work.

"This is your last chance, Genna," said Mummy. "Don't disappoint us."

Genna set her jaw. She was not going away to school, but she knew it was pointless to argue with her parents. She would have to find another way. She left them, then and went to the kitchen to talk with Sarah.

"You heard already?" she said, flopping down in a chair.

"Yes," said Sarah, quietly.

"What am I gonna do?" asked Genna.

"I don't know, Fetitshta," said Sarah, putting on her coat. "I will miss you very much."

"Aren't you coming back tomorrow?" asked Genna, panicky.

"No," said Sarah. "Your father told me that after today, I am no longer needed."

"But - but - can I come and visit you, at least?' asked Genna, trying very hard not to cry.

"From your new school so far away? That would be quite a trick," said Sarah, smiling sadly.

"Well, write to you then," said Genna. "Please, Sarah - I don't know what I'll do if I can't see or talk to you anymore."

"Maybe you will make a wish to make this all go away, eh?" said Sarah, still smiling, but she took a piece of paper and a pencil from beside the phone and jotted down her full name and address and phone number.

"Maybe I will," said Genna, thoughtfully.

She tucked the paper into her jeans pocket and hugged Sarah tightly, as if she couldn't bear to ever let go.

"Okay, Little One, I have to go now," said Sarah. "Come and see me before you fly away if you can, alright? I maybe will have a surprise for you."

"Okay," said Genna, tears streaming down her face.

Sarah left, closing the door behind her. It closed with a quiet, but final snick, and Genna walked up the stairs, her head down, her long hair hanging over her eyes. She went into her room and closed the door. Agatha still sat in the chair where Genna had left her that morning. Her bed was freshly changed and made and her nightshirt was cleaned of all the dirt from the night before.

Genna took her bath, brushed her teeth, and got into bed hours before her bedtime. She turned off the light and hugged Agatha close to her. Her door was opened and she saw Mummy looking in on her. Genna kept her eyes closed and pretended to be asleep. Mummy clicked her tongue and shook her head before closing the door again. Genna heard her walking away and sighed.

She could have at least kissed you good-night ... came a whisper near Genna's ear.

"Why?" Genna whispered back. "I don't want her to; I want Sarah."

I can make your wish come true ... feed me ...

"I - I can't do that," said Genna.

Feed me ... The whisper was more insistent.

"I can't," said Genna. "It's wrong."

I'm hungry ... feed me ... I will make your wish come true ...

Genna lay there, silent for a long time. Hours passed. She heard her parents go to bed. She waited a while longer, then arose and crept to her parents' room. Carefully, quietly, she opened the door. Mummy and Daddy were asleep. Genna walked with exaggerated quietness back to her room and got Agatha. She tucked the doll in between her parents and went back to her own bed.

She lay there, too scared to sleep for a long while. She heard Mummy groan, then sigh. Daddy coughed. Genna lay there, tense, her eyes squeezed shut until she felt the gentle movement of her bed. She opened her eyes and saw Agatha, lying on the pillow beside her. Fear froze Genna as Agatha smiled at her.

The doll's face was no longer cracked. Agatha looked brand new. The doll turned her head and smiled. Tiny fangs glinted in the dimly lit room.

"What are you?" Genna whispered, horrified.

"I'm your friend, Genna," said Agatha, her mouth moving, her voice no longer just a whisper in Genna's head. "Just like Sarah."

"Sarah!" said Genna, sitting up. "You can't hurt Sarah!"

Agatha closed her painted lips over the small fangs and closed her eyes, turning her head back away from Genna.

Genna lay awake until the sun came up. Then she got dressed and grabbed the slip of paper from her jeans pocket. Sarah didn't live too far away. If Genna started walking, she should get there before Sarah left for class that morning. She looked back at Agatha, wondering if it had all been a dream. For a moment, she considered looking in on her parents, but decided she'd rather not; no matter whether they were alive or dead, Genna had no intention of ever coming back to this house. She grabbed Agatha at the last minute, afraid of the doll might do if she wasn't watching her, and left the house.

Sarah sat at her kitchen table, waiting for a knock on her door. When it finally came, she arose and answered with a smile. She'd been expecting this since last night. There stood Genna, the doll clutched tightly in her arms. Sarah smiled in welcome.

"You've come at last," she said. "And you've brought Vrajaa."

"Her name is Agatha," said Genna. "And she kills people. I think she's a vampire."

"Don't be silly," said Sarah, taking the doll from the little girl.

She turned and placed her in an empty space on a shelf with her porcelain sisters. Twelve other beautiful dolls sat there, their eyes closed until Agatha - or Vrajaa, as Sarah had called her - joined them. They all opened their eyes and smiled, revealing tiny fangs.

"She's a magical doll - just like Vasalisa's. Didn't she make all your wishes come true?" said Sarah.

"Yes, but - you mean you gave her to me?" said Genna.

"Yes," said Sarah, turning and smiling, revealing fangs. "And now, she has given you to me. Just like we both wanted. This is what you wished for all along, no?"

Genna remained silent for a long moment, just staring at Sarah, then slowly smiled and asked, "So, Mummy, what's for dinner?"

The End

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