Most little girls wish for ponies on their eighth birthdays. Angelina Abercrombie, however, was not a typical little girl. She already lived in a mansion, along with a very rich father, a very beautiful mother, a chef, a maid, and her own personal cotton-candy machine. Last year she had wished for a pony, and her father had bought her three. “Three’s company,” he’d said, and Angelina had been thrilled, until a week passed and she got bored. Angelina hated being bored, so this year, she vowed she wouldn’t waste her birthday wish on something which now sat in the stable doing nothing but munching on imported hay. She wanted more. She always wanted more.
Angelina watched Paulo the chef carefully slide eight candles into the soft, spongy, pink-frosted cake. “Make sure they stand up straight,” she hissed. “That one looks a little crooked.” With trembling fingers, Paulo tilted the candle a fraction to the left. That was better. Everything had to be perfect on Angelina’s birthday. With dismay, she noticed her father was engrossed in the business section of the newspaper again. “It’s time for my birthday cake!” she yelled, causing him to drop the paper with a start. He caught his breath and boomed his loud, fake businessman laugh. Her mother smiled her beautiful smile. Paulo gave a shivery chuckle.
“Light my candles, Paulo,” Angelina instructed. “I’ve got the perfect wish thought up, and I don’t want to waste any more time waiting on it.”
“Just like a businessman,” her father nodded approvingly, turning back to the newspaper.
Paulo was having difficulty lighting the candles. Angelina huffed impatiently. “Hurry up!”
“I am sorry, Meez Angelina,” Paulo apologized, wiping a little sweat off his brow. “It’s the candles, ma’am. They are a leetle bit old and the wicks are dusty.”
Angelina sighed. She wouldn’t throw a screaming fit at Paulo, not this time. She would just roll her eyes like she imagined a good little girl would.
Finally, the candles were lit. Eight little flames waved up at her. “Make a wish, sweetie!” her mother said.
Angelina screwed her eyes up tight. She clenched her toes. She balled her hands into fists. She took a deep breath. With every last bit of energy directed at this task, she whispered, “I wish that I’ll get everything I ever wish for.” Then, with a huge gasp, she blew the candles out.
* * *
Angelina awoke early the next morning, excitement drumming through her veins. Had it worked? She closed her eyes and murmured, “I wish that it would be sunny outside.” Then, with a pounding heart, she drew back the silk drapes which covered her window. Sunlight streamed through.
It was good. But not enough. Sunlight could have been a coincidence—she needed more proof. As she stood in front of the mirror, tying her dark curls back into her usual pigtails, she whispered, “I wish that Paulo will have a stack of chocolate chip pancakes ready to eat when I come into the kitchen.” As an afterthought, she added, “With whipped cream.”
As she peered around the kitchen door, she saw Paulo in his white apron, humming happily to himself as he fiddled with a burner on the stove. She cleared her throat loudly. Paulo froze, his singing ceased.
“Good morning, Meez,” he said quickly. “I have pree-pared a deelicious breakfast for you. Chocolate cheep pancakes. Extra whipped cream.” He pointed to the kitchen table where a steaming plate of pancakes waited for her.
“Yes!” Angelina cried. Paulo stared at her bemusedly. It was on rare occasion that Angelina didn’t berate his cooking skills.
Angelina ate her fill of pancakes happily. Her mother had left the house early, so she wouldn’t be able to irritate Angelina by counting calories. Her father had left early, so he wouldn’t irritate her by constantly yelling into his cell phone. Most importantly, Angelina now had the power to get anything she wished for. What to wish for next? As she pondered this thought, the passing figure of Bobby Fliss caught her eye through the window.
Bobby Fliss was Angelina’s next-door neighbour. He was the only other student at their school who lived in a house as big as hers. He was the only boy who wouldn’t give up his Dunkaroos when she demanded them. His family rescued stray cats that meowed loudly outside Angelina’s window and set off her allergies. These three reasons were enough to consider him her mortal enemy.
She quickly grabbed her schoolbag and rushed out the door, whispering, “I wish that Bobby Fliss will do whatever I say.”
“Hello, Bobby!” she called brightly, catching up to him on the familiar path to school.
“Uh, hi, Angelina,” Bobby replied, looking confused. He was accustomed to her yelling at him for walking too slow.
“It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it?” Angelina grinned, her dark eyes shining. “Here, Bobby, carry my bag to school.” She dumped her large, heavy bookbag into his arms.
“Okay, Angelina,” Bobby said automatically.
“It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it?” Angelina grinned, her dark eyes shining.
“Tell me that I look pretty today.”
“You look pretty today, Angelina.”
“Hah,” Angelina said triumphantly. They were nearing the school. She looked with pride at the image of Bobby hauling her bookbag, and with a sudden flash of inspiration, added, “Oh, yes, Bobby, one more thing. Get rid of all those stray cats you’ve been taking in.”
Angelina clapped with delight.
* * *
The bell rang for class to start. Ms. Mortimer rose from her desk, preparing to take attendance. Angelina found attendance incredibly boring. She needed some excitement.
She needed some servants to finish her math homework and buy her candy and tell her how wonderful and smart she was. Smirking, she slid into her seat and whispered, “I wish the whole class would fall in love with me and treat me like a princess.”
Ms. Mortimer drew out the class attendance sheet. “Angelina Abercrombie?” she began in her usual dull drone. Then, her expression changed. Her eyes widened. She readjusted her glasses and stared at the attendance sheet as if she’d never seen it before.
“Angelina Abercrombie,” she repeated, in a dazed tone, a half-smile forming on her face. “Angelina Abercrombie. Students, excuse me. I am forgetting my manners. We are, of course, in the presence of greatness.” With that, she threw aside the sheet and sunk into a low bow before Angelina’s desk.
“Angelina Abercrombie,” the class repeated in awe.
“Angelina, let me help you with your homework!” a voice exclaimed from the back of the classroom.
“Angelina, please let me buy you lunch,” Mary Scott begged, nearly in tears.
“Angelina, you’re so smart!”
“Angelina, take my wallet!”
“Angelina!” “Angelina!” “Angelina!”
* * *
Angelina left school at a quarter past three. It had been a most excellent day. She had received enough offers from students volunteering to do her homework to last until the next century. As a matter of fact, she wasn’t even assigned any homework. Ms. Mortimer had dedicated the day to discussing various aspects of Angelina in admiration (a small fight had broken out between Timmy Shaw, who admired Angelina’s nose, and Louise Parkinson, who loved Angelina’s violin skills more). It had been a bit exhausting to shake off the students, but Angelina handled it like a businessman—she told the class she was stepping out for a bathroom break and left them eagerly anticipating her return.
She entered her house with a huge smile on her face. What could she wish for next? She began to ponder this as she walked to the kitchen; however, she was immediately accosted by Paulo. “Fresh chocolate cheep pancakes for you, Meez. Extra whipped cream.”
“What is this?” Angelina screeched. “Why is there a cat in my house?”
“Oh!” Angelina stopped short. Pancakes were stacked up to the ceiling—on the kitchen table, the chairs, the counter, even in the state-of-the-art microwave. Bowls of whipped cream littered the floor. “I have been working seence this morning, Meez,” Paulo gasped, looking exhausted. He then turned back to the stove, pouring yet another spoonful of batter onto the griddle.
Recovering from this shock, Angelina began to laugh. Another wish could sort this out. Perhaps she would just have a bite of one pancake before she—
Angelina’s spine immediately stiffened. She looked towards the source of the noise. A scrawny-looking cat was in her kitchen, eagerly lapping up a bowl of whipped cream.
“What is this?” Angelina screeched. “Why is there a cat in my house?”
“Angelina!” A breathless Bobby Fliss had burst through her front door, a cat squirming under each arm. Two more were at his feet. “I had to get rid of my cats, and I thought, why not give them to you! As a present, to show my love for you!”
“No!” Angelina could already feel her eyes watering and her throat tickling. “I didn’t mean that you should—” She broke off in a coughing spasm as the cats raced past her. “Paulo! Get rid of them!” she croaked out.
“I cannot, Meez,” Paulo said tiredly. “Must make more pancakes.” He heaved a great sigh and placed another batch in the kitchen sink. Another cat raced by Angelina’s feet.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Angelina cried. “Fine. I wish that the—”
“There she is! We found her!”
Angelina’s eyes were burning. She thought, in her allergy-induced haze, that she saw a mob of people running up her driveway. Groaning, she began to rub her face, trying to remove the sticky feeling from her sinuses. When she blearily looked around, she realized there was no mob in her driveway. Rather, there was a mob entering her house.
“Angelina Abercrombie! Angelina Abercrombie!” She made out the image of her twenty-six classmates, struggling to get through the door, arms outstretched, maniacal smiles on their faces, chanting in unison. Alice Mellwick elbowing Brandon Thurnwood in the face to get closer, knocking over a vase in the process. Timmy Shaw somersaulting over Kyle Perkins, a bouquet of sad-looking dandelions clutched in one hand. Ms. Mortimer kicking the shins of her students with her shiny black heels, shouting, “Out of my way! I must see her first!”
Angelina wanted to scream, but her throat felt swollen. She squeaked out, “I wish that—” but Timmy Shaw had fallen at her feet, thrusting dandelions up at her, yelling, “Take them! Take them!” with saliva dripping down his chin like a hungry dog.
They were going to crush her. Their hands frantically reaching for her hair, her shoes, her face. Angelina’s eyes landed on the basement door. Fighting back a sneeze, she kicked off Timmy Shaw and ran.
Angelina had made it down the stairwell when she regained enough breath to gasp, “I wish that—ouch!” She felt one of her pigtails come loose from its neat elastic band, and turned around to see Olivia Plymouth holding a lock of her hair, grinning wildly and murmuring, “I’ve touched her! I’ve got a piece of her!” Shouts of rage followed from the rest of the class behind them. Their footsteps thudded heavily on the stairs, all clamouring to get down faster.
“No!” Angelina screamed, as red-hot panic took the place of the smogginess in her nostrils. They were going to trap her down here. She twisted away from an outstretched arm, tripped over a forgotten Barbie doll, and banged up against her own personal cotton-candy machine. It began to whir. With a whimper, Angelina whispered as fast as she could, “I wish that—”
* * *
Mr. and Mrs. Abercrombie arrived at home late that night. Mr. Abercrombie had taken an extended business meeting; Mrs. Abercrombie had taken an extended shopping day. Both felt satisfied with the day’s progress, but as they surveyed the foyer, their contentment soon faded.
“Why, there’s broken glass everywhere!” Mrs. Abercrombie exclaimed. “Mud! Blood! Cat hair! Is that…whipped cream?”
“My God,” Mr. Abercrombie said. “We’ve been robbed!”
“Don’t worry, Meezter Abercrombie,” came a feeble voice from the kitchen. “You haven’t been robbed. There was onlee a small mob in here a few hours ago.”
“Oh, good,” Mr. Abercrombie said. “Wait, what?”
“They went…” A long pause. “Into the basement.”
Mr. and Mrs. Abercrombie exchanged a confused look, and then, wordlessly, started for the stairs. Mrs. Abercrombie regarded a pile of ragged dandelions with disgust, careful to prevent her heels from touching the mushy stems. She followed her husband down the stairwell, only halting when she heard him exclaim, “What on earth?” Then, she peered over his shoulder to survey the scene.
Twenty-six students sat calmly on the ground, silhouetted by the dim light. Their clothing was tattered, hair askew, fresh cuts visible. An older woman was inspecting a run in her nylons. Mrs. Abercrombie squinted, trying to make out what was in each of their hands. With a sigh of relief, she realized they weren’t holding weapons. No, each child was happily immersed in munching on their own stick of a curiously red, perfectly spun cotton candy.