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Fiction, Short Fiction, Horror

The Imp of Grave Misfortune

Author by: Mike Johnson

Delia walked with deliberate step, hard narrow heels punctuated her movements sharply on the polished wooden floor. Rhythmic click clack echoed clearly in the small auditorium. No other sound as she approached the desk to be seated. Ah, how well she held their attention with this practiced theatrical entrance. Full seating today. All uncomfortable hard wood chairs were occupied. Twenty students waiting for her, some in fear, some with eager anticipation, all perfectly silent before she spoke. Keep them waiting. Establish absolute authority without question. Before her now, a plain wooden desk at which she would sit. An old familiar school desk. Hinged top with a cavity beneath wherein books and papers may be stored. In a wide groove before the hinged lid there lay a steel rod, thickness of a thumb perhaps. Probably eighteen inches or so in length.

Delia had found this bar at the perimeter of a small fenced construction site while walking near her home. As others passed by without interest she joyfully retrieved the bar. Here was a fine gift. An iron wand of great intimidation now lay before her. This imposing baton would command immediate attention when raised before a thankless audience. Rusty, somewhat dirty lying there in the gutter but she had cleaned the wand. Washed and dried it with care. Much too heavy for quick darting movement but bring it down swiftly across the desk top. Oh fearful sound, a pistol shot crashing and reverberating across the small room. Her wand now lay in repose, displacing writing instruments intended for the space that it now occupied.

She stood before her audience, both hands resting lightly on the desk. Thin, taught body straight, unmoving, surveying twenty faces before her with emotionless pale eyes. Dark graying hair pulled severely behind in perfect complement to the drawn angular features. No smile to disfigure those straight thin lips. No buried emotions would betray that implacable stare. Without introduction she began to speak. "You are here to learn. A simple process with a few simple rules that I will acquaint you with. I will not tolerate interruptions for any reason. There will be no questions before I have given permission to ask them. I will answer your questions but always at my discretion. Do we understand each other?" Heads nodded in agreement.

A plump middle-aged woman raised her hand. "I have just a very quick question before you begin" she said smiling hesitantly. Delia felt rage tightening her stomach, rising like a slow familiar tide. She stared at the woman for several seconds. Cold gray eyes without promise of summer, barren, with no warmth or laughter. Reaching for the baton she spoke slowly emphasizing each word with a short rap on the desktop. Her speaking cut sharply into the quiet room. Clear brittle words, cold and angry. "You are here to learn. You have little understanding because you are stupid. You are stupid because you do not listen to those who would teach you. The weight of ignorance will drag you into your grave. If you speak again you will be removed. Do you understand?" She saw Delia's balled fists and bright frozen expression. Nodding, she wiped quickly at tear filled eyes but understood nothing.

Silence again. Delia would now continue with her teaching.

"There is" she said "a foul creature that walks this earth. It lives in shadows and darkness, a monstrous thing that shuns clean light of day avoiding the company of mankind and any pleasures there to be found. This beast is an enemy to all who live in happiness. It brings misery and chaos as rich earth will bring forth a fruitful harvest." Thinking about the beast she felt anger rise again but continued unmoved. "In every place inhabited by man the creature has passed. It is known by many different names in many countries. We know this worthless goblin as the imp of grave misfortune."

Delia sat carefully behind her desk. Featureless masks of faces before her all held immobile waiting for the lesson to resume. She continued after a long unnerving silence. Dry penetrating voice sounding unnaturally loud to the listeners.

"There are some who claim to have seen this imp of grave misfortune. It is described as short in stature, heavy arms, and thickset legs. Wide, perhaps like a very large dog. Dark gray, leathery skin. No hair of any kind upon the body. At each side of a large rounded head two long pointed ears hang loosely in the manner of some animals. It has thin predatory lips, similar to a hyena. Usually it is seen crouching or sitting with humped shoulders.

"In far distant times many a likeness of this miserable wretch was carved into dense wood or stone. These blasphemous gargoyles were unwisely used to protect people from evil or to discourage enemies. In their ignorance architects placed them overlooking doorways and gates. Sometimes upon towers.

"They provided no protection but instead called to the vile creature, as a lodestone calls to iron. Never seek this daemon. Do not invoke its name in anger or even in jest. It will find those who call to it, bringing desolation and misery. Above all do..." Suddenly an unexpected interruption. An unheard of intrusion.

Brave handsome Edwin with the long fair hair rose slowly, scraping his chair as he stood. "I have seen this unpleasant thing that you speak of," he said excitedly, speaking fervently as an evangelist would. " It has dark red eyes that hurt you when you stare at it. Oh, and there is a nasty smell like rotting flesh, makes you sick when you try to breathe. I do think you are wrong about the ears though Delia. Seemed to me that its ears were wide and rather short. They stuck out from the side of its head, rather than hanging down."

Unrelenting click clack steps as Delia walked towards Edwin. Suppressed tension and fury well hidden, never noticed by those who watched her. She spoke so softly now with measured tight control. "You have seen nothing," she said "or perhaps in dreaming you thought that you did but it was decidedly not the imp of grave misfortune that you saw." Delia faced Edwin and with extended reach touched his arm lightly with her baton. "You are mistaken Edwin. You must apologize before you can be forgiven."

Edwin blinked rapidly several times, uneasy with this sudden confrontation, but bravely continued with his earnest description. "Oh no dear Delia, please don't be angry with me. I really have seen this creature. I can describe it carefully for you".

"I was sleeping. It pushed both hands through the blankets into my stomach. Horrible, horrible dirty thing. It twisted my bowels and blocked my lower intestine.

"I was taken to hospital for surgery. Couldn't work for nearly five weeks. The doctors told me they removed part of my colon to save my life."

Delia turned from Edwin, speaking to him but looking at the rest of her audience as she did so. Some of them were proud with heads uplifted, others uncomfortable with downcast eyes.

The rod of retribution weighed heavily in her hand. She fancied for a moment that she could detect the faint rusty smell of hot steel. "You are wrong Edwin" Delia replied. "Very much mistaken. So very confused." She swung about suddenly to face him again right hand raised high above her head. A graceful sweeping arc as the bar came through the air. Faded blue gray steel blur, visible for a fleeting moment before crashing into the side of Edwin's face. A thin cry of pain came sharply like a shrill scream before he dropped to his knees. The wet dull sound of the blow seemed to hang in the air for a very long time.

Delia stood above him legs apart. The baton now transferred to her left hand as the impact jarred at her wrist. "Oh so terribly wrong Edwin." she said "Behold, the very creature you claim acquaintance with now stands behind you." Many onlookers glanced quickly in the direction that Delia had indicated. There was, as expected, nothing to be seen.

Edwin, beyond all hearing was almost blinded by fresh blood in his eyes. Delia swung her iron mace again. This time the blow caught Edwin across his shoulder throwing him face down into the light polished floor.

Oh, such pretty crimson colors against the yellow hair. Red pools reflecting phantoms dancing from fluorescent lights. Delia waited for a few seconds before her jagged breathing returned to a normal predictable rhythm. Stepping back for several paces she addressed her audience. "The lesson is finished for today. Tomorrow we will discuss our families and family relationships." Again metronome footsteps in precise click clack tempo as she walked to stand by the exit doors.

One by one the patients stood then moved slowly to the exit. Some walked with purpose heads held high. Others shuffled nervously eyes downcast. Most of them glanced quickly at young Edwin lying so still on the floor. None made comment about the widening red stain or his overturned chair. Everyone in attendance spoke to Delia as they left. "Such a good lesson today." "Thank you so much, just can't wait for tomorrow". "Good job miss Delia". They moved in orderly file and were gone waiting in pale sunlight for escort to the main wing.

She walked to where Edwin lay, standing over him for a few seconds before kneeling suddenly. Kissing the back of his head tenderly she whispered, "Poor sweet child, poor confused darling boy."

Lights were shut of at the main panel. Heavy double doors closed with amplified loud scraping before a final crash as they came together and locked. Fading now, muted on the paved stone path outside. Click clack cadence. Precision steps still faintly audible in the silent room. Edwin could not stand yet. Trying to push with his right arm shot blinding shafts of pain through his body. He would just lie there until the sickness left and he felt a little better. Until he could think clearly again without pain.

Behind Edwin in the far left corner of the room was a small alcove. A necessary storage area for extra chairs, blackboards and other seldom used items. There was also a good-sized wooden packing crate and other smaller boxes. This storage place was usually hidden from view by heavy dark green drapes that reached to the floor. Perched upon the packing crate so well concealed behind the drapes, unseen and unmoving was the imp of grave misfortune.

An unclean stench slowly filtered into the auditorium. Raising its head slightly the beast wrinkled a broad flattened nose. It sniffed the air several times before catching a familiar scent of fresh blood. The loathsome creature was well pleased. It chuckled deeply with satisfaction, a terrible gurgling choking sound. Edwin fancied that he heard a noise somewhere behind him. Far out in the distance he thought but he couldn't really be sure.


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