by Alan G. Pittman
John Daniels had banged his head during morning break, after being pushed over by Sammy Simms. This had led to half an hour sat with the school nurse, Mrs Salisbury. She was noted only for her ability with an ice-pack. Having reassured herself that John’s head was not going to fall off and that the chance of a lawsuit against the school was minimal, she sent him back to lessons.
It was on entering Mr Henderson’s geography class that John received his first shock of the day: imps. That was the only way he could describe the small red creatures he saw. He stopped in the classroom doorway and stared at the small creatures. One was on the desk of Sammy Simms, the class bully. Peter Hibbs had one perched on his left shoulder and Jason Devine had one on his head.
These were definitely imps of the classical kind; they were about six inches tall, with red skin, goats’ back legs, hooves and bat-like wings almost as large as their bodies. The horns on the head of Sammy Simms’ imp were quite impressive, unlike the small, stubby specimens of the other two.
Sammy Simms’ imp hopped onto the boy’s shoulder and whispered something into his ear. The large, red-haired boy pulled a wad of chewing gum from his mouth, placed it on his ruler and catapulted it across the room towards John.
“John,” Mr Henderson’s voice broke into his thoughts, “I’m glad to see you’ve survived your ordeal-by-school-nurse.” He chuckled at the humour that totally failed to get a response from his class. He stared at John, concerned, “You are all right, aren’t you?”
“Yes sir,” muttered John, feeling that any mention of seeing imps would make everyone think he’d gone off his head. In fact, he wondered if he had. It must be the knock on his head causing this, he thought.
John headed towards his seat, unable to take his eyes from Sammy Simms’ imp. It jumped down onto the boy’s desk, staring back at John as he walked into the classroom. The creature moved around to keep him in sight as he went to his desk. John was forced to take his eyes off the creature to avoid having to walk backwards to his desk, behind and to the left of Sammy.
Mr Henderson had continued his lesson. “The natural action of the water, as it runs down through the newly created valley...”
Sammy Simms’ imp jumped back onto the boy’s shoulder, pulled its mouth out at each side with its fingers and waggled an exceedingly long tongue at John. As he blinked in surprise, the creature jumped up and down in glee, obviously excited at confirmation that John could see it. It spun around and jiggled its bottom at him, its pointed tail making corkscrew patterns in the air.
John tore his eyes away from the small creature and tried to ignore it. Obviously, it was a figment of his imagination and perhaps, in time, it would just disappear.
However, his attempts to focus on the geography lesson were in vain. A small red movement on the adjacent desk caught his eye. Jennifer Johnson, sitting next to him, also had one of the creatures. This one was nowhere near the size of the one Sammy Simms had, with hardly any horns at all. John thought he must have been getting worse instead of better.
“Mr Daniels,” Mr Henderson called across the room, “I’m sure we would all appreciate it if you could join us in spirit, as well as in body.”
This was the usual line from Mr Henderson, but it was unusual for John to be on the receiving end. He found geography fascinating and Mr Henderson knew this. He always paid attention, was always on time and always did his homework. John blushed as everyone looked round at him.
“Sorry sir,” John muttered his apology.
From the corner of his eye, John noticed that Jennifer’s imp was now whispering in her ear. In response, she started to sharpen her pencil.
After a few more minutes of Mr Henderson’s description of river erosion, Jennifer’s imp looked at John then whispered to her once more. She turned and poked her tongue out at John, a growing mound of pencil shavings on her desk. Oblivious, Mr Henderson was busy drawing a large diagram on the whiteboard.
Jennifer tested the fine point she had put on her pencil and seemed satisfied. Looking briefly at John, she then reached across and stabbed him in the arm with her newly created weapon.
“Hey!” John cried, clutching his arm.
“Mr Daniels,” Mr Henderson said angrily from the front of the class, “I don’t know what has got into you today. Will you please stop the interruptions so that we can get on with this.”
“But...” John started to protest.
“You have an explanation for your outburst, perhaps?” the teacher asked.
John realised that every one of the pupils had turned to stare at him. Jennifer and the Simms gang looked threatening. “No sir,” he muttered, “sorry sir.”
Still looking annoyed, Mr Henderson continued with his diagram.
The imps of the Simms gang were all busy whispering instructions to their owners. John noticed that they were all slowly tearing strips of paper from their exercise books and rolling them into tight little balls.
John rubbed his eyes in the hope that it would somehow make the small creatures vanish. Hopefully, he slowly looked up. Sammy Simms’ imp waved its backside at him once more. He tried rubbing his eyes again.
“... and as you can see from the diagram, the flow of the river causes erosion on the outside of the bend...” droned Mr Henderson.
This time, as John looked up, a small storm of paper balls hit him in the face, flicked with well-practised aim from the Simms gang. John tried to duck behind his desk, causing it to scrape noisily forwards.
“Mr Daniels!” the teacher exclaimed. “I really don’t know what’s got into you today. This is an important subject you’ll need for your exams, and I would have thought that you of all people would have understood...”
John noted that, predictably, by the time Mr Henderson had turned round to deliver his lecture, the three boys of the Simms gang were innocently facing the front of the class. Their imps were bouncing up and down with joy, gesturing wildly and making faces at John. He found it very hard to ignore them.
“...are you even listening to me, Mr Daniels?” Mr Henderson’s voice suddenly broke into John’s thoughts.
“Sorry sir.” John muttered.
“And look at the mess around your desk,” Mr Henderson added. “I just can’t imagine what on earth you’ve been doing.”
John looked around. On his desk and on the floor around it was a collection of paper balls and a mess of pencil shavings. Jennifer’s imp blew a raspberry at him.
“Sir, I didn’t...”
“How did all that mess get there then, Mr Daniels?” the teacher asked. “I suppose it appeared by magic. It’s a good job you’re the only one making such a mess, or we’d struggle to get in and out of the classroom.”
“But sir...” John tried again to explain, irritated that his teacher would not listen to him. Out of the corner of his eye, John noticed Sammy Simms’ imp was whispering to its owner again.
“There are no buts, Mr Daniels,” Mr Henderson interrupted. “You’ll stay in at break and clean up your mess. I don’t expect any more interruptions from you today.” Mr Henderson turned back to his diagram. “The erosion this causes will gradually move this side of the river...”
John noticed that Jennifer’s imp was whispering furiously into her ear. She started to draw something on a scrap of paper. Sammy Simms turned and gave John a particularly rude gesture. John felt that he was obviously the Simms gang’s newest victim, but decided that the prospect of what they might do to him outside the classroom was minor compared to the madness he was suffering. He just wanted the day to end. Perhaps he would wake up and find this had just been a bad dream.
Peter Hibbs’ imp was now whispering away in its owner’s ear. Jennifer had screwed up the drawing she had just completed and tossed it under the front of John’s desk. She looked at him, gave a nasty grin and poked her tongue out.
He realised that the piece of paper could only be something else designed to get him into trouble. He reached out a foot to try and drag the paper to a position he could reach, but only succeeded in pushing it further away. Sliding down on his chair, he stretched out his leg and just managed to trap the paper under his shoe.
At that moment, Peter Hibbs tossed his ruler onto John’s desk, where it landed with a loud clatter. John looked up, startled.
“Mr Daniels!” Mr Henderson had turned his attention on John again. “Just what is it you think you’re doing?”
“But Mr Henderson...” John protested.
“I really have had enough of your interruptions.” Mr Henderson now walked over to John’s desk, “This is most unlike you.”
John noticed that the imps were all bouncing with joy. Sammy Simms gave his colleague a thumbs-up for a piece of mischief well done.
“But?” the teacher interrupted. “Goats butt, Mr Daniels, people speak.”
“You, Mr Daniels, seem determined to get yourself into trouble today,” Mr Henderson interrupted again, “and I must say you’re doing a very good job of it. Now sit up properly.”
John reluctantly did as he was instructed, but tried to keep the piece of paper under his foot as he dragged it back under the desk. He tried to explain again. “Mr Henderson...”
“Mr Daniels,” the teacher continued, “if you’ll just hand me the piece of paper you are so desperately trying to conceal?”
Annoyed at being trapped, John retrieved the piece of paper and handed it to his teacher. He dreaded to think what might be on there.
Mr Henderson carefully smoothed out the paper, “Now we’ll see what is more important to you than my lesson.” He looked down at the paper and stopped, his mouth forming a thin line and his eyes narrowing.
“Mr Henderson, I didn’t...” John tried to explain.
“No, you probably didn’t expect me to see this, did you?” Mr Henderson’s manner was now cold, “and I must say I didn’t realise what a cartoonist you are, Mr Daniels.”
“But I didn’t...”
“Although I find your sense of humour a trifle tasteless.”
John was once again irritated by his teacher’s interruptions, “But sir...”
“In fact, Mr Daniels, I must admit to being rather disgusted by this little offering.” The teacher waved the paper in front of John’s face, too fast for him to see what Jennifer had drawn.
“Sir...” John said, more forcefully now, becoming more annoyed by Mr Henderson’s interruptions.
“It is quite obvious that you need some more discipline,” Mr Henderson said, “and having seen this,” he waved the piece of paper again, “I think I’ll let Mrs Hancock deal with you. Go and wait for me outside her office.
So that was it, thought John. Mrs Hancock was the Headmistress. He would have to try and explain all this to her. It would have been better if Mr Henderson had just given him a detention.
The Simms gang and Jennifer were obviously enjoying John’s discomfort. Their imps were hopping up and down in delight, making faces and rude gestures.
John, embarrassed and angry, shoveled his belongings into his bag and headed out of the classroom. He heard Sammy Simms laughing as he went.
“Mr Simms,” he heard the teacher say as he left the room, “you aren’t exactly a saint either. If I didn’t know better I would think that Mr Daniels had been taking lessons from you. Now, while I’m sorting this out, I want you all to turn to chapter three...”
The door closed behind John and he stomped slowly down the corridor towards the Headmistress’s office. He wondered how this could have happened. One knock on the head and he was going mad. Seeing small red devils was not something he could tell anyone without them locking him up in a loony bin.
Then the kids with imps had got him into trouble. He swore to himself that he would get them back for this. John was fed up with being a victim to those bullies. It was time to stand up to them. He wouldn’t fight them, oh no, because they would just beat him up and he was too clever for that. He would get revenge on his own terms, by using something he thought they lacked: he would use his brain.
He had reached the Headmistress’s office and Miss Rose, her secretary, looked up and smiled warmly. “Hello, John, what can we do for you today?”
“I’ve been sent to see Mrs Hancock,” John muttered.
Mr Henderson’s voice came from behind John, startling him. “Wait here while I describe your abominable behaviour to Mrs Hancock.” The teacher knocked on the Headmistress’s door and went into her office.
Miss Rose’s manner was now cool and professional. “You’d better take a seat.”
John sat on one of the row of chairs just outside the Headmistress’s door. His anger and resentment built inside him. He had heard of people ‘seeing red’ before, but had not known where such a saying came from. Now, as he thought of all the trouble he would cause for Sammy Simms, his vision seemed blurred by a red mist of anger. Once too often these kids had bullied, tricked and intimidated the others to do what they wanted. Now it would be their turn to be on the receiving end.
The red mist before his eyes coalesced and thickened. They would pay for getting him into trouble today, of that John was certain.
The mist formed into clumps, but he was too angry to pay attention. His thoughts were focused firmly on his revenge and how to plan it. He would have to start the very next day. Nothing but their total humiliation would be good enough.
With an audible ‘pop’ the clumps of red mist snapped together to form a small, winged, red imp standing on John’s knee. John started from his thoughts and stared at the creature in shock. Oh no, he thought, now I’m imagining one for myself, as well.
The imp flapped its wings experimentally and hopped up onto John’s shoulder, where it leaned close to his ear. “Get into girls’ locker room tomorrow. Take something. Put it in nasty boy’s bag,” the small demon whispered.
“No, you’re not real!” John exclaimed.
“Pardon, Mr Daniels?” the secretary asked.
“Oh, nothing,” he replied, embarrassed that he had spoken aloud.
“Take something girl will miss,” whispered the imp.
“You’re not real,” John whispered back, turning his head to see the imp.
The imp jumped back in amazement. “You can see I!” it exclaimed loudly.
“Go away,” John insisted quietly, “you’re just a figment of my imagination.”
“I is real. Yous knows it!” the imp replied, folding its arms across its now puffed-up chest. “I got good ideas for yous,” it added. “I help with your revenges.”
“No,” John argued, “I’m just imagining you.”
“Not imaginings,” the imp replied, “I real. We say and peoples do’s. Our peoples like our ideas.”
And then John realized that each time the imps in the classroom had made a suggestion, the small demon’s owner had then done something bad. He could not know the kids were going to do these things, so how could he have imagined that the imps, each time, would make a suggestion to them beforehand?
“You’re real!” he exclaimed to the small red demon.
“That’s what I tells yous!” the small imp answered angrily. Then, suddenly switching mood, it put its head on one side and smiled a wide, sharp-toothed grin, saying, “So can we do’s mischief now?”
On the other side of the office, Miss Rose looked at the boy arguing with himself and sighed. She thought that she’d better go and warn the Headmistress that another one had cracked. It always happened to the ones with perfect behaviour, she thought. Perhaps it was too much of a strain on a child, trying to be perfect all the time. After all, John Daniels was known as one of the best behaved children in the school. Perhaps the parents were to blame, with expectations beyond what a child should be expected to achieve?
Turning back to her work, the secretary started randomly swapping the contents of the pile of student files on her desk. It would take her colleague hours to sort out this mess.
The fat, bulbous imp behind her desk jumped to its horned feet and started a small dance of celebration for its latest piece of mischief.
Copyright © 2008 by Alan G. Pittman