Adrienne Alderbury picked up her wine glass and made her way across the crowded hall. She was already wishing that the night was over. Adrienne pushed through the last little group of people and hurried over to a table where three familiar faces were waiting. She smiled and sat down, taking a rather crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and throwing it onto the table.
"I take it you got yours back too?" she asked. Across the table, Corina Palmer rifled through her own bag. Adrienne was amazed at how her old school friend had changed in the ten years since they had left this very building behind. Corina was very tall, her figure almost statuesque with red hair cut into a jagged bob. She found what she was looking for and threw a piece of paper onto the table, it fluttered a little and came to rest beside the sheet already lying there.
"Mine came a week ago. Hand delivered but I didn't hear the letter box go" she said. Gina Hogg placed her own sheet on top of the others and gulped, audibly. Adrienne couldn't help but feel she had been dragged back in time to her secondary school years when she looked at Gina. The woman was petite but painfully thin, almost to the point of emaciation. She was all angles and points except for her hair with hung in bright orange ringlets down her back.
"What did you two ask for?" Gina looked between her two old friends and wished that she could take one of her pills, but she hadn't bought them with her.
"I never was a girly girl. I asked for a fire truck" said Corina. She gulped her drink down and slammed the glass onto the table with more force than she meant to use.
"I was the same. I wanted a box of Lego because my brother had one" Gina added. Adrienne smiled a little as she thought back to her Christmas list, there had only ever been one thing on it.
"I asked for a pony but my mum always said Santa couldn't fit it on his sleigh." They all laughed a little at that. Gina, Adrienne and Corina had started and ended school together. They had become friends when they had all been put into a little group to help them with their dyslexia when they were eight years old. The letters on the table had been from one of their projects, they had to write a letter to Santa and then the teacher would post them. Unfortunately, the letters these girls had written had been addressed to Satan.
"You'd think somebody would have told us about that" said Adrienne. The old letters had come through the door with the invites to the reunion. Each of their Christmas letters had the words GRANTED stamped across them in blood red letters.
"What do you think it means?" asked Gina. Her hands were shaking and she wished more than ever for one of her pills. Adrienne sat in silence for a moment; she wasn't sure what to say. The letters had turned up twenty years after they had been posted which was odd. But the idea that they had been sent to Hell and that Satan had granted their wishes was a little beyond a joke.
They parted at midnight and went their separate ways, none the wiser but promising to keep in touch. Adrienne got home and changed into her pyjamas and robe before making herself a cup of tea and settling into a big chair in her living room. Her letter to Santa was balanced on her knees, the handwriting was almost illegible but the promises of good behaviour in exchange for a pony made her smile. Sighing, she screwed the paper up and dropped it into the bin before finishing her tea and heading up to bed.
It was the harsh tones of the telephone instead of the soothing sounds of her radio that woke Adrienne the next morning. She scooped up the receiver and grumbled a greeting.
"Gina's dead." Adrienne was suddenly awake; she sat up in bed and frowned at the blank wall opposite.
"What do you mean she's dead?"
"What do you think I mean? Gina is dead. Pushing up daisies, six feet under. What else can I say?" replied Corina. Her voice was shaking and she was obviously very upset.
"I'm coming round." Adrienne hung up; she dressed as quickly as she could before dashing from the house and almost throwing herself into her car. She sped across town, praying that the police were in a Starbucks somewhere.
Adrienne raised her hand to knock on the door but it was yanked open before she could make contact with the wood. Corina was dressed in a dirty vest and grey jogging bottoms, her hair was all over the place and there were dark circles around her eyes.
"What happened?" Adrienne repeated her question as she stepped into the house; she followed Corina down the hallway and into a kitchen that was thick with cigarette smoke. Corina lit another and perched on a stool at the breakfast bar.
"I went round to see her this morning. I found that on my doorstep when I got up and it . . . Well, it scared me and I wanted to see Gina." Corina nodded across the room and Adrienne followed her gaze to a box that sat on the counter. She walked across the room and peered into the top and inside sat a bright, red fire engine.
"I saw it and didn't know what to do so I went round to see Gina. Her door was open so I went in. She was on the floor in the kitchen, Lego blocks were scattered across the floor. I touched her shoulder and one fell out of her mouth. I . . . I couldn't . . ." Corina dissolved into tears and Adrienne wrapped her arms around her, she didn't know what to say. It was all so crazy! Adrienne was about to speak when the fire alarm above their heads went off. Corina stared up at it and they both looked around, trying to find what had set the alarm off.
"When did you last change the batteries?" asked Adrienne. Before Corina could answer, the alarm in the hallway started to shriek and then the one on the landing. Adrienne left Corina sitting at the breakfast bar and went out into the hallway and then up the stairs to the landing. The alarm in the bedroom was also screaming but there was no fire or smoke. There wasn't even anything hot that might have set them off. Adrienne frowned but, just as suddenly as they had started, the alarms stopped. There was a sudden whoosh! as if something large had just caught fire.
"Corina!" screamed Adrienne. She took the stairs two at a time and swung herself around the base of the stairs and dashed along the hallway and into the kitchen. A scream lodged in her throat, trapped behind the bile that threatened to rise with it. Corina was still sitting at the breakfast bar but there was nothing left of her, just a black and charred skeleton. The fire engine sat on the counter next to her. Adrienne turned and walked, calmly, from the house and climbed into her car. She drove home and walked into her kitchen where she promptly threw up in the sink. A sound at the window made her look up.
"Holy shit" she muttered. Adrienne straightened up before opening the back door and staring at the pony that now stood in her garden. It was pure white from head to foot except for the eyes; they were a deep blood red. It snorted and stamped its hoof while bearing its teeth.
"I hope your boss is ready. Because I need a word and I am not happy!" Adrienne snarled. The pony snorted again before charging forward and trampling her under foot.