Every place has to have something to boast about. It may be spread out to include a whole continent, a whole country or just a whole city. London's famous for Big Ben and the houses of Parliament. Paris is famous for the Eiffel Tower. The United Arab Emirates has a ridiculous amount of oil, putting them right up there as one of the richest countries in the world. Winterton was famous for having Comet Toys, the best toy company in the world.
It was a huge factory, bigger than most industrial warehouses. The toys that came out of the factory captivated children around the world, and they sold out in a matter of days, and in one instance, a matter of hours. Parents fought with children and children fought with parents over who got the toys first. But the thing that stood out most about this mysterious company was that nobody knew who was behind it. All this time, the mind behind the company hadn't shown his or her face since the take-off of the company . . . until the opening.
Comet Toys had allowed the local elementary school to pick two of its best students from any year group, starting at kindergarten and ending at sixth grade, along with one legal guardian for each child. The two children picked were fifth-grader Abigail Crewe and fourth-grader Shane Aspen. Abigail earned her way into the two best students through hard work, good behaviour and lots of extra credit. Shane had none of those things, and nobody had any idea why the headmaster had let Shane go to Comet Toys. Abigail suspected that it had something to do with Shane's rich mother. She gave the boy everything he wanted and then some, turning him into the most popular boy in the school.
On the big day, Shane, his mother (Mrs Marianne Aspen), Abigail and her mother (Ms Diana Crewe) waited outside the factory to meet the owner and be the first to meet the mind behind the factory, flanked by the entire town and an army of reporters. Abigail was happy to wait a while to be part of a huge moment, but the Aspens were getting impatient.
"Why hasn't it started?" Shane whined. "It's been ages!"
"It's only been fifteen minutes," Abigail reassured.
"This is ridiculous. The maids I employ to keep our house clean and look after us take much less time," Mrs Aspen huffed.
"Not everyone can afford to have maids, you know ," Ms Crewe muttered under her breath.
Suddenly, the huge doors to the famed toy factory opened and the reporters jostled and shoved to get a photo of the faceless philanthropist. They imagined a tall, handsome mature man to stride out of the doors with answers and a winning smile. But instead, they got a big, round, shiny ball that floated down to meet them, stopping right next to the gates. It was so close, the reporters on the other side could have touched it, but none of them dared to.
With an unexpected hiss of steam, the futuristic-looking floating metal ball opened up like a clam revealing an oyster. But there wasn't an oyster inside this metal clam. Instead, a young white lady, somewhere in her twenties or early thirties, sat inside the orb, smiling serenely. Her black hair stopped at just above her shoulders and warm blue eyes looked around at the reporters. One brave reporter, a young man with slicked-back hair and a suit, stuck his microphone in her face and sneered at her.
"What are you doing here, lady? We're waiting for the owner of Comet Toys to meet us," he told her. "Get out of the dumb metal ball and get away. You're being a nuisance."
"The owner of Comet Toys? That would be me, young man," she told him, in a clipped, high-pitched British accent. The reporters gasped and shoved themselves forward, shouting questions while the first reporter stood there, stunned at the shocking turn of events.
"What made you decide to open Comet Toys to the public, miss?"
"What's the secret to your company's success?"
"What's your name?"
"SILENCE!" the lady roared, and everybody shut up. "You, there! The rude young man who called me a nuisance. Can you come here?"
"Yes, miss!" he replied politely, rushing towards her. "What would you like me to do for you?"
"Which news station do you work for?" she asked.
"Quinton Times, miss," he replied. The lady wrote it all down on a little notepad, which the reporter found funny.
"I thought I would be taking notes, miss," he snickered. She glared at him.
"If you might know, I'm taking note of where you're from," she replied. "Now, you asked what I'd like you to do. I'd like you to get off the premises at once, and never come back. You will not be welcome back. And nobody who works for where you work will be allowed on the premises, either."
"Why?" he yelped.
"When you are here, you are representing Quinton Times, and what you do reflects on them. And right now, it's reflecting on them so badly an entire newspaper got banned from my factory," she explained. "Now get out of my sight."
"I'm sorry," he sighed.
"I wish I could say the same," she replied, as he got into a car, rolled the windows up and drove away. "Right. Now he's gone, let's talk business. I decided to open Comet Toys to the public because I couldn't take hiding away inside a factory any more. I have money, but there's only so much money can buy and a girl gets lonely eventually. My company's success is simple: I never depend on anyone but myself. Not suppliers, not technology, not consumers, myself. I have a personal rule of never giving or taking excuses. And my name is Storm Opal, if you must know." Shane finally lost his patience and rushed up to the gate, his mother in tow.
"When can I come in? I want my tour!" Shane whined.
"Look at my boy, you horrible woman! See how traumatized you're making him?" Mrs Aspen growled. "Why haven't you let my Shane into your factory yet?"
"Well, that's mainly because - wait, did you say Shane?" Storm asked. "One of the students who won a tour to my factory?"
"Yes, I did, and yes, he is," Mrs Aspen replied, looking over at Abigail and her mother smugly, like that was how she got stuff done all the time and they should be taking notes.
"Is Abigail and her carer here? I heard that they'd be here too," Storm asked. Abigail and Ms Crewe made their way to the gates, happy to finally be acknowledged. Storm watched Mrs Aspen's smile go from real to really artificial in a second. She noticed it, but she didn't point it out.
"Hello, ma'am," Abigail replied. "I'm Abigail, and this is my mother. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"It's a pleasure to meet you too, young miss," Storm smiled, extending her hand from the metal ball for Abigail and her mother to shake. When she got to Shane and his mother, Shane backed away, and his mother grabbed onto his arm very tightly, practically pulling him to the gate. Things weren't looking good for them. But the day was still relatively young, after all.
"Anyway, let's go inside," Storm smiled. "Come along!" She steered herself towards some metal doors, which slid upwards to reveal an inventor's paradise.
The factory was made up of rows and rows of construction lines, but all the spaces that should have been occupied by workers were filled with robots, no more than three feet high and specially designed for the construction of toys. A robot at the start collected all the parts for a certain toy. Another robot constructed the toy, a third decorated it and the fourth checked for quality. From there, the completed toy would be transported to another part of the factory for packaging and later sent to the local toy store. There was a different toy on each conveyor belt, and there wasn't a place in the factory where robots were standing by with nothing to do. Abigail looked on with amazement. Mrs Aspen was still a little critical of it all, as was Shane. Nothing seemed to be quite good enough . . . for her and her son.
"Why can't you have any people employed here?" Mrs Aspen huffed, glaring at the robot closest to her as if it had insulted her entire family. "Shouldn't this place look normal?"
"Using robots keeps labour costs down in the long run," Storm explained. "Also, robots don't talk about what happens inside these walls, which works best for me, since I didn't want anyone to find out about this place until I say so."
"And why won't you move from that silly ball thing?" Shane asked. "You're not allowed to be lazy just because you're rich."
"Look who's talking," Abigail muttered.
"You're right, sweetie," Mrs Aspen agreed, before glaring at Storm. "You should be walking like a normal, healthy person. Is there something wrong with your legs or are you just bone idle?" Shane snickered nastily.
"Actually, there is," Storm replied. "I was born paralyzed from the waist down, so I will never be able to use my legs to walk and run like you can." There was an awkward silence in the air afterwards. The smirk was wiped off Shane's face. "Would you like to continue with the tour?"
"Yes, please," Abigail replied. Shane shot her a nasty look.
"You keep out of this, nerd," he snarled.
"Why should I? I'm on this tour too," Abigail argued.
"Hey, kids! Calm down," Storm reprimanded. Mrs Aspen was looking at Storm closely, like there was something off about her. "Are you OK?"
"Of course I'm OK," Mrs Aspen snapped. "It's just that you look a little familiar to me, like I've seen you somewhere before. Maybe you have one of those faces." Storm nodded uneasily and continued the tour, taking the group to a little room with a desk, a laptop and a battleship grey filing cabinet stretching from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. A drone hovered next to the desk, awaiting orders.
"File Finder awaiting commands," the drone chirped.
"Damn!" Abigail yelped.
"You rude girl!" Mrs Aspen snapped. "How dare you say such things in front of such an influential businesswoman as Storm?" Then she turned on Ms Crewe. "I suppose you taught her this?" Mrs Aspen accused.
"Please stay calm, Mrs Aspen," Storm soothed. "I heard much worse things being said to me when I was a little girl here in Winterton."
"You went to school here?" Shane asked. Storm nodded. Mrs Aspen gasped.
"Now I remember you!" the wealthy woman gasped. "We used to call you Wheels!"
"I'm sorry, what?" Storm asked. She was fiddling with a remote she had in her hand. Although she was pressing button after button, nothing seemed to be happening.
"Don't you remember me, stupid?" Mrs Aspen snapped. She wasn't worried about keeping up appearances now. If she made Storm cry before she could do it again. "We had the same classes. You were in a big bulky wheelchair and you wore ugly clothes that made you look old. I called you Grandma for ages!" The once mature woman burst into laughter.
"You were the one who started that?" Storm stammered. Her eyes were suddenly filled with recognition. Now she knew the woman that stood before her.
"And remember when I found where the brakes on your wheelchair were and applied them in class?" The socialite giggled at the fond memory. "When the teacher called you up to the class for some work and you couldn't move and everyone laughed at you?" At this, Mrs Aspen let out a howl of laughter and then Shane copied her. Mother and son laughed at the humiliated billionaire.
"And I thought you were so smart!" Shane snickered. Storm, oddly enough, had a smile on her face that stretched from ear to ear.
"Are you OK, Storm?" Abigail asked.
"I am just fine," Storm smiled.
"What are you smiling about?" Mrs Aspen snapped. "I know you're rich and you're set for life, but we have something you don't have: working legs! See?" Shane and his mother took a stroll around the office. Storm had a bemused look on her face.
"Hey, File Finder, are you still live streaming this?" Storm asked. The duo stopped in their tracks. Their smug smirks faded.
"Yes, ma'am," File Finder replied. "Do you want it to stop?"
"Not yet," Storm replied, a tight smile on her face. "Look, you two, I can give you a chance to apologize to me and Abigail and her mother for wasting time that was for their tour, too, and we can continue. Or you can continue to be stuck up and obnoxious and rude, and you can both be escorted off the premises. What would you like?" Mrs Aspen lifted her nose into the air.
"You can't do anything to us. I got my son into this tour through using my hard earned connections!" Mrs Aspen told Storm.
"What do you mean by that?" Storm asked.
"That stupid headmaster wanted some things, and he got them from me," she calmly replied. Her smug smile was back with a vengeance.
"Yeah! You can get anything you want when your mom paid for the whole science block!" Shane asserted. Abigail's jaw dropped. "What do you have to say to that?"
"Just that File Finder is still live streaming this conversation," Storm replied.
"Oh, that's it!" Mrs Aspen growled. "You know what? You won't have to escort us off the premises, because we're leaving! Come on, sweetie. Let's go someplace where they treat us with respect." And with that, the Aspens left the room. Abigail breathed a sigh of relief.
"That's enough, File Finder. You can stop the live stream now," Storm ordered. There was a humming sound for about two seconds, then nothing.
"Live stream ended," File Finder reported.
"Thanks," Storm replied. "You too, Abigail."
"Why me?" Abigail asked.
"Because you were the one who asked if I was OK," Storm answered nonchalantly. "You did more for me in a single breath than she did during the whole of my academic life." Then she went to look Ms Crewe in the eye. "I don't have a clue what you did, but you raised her right. And good people can only ever learn from good people."
"Thank you," Ms Crewe smiled, tears welling up in her eyes from the praise. A drone hovered next to her head with a box of tissues. She took one and blew her nose with it.
"Now," Storm smiled, "I guess the tour must go on."
And it did. Abigail had her mind blown away by everything she was shown. The advanced technology was amazing to witness, with practically everything being automated except for designing the toys and finances. That was done by Storm. But it seemed the self-made billionaire had one more surprise for them.
"I have something for you," Storm replied, as a huge box was dropped in front of Abigail by more of Storm's robotic helpers.
"What is it?" the curious schoolgirl asked.
"Open it and find out!" Ms Crewe whispered. Abigail ripped off the wrapping paper to reveal twenty of the newest toys were inside, and no two toys were the same. They were shiny, colourful and wrapped neatly.
"It's amazing!" Abigail squealed. "But I can't take this."
"Why not?" Storm asked. "I'm fine with it . . . but why not?"
"I don't think I need twenty toys," Abigail answered simply. "Please, if you're going to send this anywhere, send it to the hospital. They need all the toys they can get."
"Got it," Storm agreed, a little tear in her eye. "Now, let me see you out."
They left to find a pack of photographers and reporters waiting for them. They pushed and shoved to find the best angle to take pictures at.
"Miss Opal, what do you have to say about the live stream that was posted earlier today?" one reporter shouted. "Did you orchestrate that?"
"No, miss, I was just the one that filmed it. If I had orchestrated this, then that would have made me in charge of what she said, and I wasn't in charge of that little fiasco," Storm coolly responded.
"Miss Opal, will you be doing anything like this again?" another reporter asked.
"I am more than happy to do more of these tours, but on one condition," Storm said. "Send more smart kids, like Abigail Crewe." Abigail felt so proud of this. "If there are more parents and children like them, then I will probably never do another tour." A few reporters laughed. "No, seriously. One more parent and child like them, and I will never do another tour again."
"Are you talking about me?" a female voice screeched. All heads turned to see Mrs Aspen and Shane stumble out of the doors. Both of them looked horrible, with green and white paint covering their bodies and their clothes basically in glorified rags. Their hair was messy, and streaked with dirt. "You better not be talking about me, you low-class, lazy, stupid piece of dirt!"
"Well, excuse you!" Storm gasped. "And may I ask what happened to you between after you left the building and now?"
"It's all your fault, you know that?" Mrs Aspen shrieked. "We were trying to figure out how to get out of your idiotic factory, and we found a room that looked like the exit. We went inside, and got sprayed with paint!" A few reporters had to stifle giggles.
"And then we checked another door, and our clothes were cut up and the robots tried to put us in a box!" Shane sobbed. Abigail hid a smile.
"Finally, we checked one last door, and we went through a rubbish chute!" Mrs Aspen complained. Nobody could hold it any longer. Everyone began to laugh, and Storm pieced it all together.
"I think I know what happened to you," Storm realised. "That first room must have been the paint room, where the toys are spray-painted in batches. The second room was the packaging room, where the robots thought you were oversized toys and put you into boxes. And that final room must have been the waste room."
"Exactly!" the Aspens yelled.
"Maybe I should have had you escorted by security after all," the billionaire mused. Everyone roared with laughter. The Aspens scowled and pushed past the camera crews and reporters to get out.
"What do have to say about stopping a more deserving child from going on a trip they would have loved for the sake of your own child?"
"Did you really bully Miss Opal during her school days?"
"How do you feel about the live stream?"
"Would you really treat a physically challenged person as badly as you treated Miss Opal?"
"Leave me alone!" the wealthy socialite screamed. "Don't you know who I am?"
"We will soon!" Storm yelled, as the Aspens rounded the corner and disappeared from view.
School was a lot different for Abigail and Shane after that tour.
Abigail finally got some respect from her peers, since the live stream had made her famous. Nobody teased her, or ignored her again. Even the teachers seemed to be a little more polite. This was surreal, but Abigail didn't let it go to her head. In her own, quiet way, she'd risen up the ranks to become the most popular girl in the school. No, the whole town!
Shane, on the other hand, was ruined. The once popular boy was now hated and mocked by just about everyone after the various international news channels had broadcast what they'd recorded. He was the face of spoiled brats everywhere. Nobody would touch that kid with a bargepole, no matter how rich he was. Not like he changed for the better, though. He was still horribly spoiled, entitled and lazy.
The Aspens had been ruined by the horrific scandal that the matriarch of the family had been a childhood bully to a disabled girl who later became a self-made billionaire. The Aspen family fortune was in real estate, and this fortune was made by Shane's great-grandfather. Nobody in the entire family worked and they had been living off the fortune for three generations of Aspens. They weren't going to (heaven forbid) lose any money from the scandalous video (which had gone viral since it was first streamed), but those friends in high places had suddenly cut them off since then. And since their only child, Shane, seemed to never want to work, Abigail doubted the Aspens would ever be considered an influential, rich family again.
Meanwhile, Storm Opal, billionaire toymaker and internet heroine, was sitting at home, watching the nightmare that was her former childhood bully's life unravel right in front of her. "Revenge is a life well lived," she thought aloud, as she dipped chocolate chip cookies into a glass of warm milk. "Suck it, Marianne Aspen. Karma hit you and your family like a ten-tonne truck."