Reed W. Huston
Copyright 2016 Reed W. Huston
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I slammed the pedal into the floorboard. The whiff of burning rubber assaulted my nostrils, accompanied by the shrieking tires as they skidded against the tarmac. That damned dog! It came out of nowhere! I swerved, but the vino had dulled my reactions somewhat. I’d oversteered to compensate but it was too late. We were headed for the divider, fast.
The road was dark, illuminated only by the occasional streetlight. It had been raining, so I suppose it was rather ill advised of my husband and I to attempt driving back. If I wasn’t sober, Morgan was definitely beyond drunk. He was in no condition to drive, and thinking back upon that decision now; perhaps I wasn’t the best candidate to take us home either.
Time seemed to slow to a standstill, the way you always heard people talk about. Morgan was asleep. His head lolled about his shoulder, leaving a patch of drool by his collarbone. Tears welled up in my eyes. I wouldn’t even get to tell him I loved him again.
The car hit the divider with a sickening crunch. I lurched forward, propelled by inertia and coming to an abrupt halt as the seatbelt snapped me back. My ribs ached from the strain. The belt wasn’t enough to stop my head from slamming against the steering wheel though. The sudden impact disoriented me, and the cocktail of blood and sweat stung my eyes.
Morgan didn’t have a seatbelt or a steering wheel to cushion the impact. I had expended so much energy getting him into the car in his current state that I’d forgotten to strap him in. A mistake that would regrettably be short lived. Instantly upon collision with the guard rail he was thrown out, through the windshield. A mist of glass sprayed my face as the car continued barreling forward. It started to roll, sending my arms up in a hapless flail. The otherwise innocuous trinkets in my car launched about like cruise missiles as the car tumbled. My clutch purse hit the back of my head. I felt the blood drain from my head as my world began to go black.
I don’t know how much time had passed till I came to. My eyesight was blurred. No wait. I winked my left eye, then my right. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t see clearly out of my right eye. I blinked a few times, trying to clear the fogginess but it wouldn’t go away.
I strained to look around me. I don’t remember how; but I was now lying on my back, looking up at the stars. The blurry gems in the night sky blinked back at me, the only illumination in a moonless night. I struggled to prop myself up on one arm. My other arm hung limply by my side; I could tell something was broken or at least seriously dislocated. With some effort, I pulled my phone out of my pocket. As was generally the case with my luck today, the screen was smashed. I tossed the broken handset aside.
With a grunt, I shuffled to a sitting position. I lamented my decision to keep this car. We’d been arguing about changing to a newer model, one with airbags and the like, but it just never seemed important enough. It sure did now. The wreck of our Bevriolet Springbok smoldered in front of me, steam hissing out of what I imagined must have been a busted radiator or carburetor or something; I didn’t know much about cars to be honest, Morgan was the gearhead of the household. Morgan!
I frantically looked around for Morgan, half expecting him to come running towards me to help me up. My stomach sank when the realization dawned on me. I staggered towards the wreck, hoping I’d be able to make him out in the surrounding clearing, or at least guess where he would have landed. Surges of pain shot up my leg, like electrical signals along a frayed cable. I ignored the throbbing, knowing the window of opportunity to find and help Morgan was growing smaller each second.
The car itself had more in common now with an oversized paper weight than it did a vehicle. The windshield was shattered, shards of broken glass still hanging from the frame like the teeth of the loser in a heavyweight bout. My blood ran cold. That blood spatter was Morgan’s. I had to find him before he bled out.
The driver’s side window was smashed as well. Peering in, the seatbelt was surprisingly still buckled in. It must’ve gone slack when the car rolled. The entire engine compartment and front end was crushed, looking more like an accordion or the snout of a pug. I hobbled past the car, towards the broken guardrail.
A smear of blood painted the ground, trailing off towards a mass of bushes where I assumed Morgan must have slid. Hopeful of finding him, I picked up the pace, limping as fast as my injured legs would carry me. My stomach turned when I finally spotted him, laying on his back in a pool of blood.
Tears streamed down my cheeks again. No…no! Not this. I scampered towards him. Even without medical training, I knew it was too late. A big gash in his neck told me where all the blood had come from. His eyes were closed and his chest unmoving. Suppressing sobs, I did what anyone would do in the situation. In a state of helplessness, I panicked.
“Morgan! Morgan!” I screamed uncontrollably, shaking his shoulders violently as I miraculously hoped he would rouse. “Please baby wake up!”
There was no response, as part of me had already known. I put my fingers to his neck, hoping against hope that I would find at least some trace of a heartbeat, however weak. A tiny beat pulsed under my fingertips. He wasn’t gone yet, but Morgan was dying. And without a way to contact anyone, my husband was as good as dead. I looked at my bloodied hands. The hands that killed him. Sorrow and fear overtook me. Wh…what had I done? The tears flowed uncontrollably as I embraced Morgan and wept into his chest. It…couldn’t be. Not Morgan. Not Morgan.
“I don’t think he’s doing too well,” came a young voice, much younger than me. “Looks like a case of the ‘Deads’.” I turned around. Squatting rather playfully on a branch behind me was a young girl, barely a child; clad in jeans and a tank top. Her hair had red highlights in them, and it was tied up in pigtails that mirrored her evidently playful persona.
“Who…who are you?” I asked, sputtering between sobs and sniffles. “Did you do this?” Somehow, I sought to transfer the blame. I was still in disbelief. And I still refused to acknowledge that the death of the man I love would be my fault.
“Oh no,” she wagged a finger. “This was all you,” she replied as she leapt off the branch with childlike enthusiasm onto the ground behind me. “All you.” She appeared to survey the scene. She let out a quick whistle, like you would do when you called a pet.
Sure enough, a large black dog bounded out of the undergrowth beside her. She scratched behind its unnaturally large ears and under its chin. The thing looked almost as big as she did. And it looked familiar.
“And you nearly hit Ripper here.”
“Do you have a phone? Please, call for an ambulance, my husband is dying,” I ignored her chiding. Wait. That dog! I knew I recognized it! I felt the pent-up anger swell within me.
“You made me crash!” I yelled. “That dog…caused all of this!”
“Nuh uh,” she wagged her finger again. “If you’re suggesting I told Ripper to go down there and deliberately spin you off the road,” she paused. “You’d be wrong. Besides, he’s just a dumb little animal,” she said those last three words in baby talk as she rubbed the beast under the chin. “He doesn’t understand people-speak like you and me.”
“Still, he’s your responsibility!” I can’t believe I was trying to reason with a girl barely into her tweens. Especially one who appeared to be showing little reaction to the accident and tragedy in front of her. One who was almost shockingly nonchalant.
“And whose responsibility is it that you’re driving piss-drunk huh?” she asked with startling aggression. “Or that Johnny Stiff over here didn’t buckle up? What if that had been another person on that road instead of Ripper? A cute old lady who couldn’t jump out of the way. What then?” I was stunned at what I perceived to be omniscience on her part.
“You’re not just a regular girl, are you?” I asked, my hands still subconsciously cradling Morgan’s head as I rested his head on my lap.
“Define regular,” she replied with an impish smile. I could’ve sworn I saw rows of pointed white teeth. My heart skipped a beat. “If you mean sweet, angelic and playful; nah I’m way beyond that,” she flapped her hand as if swatting a bug. “Except maybe the playful part,” she said, scratching her chin. “If you mean human,” she lowered her head and looked at me through sinister cat-like eyes, her smile spreading from cheek to cheek in an inhuman Cheshire Cat grin. “Honey I am anything but.”
I scampered back, putting myself between Morgan and her in an attempt to protect him from…whatever she was. “W…what are you?” I stuttered. My mind darted from concern over Morgan to self-preservation. She was eerie as hell.
“Oh, just a sales…” she paused. “…woman,” she continued. “Sorry, I change skins so often I lose track of what I’m wearing,” she sniggered. “Something you’d be able to relate to, right…Samantha?” She lingered on my name, as if realizing her uttering it would freak the hell out of me. It did. “Being an insurance salesperson, I’m sure you pick the right suit for the job each time, something that oozes sincerity and class.”
“There’s nothing sincere or classy about you,” I retorted.
“Aww.” She tilted her head. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
“What do you want?” I spat out. “Please, either help us or leave us alone!”
“Oh, there won’t be an ‘us’ in about…” She paused to look at her watch-less wrist. “…ten minutes or so,” she said, proceeding to rub the salt deep into my wounds. “I just want to present you with an option. Just something to think about before the police come and haul you off to prison.”
“I’m not afraid of prison. I’ll do it if Morgan is saved.”
“Ah, classic guilt. I just love that emotion. Gives me a lot to work with,” she said while gesticulating with her hands. “Besides, it’s every bit his fault as yours you know? If he hadn’t drunk so much you wouldn’t have had to drive. You both must’ve known with your previous accident record even when sober you were a shit driver.”
“Shut up,” I tersely replied.
“Aww, did I strike a nerve?” she came annoyingly close to my face. Her breath reeked of rotting fish. “Or I don’t know,” she shrugged. “You could be a martyr and take all the blame yourself. You should start practicing by covering your eyes and peering through your fingers ‘cause you’re only gonna see the scenery through bars from now on.”
“Shut up!” I screamed. “Shut up!”
“Or maybe you’d like to take me up on my offer?” she teased. I didn’t respond. “Make all of this go away,” she passed her hand through the air as if wiping a slate clean. “Oh wait,” she said, looking at her wrist again. “Time.”
Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I frantically fumbled about with my fingers, finally managing to put two on his carotid. There was no pulse. “No…no,” I shook my head in a mix of despair and disbelief. “Morgan!” I yelled, pulling him against my chest and sobbing into his hair. “Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.”
“Probably should’ve spent more time attempting CPR than talking to me huh,” the girl tilted her head. “Like I was saying,” she continued, indifferent as she was before he passed. “Take me up on my offer and your honey bunny will be brought back to life, no shuffling zombie, rotting corpse nonsense,” she said, holding up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
I looked at Morgan. His skin was gray and pallid. He looked like a shadow, a specter of the man I loved. I shook my head. No, he was just sleeping. I stroked his hair. He looked innocent and angelic, the way he always looked when I watched him sleep. It couldn’t be. I ran a finger over his lips. His once tender lips. Nothing but cold. There was no way that he was gone.
“What do you say?” she urged.
“Wh…what do you want in return?” I asked. There was no way this was a good idea. I knew better than this. The house always won. I sank to my knees. Our love was meant to be immortal. I cradled Morgan’s head. The kind of union that outlasted kingdoms. And to have it all cut down barely ten years into our adventure together…I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let this end without at least trying.
“What’s that darling?” she pretended not to hear me. “I didn’t catch that.”
“What do you want in return?” I said, more assured this time, betraying a confidence I didn’t have. The house always won. I knew this, and I was going into this with both eyes wide open. I was at the end of my rope. And this was the noose at the end of that rope. That’s what this felt like. A noose.
“I knew you’d finally play ball,” she said confidently, like a saleswoman making the sale. It was unnerving, the way she sashayed about with bravado beyond her years. She definitely wasn’t a child. In her own words, she was anything but. “I just need you to say: ‘I wish’ and dot dot dot,” she moved her hand as if placing invisible items in the air as she spelled out the ellipsis. “You finish the sentence.”
“And you take my soul? Is that it?”
“Pfft,” she scoffed. “What would I do with a soul? I want…” she paused. “Ten years off your life every time.”
I was taken aback. “Ten years?” I blurted.
“Hey, a second ago you were offering me your soul. Typical human behavior. You only offer something you think you’re not using. Do me a favor,” she said. “Read Dante’s Inferno. Once you see the shit I just saved you from, you’ll be thankful I’m only trimming years off your age. Years you’re probably not going to use anyway. I mean what’s ten less years of poor hearing and losing your teeth?”
“For…every wish?” I asked. A lone car passed by on the road, slowing down slightly at the broken divider but speeding off shortly after. It wasn’t any use. Getting help was pointless now that Morgan was gone.
“Now I didn’t say that,” she wagged her finger. “You only get one wish. But since I’m a generous minx, I’ll allow you three chances to get your wish right. No more, no less. Thirty years max. But most people nail it in one.”
“Get my wish right?”
“Yeah, well for example if I were to wish for world peace. And I wake up the next morning and find that nothing has changed. Then I realize I forgot to tell the cute wish-granting girl exactly which world I wanted peace on. So…be really specific.”
“Sounds like fine print to me,” I replied. I began to get uneasy. It seemed like there were innumerous terms and conditions that had been somehow rigged to make me come out on the losing end. The house always won. I stroked Morgan’s hair. Innocent Morgan. I was willing to take that risk.
“Fine print’s better than no print,” she shrugged. “Do we have a deal?”
I hesitated a while more, before nodding. “I’ll do it.”
“Great,” she spread her arms in what appeared more a sign of triumph than relief. “Now just say the magic words,” she urged.
“I wish,” I paused, inhaling a deep breath. “I wish this accident had never happened, and Morgan and I were back home safe and sound before all of this had ever happened,” I said, trying to leave her little room for interpretation.
“Back home where?” she asked for clarification. “Wouldn’t want you claiming I deliberately misheard the wish or something.”
“Back home at 117 Belgam Park,” I spelled out our home address.
“Say no more,” she nodded. “Ten years I take from you and may we never meet again,” she continued. “Godspeed,” she whispered.
She squinted as her unnerving smile stretched from ear to ear again. There was something sinister hidden behind that smile, I just knew it. She appeared to derive satisfaction from saying ‘Godspeed’, what I assumed must’ve been the equivalent of a swear word to her. Ripper howled a bone chilling cry as I felt a tug behind both my eyeballs. An excruciating pain followed as my tongue ached beyond belief, so much so I could’ve sworn it was about to be ripped out. My throat seared as if I had just ingested boiling lava and my intestines soon followed, stinging as if I was digesting a bushel of pine cones.
Light started emanating from the tips of my fingers and mouth. The last thing I saw was that unnatural grin. The light completely filled my vision as I felt myself being lifted. Blinded, I stopped resisting, allowing whatever force that was doing this to see it through. The wind in my face relaxed me, letting me for a single second forget all my woes. Before I knew it, I’d drifted off to sleep.
I woke up oddly enough seated at my chair in my home office. I was sitting at my laptop, finishing up some last-minute touches on a sales presentation I was giving tomorrow. It was dark out, and a quick glance at the clock on the computer desktop confirmed it was late. 8.20pm: 1st October 2016. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was late for something. Worse still, all this felt…familiar. Ah that’s why. It was our anniversary. This was our regular routine.
“Babe are you ready yet?” Morgan called from downstairs. “It’s late! We’re gonna miss our reservation!”
“Yeah I’m almost done!” I lied. “Be there in a few minutes!”
I quickly shut my laptop lid and looked around the room. I’d laid out a dress on the bed, an elegant little black dress with gold piping running up the front and around the shoulders. I quickly slipped out of the sweatpants and T-shirt I had on. Those were what I liked to call my ‘work clothes’. Clothes I worked best in. It’s a shame the office had a dress code or I’d be snugly wearing those day in and day out.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was wearing my home skivvies, an unflattering pair that I normally wouldn’t want to be caught dead in. But I was willing to make an exception this time, considering I was late and I didn’t think anyone else would be seeing me in these. I tossed aside the clutch lying on my dress. My body spasmed suddenly as an accident scene flashed across my mind’s eye. I stopped to catch my breath, the wind having been knocked out of me due to the intensity of the experience. The tangibility of it. Must’ve been something I saw on TV recently. But it felt…real. My mind digressed. How embarrassing would it be if a nurse or doctor in said accident had to cut my clothes open to get to an otherwise obstructed wound and spotted my granny panties.
Regardless, I’d take my chances. I slipped into the dress, carefully zipping up the back. Quickly picking up the clutch, I lamented how these dresses never came with pockets. Walking around with a clutch purse always made me feel so vulnerable.
Freshening myself up with a few spritzes of perfume, I carefully lined my pursed lips with some lipstick I grabbed from my, in Morgan’s words, ‘Pandora’s box of a handbag’. I smiled. Men. Just because it wasn’t a filing cabinet didn’t mean I didn’t have a storage system in there. I popped the stick back in after I was convinced my lipstick was just the right amount of naughty and nice. After all, it was our tenth year together; I had to look like I was still trying to look good at least, despite the sagging of places unmentioned and the greying of formerly black bits.
Dinner was pleasurable if not fulfilling. Morgan had gotten us a reservation at that new restaurant by Chef Enrique and much to his delight, we made it in time. It was a sweet gesture, sure, but I always found the dining experience at such restaurants a little wanting. The food was plated and garnished beautifully, but that was it. The servings were so small that I did in fact feel like I was eating garnishing. But I kept it to myself. Had we gone to that quaint rooftop restaurant I’d subtly hinted at the other day, we would at least be full. And Morgan would be, less drunk.
“I like the way you’re wearing your hair tonight,” he said, his speech slurred by the drink.
“Thanks, though I kinda always wear it this way,” I consciously touched my ponytail.
“Really? I thought you did it up special for tonight,” he replied. I felt guilty. In my rush, I’d forgotten to put on those lovely earrings he’d gotten me. He hadn’t noticed, but I felt embarrassed that he’d gone through so much effort for tonight, only for me to silently criticize him on his drunkenness and choice of restaurant. It was the job. I tried to convince myself. I’d have made more of an effort if that damned sales pitch wasn’t so important.
Strangely enough, all of this felt familiar. More so than the routines and habits of a contented couple. I felt I had been here before…done this before. I flagged a waiter and requested a glass of wine. The least I could do was humor my husband in his drunkenness. I promised myself I’d make it up to him tomorrow.
But the crux of the matter was that all of this was indeed getting all too common. We’d rushed into marriage, after a whirlwind romance of a few months. It was only after the wedding that I started realizing perhaps there were a few things we didn’t agree on. The fights became more frequent and both of us retreated into our careers. Ten years down the road and here we were. Tonight, was his umpteenth attempt at trying to mend things. I chastised myself for being selfish. He was just trying to make things work.
The truth, though I would never admit it to him, was that this relationship was breaking down because of me. Morgan was trying everything and in my stubbornness to avoid admission of fault, I kept pushing him away. I loved him though, dearly. And I wanted to make things better.
The waiter reappeared from the depths of the kitchen with a freshly poured glass of red wine. It clashed with my choice of main course (an act equivalent to murder in most fine restaurants), but what did I care? I just wanted to have some fun with my husband. We clinked our glasses together and downed a few drinks, reminiscing on our first months together.
“So…you come here often?” Morgan was using me for pickup line practice. I was honestly so tipsy it was actually amusing this time.
“No…” I playfully drew a circle around the rim of my glass. “Do you?” I blurted in my best blushing schoolgirl impression.
“No…” he replied. “God what am I supposed to say again? I’m so out of practice.” We both laughed, the innocent uninhibited laughter of two inebriated lovers pretending they didn’t have problems. “What’s say you and I get out of here?”
“Your place or mine?”
“Both,” he smirked.
Of course, by the time we got to the car the spontaneity ended. Morgan was so drunk I had to get the valet to help drag him into the passenger’s seat. Not being a terribly good driver myself, I steeled myself and got into the driver’s seat. I had trouble driving at night, and honestly quite a few of the dents on the car’s body had my name on them. Inside I was seething. It was just like him to ruin a night like this.
But all of this felt like deja vu. I shook the feeling off. If Morgan had pulled this stunt before I would’ve remembered it. I squinted to make out the road. It was dark, and the scarcity of streetlights certainly wasn’t doing me any favors. It had been raining too, and the street was adorned with little puddles reflecting the light of the countless stars in the sky.
Suddenly a black blur streaked across the road. I slammed the brakes and spun the steering wheel to avoid hitting whatever it was. The tires screeched and the stench of burning rubber permeated the air. I suddenly remembered why all of this seemed so familiar.
This time she was sitting cross legged on the ground as I approached, ruffling the fur of the big black dog almost twice her size. She was wearing a simple red hooded dress
“Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again so soon,” she quipped. Oh, I was pretty sure she knew she’d be seeing me again. “Sorry you caught me at a bad time. Was doing some Halloween shopping. Like the dress?” she said as she got up and presented her outfit. “I’m Red Riding Hood. Ripper is going as the Big Bad Wolf.”
“You lied,” I said, ignoring her.
“About the wish, you lied.”
“Now, now. I’ve been called many things before,” she started, coming closer. “And well, yeah a liar’s one of them. But I did exactly as you wished.”
“That wasn’t what I wished for!” I raised my voice.
“Oh no?” she waved her hand. In my mind’s eye, the conversation from when we last met replayed itself. “As you can see,” she said, slowly phrasing the next words as my character said them in the flashback. “You wished all of this had never happened and you went back in time before any of it had ever occurred. Poor choice of words but that’s exactly what you said. And poof! I sent you back before the accident.”
“Rubbish, that’s not what I meant,” I retorted. I knew however, in my heart of hearts that she was right. “You manipulated me.”
“Oh, boo hoo,” she grunted, waving her hand and snapping me back to the present. “You made a mistake. Everyone does,” she continued stroking the fur on Ripper’s neck. “But at least you can undo it. Not many people have that chance.”
“Bullshit,” I snapped. “You just want me to give you more years,” I referred to what seemed now like a rather lopsided deal. Especially when she was taking artistic license with my wishes.
“Such is the nature of business,” she said. “Darling I’ve been doing this since before your ancestors were specks in the ocean. I take any advantage I can get,” she paused.
“That doesn’t work for me.”
“Not like you have a choice,” she reminded me. “You either take my way, or wait around here and lament how this night could’ve gone. Good on you by the way, trying to spice up your little union with naughty games. Too bad he couldn’t stay awake long enough though.” She was now trying to goad me into using another wish.
“That’s not going to work on me,” I replied, defiant.
“You know what else isn’t gonna work?” she asked as she drew close. “Your marriage,” she hissed in my ear. I pushed her away. She giggled as she fell back into a sitting position on the ground. Her body was both warm and clammy at the same time, like a cold-blooded reptile basking in the sun. “Look, you’re a nice girl, so I’m just gonna give you some advice. First, never make deals with people loitering in dark corners. Second, make your next wish. It’s the only way out of this.” I looked at her. Her appearance was totally at odds with her manipulative nature.
“And what if I don’t want to?” I replied, defiant.
“And let Morgan die? When you have the ability to change it all?” she stroked her chin. “Just to avoid losing more years of your life? Wow I misjudged you. You’re more selfish than I thought. You’re a woman after my own heart,” the insult was biting. And against my better judgment, it was what it took to push me over the edge.
“Fine!” I yelled. She looked please as she rocked back and forth in anticipation, hands playfully clutching her ankles.
“Go on,” she urged.
“I wish,” I hesitated again, just as I had done during my first wish. “I wish that Morgan and I both survive the accident, we’re both safe and sound, back home, still married and happy together.”
She stroked her chin again, no doubt thinking of how she might mess up the wish. “It isn’t exactly a variation of your first wish,” she said, referring to her earlier rule. “But I’ll allow it,” she crossed her arms in a perversion of the wholesome I Dream of Jeannie and nodded. There it was again. That sinister grin.
Light started to fill my vision again as my eyeballs threatened to melt in their sockets. My throat ran parched and searing hot as my stomach churned and did somersaults. Ripper let out another mournful howl as I felt wind swirling around me like some kind of transformation from a discount Disney movie. Before I knew it, I was out cold again.
I awoke in my bedroom again, with my laptop opened up before me. I panicked. Did I go back in time before the accident once more? I looked around the room. It looked exactly the same. But wait. If it was before the accident, I wouldn’t remember it. My gaze stopped on the computer clock. 2018. It had been 2 years.
“Babe, you coming down for dinner?” Morgan called from downstairs. “Need a little help with something.” I was relieved to hear his voice.
“Yeah I’ll be down soon!” I called after him. I reexamined the date on my computer. October 1st. It was our anniversary again.
“Alright but don’t go expecting anything from Chef Enrique ok?” he abruptly paused. “Sorry I shouldn’t have brought that up. Come down quick alright?” I knew he was probably referring to the night of the accident. But we got through it, and that above all, was the most important thing.
I got up and looked myself over in the mirror. It sounded like we were having dinner at home. Which probably meant my attire of sweatpants and T-shirt was sufficient. But just in case, I should probably check with Morgan.
“Hey darling,” I called down the stairs.
“Yeah?” came the reply.
“What’re you wearing?”
“Meow,” he teased. “Save that naughty talk for dessert.” I laughed.
“No seriously. Are you dressed up or something?” I didn’t want him to be the only one making an effort this time.
“Babe I’m cooking. Everything’s gonna get messed up anyway.”
“Roger,” I responded.
I looked at the bed. I had set aside a little red dress to wear. I hesitated, pausing to think in my state of undress. Everything was clear as day this time. The accident. The deal. But it all seemed…too easy. Had I really won? Had I succeeded in changing our fate?
I sauntered down the stairs in an attempt to make as graceful an entrance as possible. I caught a glimpse of Morgan sitting at the table opposite from the stairs. He had really pulled out all the stops this time. The table was beautifully decorated with fresh bouquets of flowers and little flames danced on the tips of elegant candlesticks. As far as I could recall, this was the first time we’d be sitting down to a candlelit dinner at home.
Morgan stared at me slack jawed. His eyes were transfixed on me as I made my way down the stairs. To be honest I did feel a little bashful. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d put in so much effort into looking good for Morgan. I was even wearing the earrings he’d gotten me. I playfully turned my head as I let slip a coquettish grin. This was it. This was going to be our happily ever after. I was certain of it.
“Rawr,” Morgan said as he clawed the air with his palm. “You look ravishing.”
“Really?” I found myself suppressing bashfulness now. “You like it?”
“Like it?” he replied. “I’m finding it hard resisting ripping it off right now,” he laughed. I smiled. I loved it when he laughed. I sashayed over to his side of the table, giving him full view of my exaggerated hip swings. “Hey enough alright,” he put his hands up in mock defense. “Get me any more excited and you’ll have to pick me up off the floor,” he joked.
“Do these look good on me?” I turned my head to give him a glimpse of the elegant feather earrings hanging from my lobes.
“Wow you’re wearing them. God, I thought they were beautiful in the box,” he started. “They look exquisite on you,” he said to more blushing from me.
“This is nice,” I said. “Just the both of us at home. A quaint, candlelit dinner. I love this Morgan. Thank you,” I continued, still making my way down the stairs. We were here. We made it.
“My pleasure,” he replied. “Hey like I was saying earlier, I need your help with something in the kitchen. Do you think you could help me reach the corkscrew in the overhead cabinet? I’ve got a craving for some bubbly tonight.”
“Reach the overhead cabinet?” I asked. “Honey you’re 6 foot 2. You don’t need me for that.” Morgan suddenly looked crestfallen, as if what I’d said had struck a terrible nerve. He looked at me while suppressing anger.
“Babe, you know I don’t like to joke about that,” he said as he placed both his arms by his sides and strained to push his chair out.
At first it looked like he was just pushing out the dining table chair so he could take off in a huff. But then, I slowly realized what was happening. Morgan struggled to push the wheels of his wheelchair in reverse. I looked down at him, noticing that both his trouser legs conspicuously hung limply after the knees. I raised my hand to my mouth.
“No…no. Not this,” I said as I crumpled to the ground, my eyes starting to fill with tears. “Not this, not now!” I sobbed uncontrollably.
“Hey babe, it’s ok,” he said as he grasped my shoulders reassuringly. “I’m not mad. Maybe some time in the future I’ll finally be comfortable enough to joke about it. I’m not mad at you, you were just trying to make me feel better.”
“It’s not that,” I desperately reached for his legs, hoping it was all some cruel joke. Feeling nothing after his knees I started crying even more. “Your legs!!” I exclaimed between sobs.
“You act as if you haven’t seen these before,” he replied, reaching down and rolling up his pants leg. I cringed when the cloth rolled back and revealed the stump where the leg had been sawn off. “Are you having a mental breakdown or something?”
“It’s all my fault!” I cried, sobbing into his trousers and clutching at his shirt. “I did this to you!”
“Hey,” he pulled me up and looked into my eyes. “It’s not your fault,” he tried to console me. “This happened two years ago, Sam. I’ve learned to barely notice it,” I noticed his eyes start to well up as well. “And I honestly thought you had too.”
“No…no,” I shook my head. “This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen!” I got up from the floor.
“We survived the accident babe,” he looked up at me. “Doctors said it was a miracle I wasn’t dead. I shouldn’t even be here!” I glanced at his neck, where a conspicuous wound marked where he had bled out from in my previous memory of the accident.
“No…no!” I yelled. “Where are you? I know you’re out there just laughing at me right now!” I called out to her.
“Who are you talking about babe?” Morgan asked, concerned. “I think you’d better sit down for a while, just calm down a little,” he tugged at my dress.
“Come out you little bitch!” I yelled, picking up the bottle of champagne from the table and wielding it like a club. “This wasn’t how was it was supposed to happen!”
“Babe, stop this!” Morgan yelled. I could see the fear in his eyes. “You’re scaring me.”
A somber howl came from the yard as the front door was blown open. She jumped in.
“Surprise!” she yelled. She was clad in another Halloween outfit, a red devil with small, plastic wings. An orange, jack-o-lantern candy bowl hung from her elbow. “Not surprised?”
“This isn’t what I wanted to happen,” I replied. For a moment, I was concerned Morgan would be wondering what was going on. When I looked at him, I was assured that wouldn’t be the case.
All around me it seemed like time had slowed to an absolute crawl. The flames on the candlesticks slowly gyrated like some Middle Eastern belly dancer as the rest of the room flickered in harmony with the dancing light.
“Hey, like I said,” she playfully leaned against the coatrack, resting against it as it tumbled to the ground in slow motion. “I grant exactly what you wish for.”
“He’s in a wheelchair,” I pointed to the bemused Morgan, who were it not for the seriousness of the situation would have actually looked amusing in his confused, slowed down state. “I didn’t wish for that.”
“And?” she asked. “Did you not think there would be consequences to surviving the accident?”
“That’s the point of the wish, right?” I brandished the bottle.
“Oh, you people and your escaping consequences,” she appeared defeated. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“No,” I replied. “You can interpret the wish any way you want. It works exactly that way. You’ve been messing around just to get me to use up my wishes so you could get your jollies by watching how screwed up you made my life.”
“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But you have your happily ever after. Your marriage is working and you’re both happy. You survived the accident. What more could you want?”
“It’s not…perfect,” I replied tersely. “He’s in a wheelchair. He’ll suffer the rest of his life because of me.”
“It doesn’t look like he is,” she said, sauntering up to Morgan. “Are you suffering little baby?” she asked in baby talk again. She then proceeded to grab Morgan’s chin, forcefully shaking his head from side to side. “See? He’s fine.”
I swatted her hand away, disgusted at her handling of Morgan. “Get away from him.”
She backed away, hands up in mock surrender. “Fine. Be that way. You have one more chance anyway. I guess this was almost perfect. Tweak your wish a little, and perhaps you’ll get the happily ever after that you’re after.”
“How can I trust you?” I said, tossing the bottle on the floor where it broke into a billion tiny glass pieces, each spreading across the floor in slow motion like rafts on a sea of champagne.
She pretended to be upset. “I’m hurt,” she said, raising a hand to her heart. “After all we’ve been through together.”
“You’ll manipulate my wish again. And I only have one last chance.”
“For the perfect ending,” she paused, examining her nails. “Wouldn’t you take that chance?”
“No, I’ve had it with you and your moving goalposts. I’ll play this my way. I’ll beat you.” I pointed directly at her eyes. “I will beat you.”
“Oh, do try,” she smiled her Cheshire Cat smile again, human eyes reverting to animalistic serpentine eyes. “Won’t be the first time anyone’s tried that.” Her mouth was a bear-trap of sharpened teeth. “Besides, I’m just trying to help you.”
“I wish,” I started, pausing again like I had with each of my prior wishes. I glanced at Morgan once more. He wore a puzzled look on his face, still in the midst of turning in extreme slow motion towards me. He was oblivious to what was going on, and was probably questioning why I was talking to the coatrack. A tear started rolling down my cheek. I had come full circle. I found myself back at the first accident, wondering if what I was doing was right. I knew if I did what I was about to do, I might never see him again. But it was better than this. I had to beat her. It was the only way. The only way that I could make sure that we weren’t at her mercy. The only way we could escape this and seek our happily ever after together. At this point, no part of me had realized that perhaps we’d already found our happily ever after. All I could think about now was beating her. I had to beat her. “I wish you would not grant my wish!” I yelled.
“You…what?” she asked.
“You heard me bitch. I wish you would not grant my wish.” She stepped back, a look of contempt on her face. I was sure she’d have to reset everything. It was a loophole. It had to be.
“Well, well,” she said as she slowly clapped. “I bet you put a lot of thought into that one. I can’t think of any way around it.”
“Yeah,” I gloated. “It’s ironclad.” She smiled despite her defeat.
“You’ve got potential,” she said. “Selfish, manipulative. Oo…if only I’d met you a few millennia ago.”
“Get the hell out of my life.”
“Your wish, is my command,” she mockingly bowed.
The sizzling white pain returned as I felt my insides burning up. I started to feel faint, a sensation I don’t remember feeling before. My sight was blinded by bright white light as I felt myself being lifted up, beyond the roof into the clouds. The wind around my face and body enveloped me as I was transported to my final fate. I prayed that somehow it would involve Morgan.
“Goodnight baby. I love you,” Morgan’s warm voice whispered in my ears.
I groggily opened my eyes. Everything was blurry, but I could make out a figure in the corner of my eye. The ceiling was punctuated with bright white lights that stung my eyes, and I was surrounded by machines that beeped periodically, probably to tell people I was still alive. I yawned, each of my limbs aching like they’d been severed and reattached. My lids were still gummy from what felt like an eternity of sleep.
“Moorrr…gan?” I attempted to vocalize. My throat felt like it was made of gravel. The figure suddenly turned and rushed towards me, before speaking into the wall.
“Doctor Gabriel, paging Doctor Gabriel,” she said. It wasn’t Morgan. My stomach dropped. Where was he? I assumed she was a nurse talking into the intercom. “Room 117. The patient’s awake.” I cringed. Patient? “Repeat, she’s up. Paging Doctor Gabriel.”
Not five minutes later, a man I took to be Dr. Gabriel entered the room. The door slid open automatically to admit him.
“Ms. Samantha,” he started in a deep baritone voice. “Welcome back.” My eyesight was still blurry. He was a dark shadow contrasting against a bright background to me. I strained to lift my head. It was no use. My muscles screamed in protest.
“Wel…come,” I sputtered. My throat was beginning to clear up. “Welcome…back?” He nodded, drawing closer to my face to inspect the leads attached to my forehead. The circular fluorescent light behind him framed his head like a halo.
“You’ve been…how do I put this? You’ve been in a coma,” he said softly. “You may need some time to reacquaint with everything.”
Reacquaint? I started panicking. “Morgan?” I asked. Not managing more than a few syllables at any one time.
“Calm down,” he said, placing a hand on my forehead. I immediately felt relieved. It was uncanny. It felt like all my worries had just flushed out of my system. “You were in an accident,” he said. “You were lucky,” he nodded, as if to convey that he understood what I was going through. “A passing car stopped at the broken guard rail and found you. You may not have survived otherwise.”
“How…find us?” I was slowly regaining my voice.
“How did they find you?” he started. “I’m sorry, I don’t know the full details,” he said while shaking his head. “The motorist said a girl flagged him down. I’m surprised he stopped.”
“Where’s Morgan?” I asked again, wincing through the pain of my gravelly throat as I tried to look around the room.
“This is not going to be easy to hear,” he sighed. “But your husband died two weeks ago.”
“No…no.” My heart sank as tears started running down my face. “It can’t be true,” I said, choked up. Dr. Gabriel pulled me closer into an embrace. “I…just heard his voice.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s true. You were probably,” he paused trying to think of the best way to put it. “You know how they say people in comas can still hear those around them? It was probably something he said to you a while back.”
“How…did he die?” I looked at the doctor, tears blurring my already clouded eyesight.
“Natural causes,” he said slowly again, knowing I’d need some time to process it. “But rest assured he lived a full life. He was here every day tending to you until…until he went.”
“N…natural causes?” I asked, feeling my tear ducts burn as more tears carved paths down my face. “But…how?”
“Ms. Samantha, you’ve been in a coma for a long time,” he explained. I tried to get up in disbelief but my muscles wouldn’t let me. They had become withered and fragile with disuse. I looked at my arms. Wrinkly twigs with loose flaps of skin greeted me. Liver spots dotted my skin like potholes in a smooth road.
“What day is it today?” I asked.
“It’s October 1st, 2046,” he replied solemnly. “Ms. Samantha, I know it doesn’t seem like much consolation and you feel like thirty years have been taken from you, but think of it this way. You bet against the house and won. You’re alive,” he gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “That has to count for something, right?”
“Won?” I stammered. “Then why do I feel like I’ve just lost everything?”
Thank you for taking the time to read through this little creation of mine. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider recommending this short story or any other works of mine to your friends! Of course, I’d also greatly appreciate it if you could leave me a review at your retailer of choice. Thanks again and hope to see you again another time in another tale.
Reed W. Huston
Discover other Titles by Reed W. Huston
No Time Like the Present
A Murder of Crows
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Samantha and Morgan have had their difficulties, as have most married couples. But when a nasty accident forces Samantha to reevaluate that life, she realizes that she would do anything to have that back again. A little girl offers Samantha a deal, a bargain that seems too good to be true. But can Samantha deal with the consequences of her actions? Or will she learn the hard way that when you go to little girls in dark corners with your problems, you don't often get what you pay for.