Two Wishes

If you were granted one wish, what would it be?  I always knew what mine would be.  When I was eight, my little brother was struck by a car and killed.  His death devastated my parents, and it tore them apart.  Neither had done anything wrong, but every moment together reminded them of what they had lost.  They didn’t stop loving me or my sister, but they couldn’t stand to be together any longer.  So my family fell apart.  I always wished I could go back and save him from that accident, to save my family all that pain.

One day, I was given the chance.  A strange man, dressed all in black with a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, came up to me.  If I had still been a child, he would have made me nervous.  He looked exactly like the person your parents and teachers warned you to stay away from.  Instead, in my twenties, I just thought he looked odd.  He peered at me from under his hat and asked me what I wished for.

I don’t know why I answered.  Looking back, it seems so absurd.  Normally, I would have just walked past a stranger asking such a bizarre question.  But there was something about him that I cannot quite explain even now.  Even while the question seemed absurd, it was also genuine.  I answered without hesitation.  He nodded, and I was suddenly eight years old again.

I should say, I was eight years old in body, but I remembered everything that had happened.  And I knew what day it was.  I looked at the clock in my 2nd grade classroom: 2:45.  In less than an hour, my brother would be killed.  He was already at home after his half day kindergarten class.  He would be playing in the front yard, and the driver would jump the curb.  Everything would happen again.  I had to get home.

Fifteen minutes took forever.  Finally, the bell rang, and I jumped out of my chair and headed for the door.  I ran back to my house as fast as I could.  The bus had gotten there after he had already been killed.  Yet it was 20 minutes by foot, so I ran.

As I got close, I could see my brother in front of the house.  He was waiting for me to get home from school.  He always waited for me outside.  I tried to yell at him to go inside, but he thought I was just playing.  I heard a car behind me and ran even faster.  As I got to our yard, it sounded as though it was right behind me.  My brother ran over to me, and I shoved him as hard as I could just as the car hit me.

There was sharp, intense pain and then nothing.  I heard my brother scream.  I could see the scene, though it was blurry.  My brother was sobbing.  My mother came out and ran to my body, screaming herself.

Days and years passed by, oblivion punctuated with periods of awareness.  Those times of awareness were enough to tell the story.  My parents did not fall apart.  They leaned on each other for support.  But they couldn’t help blaming my brother.  They didn’t want to, but they thought that only if he hadn’t been outside, I wouldn’t have thrown myself in front of the car.  They didn’t say that to him, of course.  But he felt it.  And his own guilt was a terrific burden.  He could never forget the sight of me dying right in front of him.

I had saved my brother, but for what?  Ten years later, he did to himself what the car had failed to do.  Now my parents had lost both of their sons.  And my sister, both of her brothers.  My moments of awareness no longer show me what is going on with my family.  And I do not know if my brother is somewhere watching all of this.

If I had one wish now, it would be for oblivion to take over completely, for no more awareness.

Games People Play

The stairwell was empty, but he could see sparks coming off of the steps.  The landing, at least, seemed safe.  Keeping a cautious distance from the top step, he went through the door and let it close behind him.  Immediately the sparks vanished, and the electric hum became obvious because of its sudden absence.  Electrifying the stairs was obviously meant to try to keep people from escaping this way, but he couldn’t help wondering how any of the people who used the facility could safely use the stairs.  Was it just in case of a fire or something?  Was there some mechanism, such as the fire alarm, that shut off the flow of electricity?  He wished he had some way of starting a fire, but he didn’t.  And it would probably just lead someone to him.

He would have to risk the stairs.  There were three flights until the ground floor.  If anyone opened one of the doors and restarted the electricity, he probably wouldn’t live long enough to hit the floor.  There were landings half way between each floor, but he didn’t think he could make it by jumping.

Taking a moment to work up the resolve, he began his descent.  It was the only way out.  Going as fast as he dared, he jumped to the landing as soon as he was close enough.  He paused to listen for the sound of a doorknob turning before starting down again.

He reached the third floor, and then the second, hurrying as much as possible.  One more floor to go, and he would be free of this place.  No alarms had sounded, and no doors had opened.  This time, he would make it.

But halfway to the landing between the first and second floors, he heard the distinct sound of the second floor door opening.  He braced himself for the shock…

“Hey, John.  Going to lunch?”

He looked up.  “Oh, hi, Sam.  Yeah.  You want to come?”

“Sure.  Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you, why do you always take the stairs?  I mean, I’m just on 2, but with your office being on 4, I figured the elevator would be more convenient.”

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I guess I think the stairs are more fun.”  He looked back up the stairs and determined tomorrow he would make it all the way down.

Definitely NOT the human torch

He held up his right hand, rolled up his sleeve, and concentrated.  It began as thin white wisps swirling around his fingers as he slowly waved them in an undecipherable pattern.  The wisps turned translucent orange.  Finally, a blue tinge licked at the edges.

“How…?”

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I just started noticing smoke around my hand.  When I looked at it long enough, it turned to flame.”

Disbelief hung like a cloud over his friend.  “Doesn’t it hurt?”

“Me?  No.  But it does burn other things.”

“Can it cover your whole body?”

“Just my hands.  At least, so far.”

His friend sat there, staring at the fire.  Worried someone might come along, he willed the flame away.

“You’re like…  a superhero.  What’s your codename going to be?”

“I’m not a superhero.”

“Oh come on!  This is so cool.  Let’s see… uh…  the human…  No.  Can’t use that.  Probably copyright laws.  Um…”

“I’m serious.  No superhero.  This is just something weird happening to me.  I don’t know why, but I’d like to find out.”

“Why?  Think of how much good you could do?  Or at least fame.  And probably money.”

“What good could I do?  Light people on fire?”

“Just the bad guys.”

“What bad guys?  Under what circumstances would it be okay to set someone on fire?  And how would I do that without hurting other people?”

“But this ability…  It’s got to have a purpose.  You can do something nobody else can.”

“So can a grandmaster in chess.  That doesn’t make her a superhero.”

“Well, what are you going to do, then?”

“I don’t know.  Stage magician?  Stuntman?”

“Lame.  Superhero’s better.”

“Never mind.  Should have kept it to myself.  Let’s go get some food.”

Just Three Little Words

He woke up in an unfamiliar place, which was almost entirely devoid of color.  The walls and floor tile were white, as were the curtains and bed sheets.  It was not an uncomfortable room; it even had a window that looked out upon a flowering tree of some sort.  But it was not somewhere that he recognized.

More troubling, however, was that he found he could not remember who he was.  He realized it only after trying to remember how he came to be in this room.  But now it occurred to him that this could be his room for all he knew.  And that was profoundly disturbing.

The nightstand by the bed might hold some answers, he thought, as he began to search it.  There was only one thing to be found, however.  It was a single scrap of paper.  On it were three words: You are dead.

Before he could begin to consider what they meant, the door opened and a man in a white coat entered.

“How are you feeling today?”

“Where am I?”

The man sighed.  “I had hoped you might remember something from yesterday.  You are at Washington Park, a private institution.”

“Why am I here?”

“I should think that is obvious.  You are having problems with your memory.”

The paper still bothered him, not just the words themselves, but the writing.  Noting the man’s – doctor’s? – clipboard, he had an idea.

“May I borrow your pen and a piece of paper?”

While clearly puzzled, the man handed both items over, tearing a blank page from his clipboard.  Taking them he wrote the words quickly, trying not to think too much.

“Did you remember something?”

Ignoring the question, he picked up the paper from the nightstand and compared the two.  The writing was identical.  He had written a note to himself.  But what did it mean?  Why had he written it?

“Well…?”

“Oh, sorry.”  He handed the pen back.  “No.  It was nothing.  I thought I had something, but I was wrong.”

“Oh.”  The disappointment was obvious in the man’s voice.  “Would you like me to have a pen and notepad sent up?  If you think it might help…”

“That would be nice.  Thank you.”

“Of course.  Your counsellor will be by in a little while.  Perhaps the two of you can work on it together.”

With that, the man left.  He was alone to consider the message he had sent himself.  He clearly wasn’t dead, so what could it mean?