Be careful what you wish for, it could come true.
By Stephen A Abell
Number Of Words: 5346
The clouds broke over the sleepy village of Brackenfield, allowing the silver glow of the full moon to bathe the village green in a haunting glow. At the centre of the green stood the pond: Stars silently twinkled in the black-glass water. Light ripples caressed the surface as a soft summer breeze blustered on its way. The expanse of land was triangular in shape. Four homes, one small school and adjoining schoolhouse, and a Methodist church bordered two of its sides. The other opened onto woodland. A single road serviced the village. It ran up the hill from the old church, past Ivy Cottage, then past the green and school. Once it topped the hill, it swung to the left, past twenty council built houses, and as it dropped down the other side, you left Brackenfield.
Though the place was small, for one weekend a year, in May, people from neighbouring towns and villages would travel out to pay respects to the well-dressings that were dotted about. Most were to raise awareness and money for various charities, while others depicted various moments in history. This year the event was in its last day, tomorrow the boards would be taken down; the money counted and distributed; and the paintings, sculptures, plants, books, jams, and cakes not sold, would be taken out of the school so classes could commence. For the tiny village, the well-dressing was one of their busiest in history. One of the locals had kept a random check on the tourists that turned up. It was a small world indeed, because other than then regular Derbyshire and English folk, he noted Americans, Chinese, Italians, French, and some he thought to be Polish, Romanian, or Russian. Most of the large glass jars, standing beside each dressing, for donations, had been emptied at least once.
The past weekend was the major talking point for the locals as they sat in the small pub, hidden from view, down a dirt track behind the school. Long before regulations changed and extended opening hours for public houses, you could always find someone still "suppin'" into the small hours of the morning. Unless the landlord was going fishing the next day, or some other such important business called him away, then eleven pm was last call. And, since he was a man of tradition, even though it was now legal to stay open twenty-four hours, if the fish were calling he rang the bell over the bar at eleven. Just as he did tonight.
As the locals all filed out a half hour later, they wished him luck with his catch the following day. As always, Mad Mick kept his seat, at the far end of the bar, until he was forcibly removed. It did not take much these days though; the poor old bugger was seventy-six. The years had taken most of the piss and vinegar out of his system. Over the course of his thirty year tenancy, of the public house, the landlord came to blows at least twenty times with him that he could remember, though it was probably more. Now a small bottle of whiskey was enough to get the codger moving, peacefully, and he could make it disappear, easy enough in the books.
"Well, I'm glad all the bloody hoo-ha is over," Mick grumbled as he resolutely stayed put in his regular seat by the fire. "We ‘ave too many bloody do-gooders in this place. It ain't enough their bloody noses get into other people's business, now their tryin' t'right the world. Bloody useless thing to do, is what I say."
Catching the implication the barman spoke up, "Now ya' know Sherry was only tryin' t'help ya'."
"May be so, but I'm old, not a bloody invalid. The cow should've asked before comin' over an' weedin' me garden."
"Hey, I won't stand no name callin' in my house Mick, ya' know that." Gently he placed a hand on Mick's shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. "I got summat for ya' if ya' interested?"
"What would that be then?"
He lent over the bar and brought up a small bottle of whiskey.
"Ya' can keep ya' whiskey, I'm no soddin' charity case either." Sudden his old body pushed up from the seat with surprising agility, his shoulder connected with the landlords, as he passed, nearly knocking the barman over. Without turning back, he barged through the door, slamming it shut behind him.
Forgetting his house rule, the landlord muttered under his breath, "sour old bastard," and proceeded to tidy up.
Outside, it was a balmy night and the moon cast a strong white light for Mick to walk by. In his early years, he worked down the pit, building his muscles as well as his temperament. His weekends then, were devoted to pubs, beer, fighting, and women; in that order. He was a tough nut and back in his prime, he was tougher, that was where his nickname originated. Now, nearly a lifetime older, he was starting to forget things, and a couple of times he even caught himself talking to empty air. His nickname resurfaced in the small village community, only this time it stung him with its pity and sarcasm. It was not right, after everything he had gone through; losing his son to a car accident, and then watching as his wife fade away with cancer. He always stood strong through everything this miserable life threw at him. Did he not have a right to be a little harsh and cranky? He would give anything to show these self-righteous idiots just who he was.
Just like these Christ-pushing churchgoers. He stood outside the small-prefabricated Methodist church. Mandy, his wife, had dragged him to the Catholic Church, at the bottom of the hill, every Sunday. Even though, he always stubbornly refused to go, at first, she always got him there before the ten o'clock service. He would sit there and smile, the church were not the only ones who could be pious.
Just to the right of the entrance stood their well-dressing, depicting some holy scene or another. To the right of the dressing stood a small handmade well. The carpentry was not great, but it did serve its purpose. The height of the wells wall stood at two foot, with the pitched roof was another couple of feet above that. Mick rested his elbow on the roof-work, as he tried to peer nonchalantly inside. "Damn an' blast," he muttered, noticing the well was nearly devoid of coinage. By the light of the moon, he could just make out about a couple of pounds, of small change. "Ah well," he leant forward and began scooping up the money, "better than nowt I suppose. The kid in Africa ain't gonna miss a couple of quid."
Looking down at his hands he began to count his ill gotten gains, hoping there might be enough to buy him a bottle of whisky; a cheap, small bottle of whisky, at least.
"Bloody cheapskates," his voice echoed over the open green. He staggered back a couple of steps, surprised at his own loudness. "Shhh," he told himself in an inebriated slur. In his hand was only seventy five pence; the objects he thought to be pound coins were two beer bottle tops and one worthless sixpence piece; nowhere near enough for the booze, but he could pick up some milk. Clenching his fist he waved it blindly at the church, "Is this ya' way of tellin' me to become a teetotaller Lord, ya' hypocrite. Didn't ya' turn the water into wine, eh? Nah why can't ya' do that for me?" He turned his attention back to the wishing well and smiled. "Well, I can make a wish at least, can't I,"
"What the bloody hell is all this commotion?" Mick, caught up in the unjustness of his life failed to notice the light going on and the bedroom window opening, in the house next door. A resigned sigh and recognition followed the volcanic eruption, "Ah, I should've guessed it'd be thee. Get tha'sen t'home Mick and let us workers ‘ave our kip, eh!" The window closed as Mick gave him the reverse V finger salute.
He threw the handful of change and bottle tops back into the well and started to stagger off back down the lane, giving another V salute, for good measure. "I wish you'd all just leave me alone to live me life. It ain't too much t'ask for, is it?"
Mick's house stood in the shadows of two oak trees; at the end of the lane; on the other side of a "T" junction; no more than half a mile from the pub. His shambling stride never faltered, as he walked through the clawing darkness of the shadows. Thirty odd years of walking the same route was etched into his entire body, making it routine and natural. He grabbed the door handle, turned, and pushed it open. In this time of growing concern for personal safety, his door always stood unlocked. Even with the influx of hundreds of nosey visitors to the village, the last three days, he still awaited his first unexpected stranger; whether they be intent on robbing him or causing him harm, or even something so mundane as "Sorry to bother you, my cars broken down. Can we borrow your phone?"
He flicked the kitchen light on and closed the door for the night.
Outside a dark shape, lost in the shadows, stepped from behind an oak. Sickly yellow eyes scanned the house and a row of savagely white teeth ripped the darkness away with their Cheshire cat grin.
Inside the house, as Mick settled down to watch a recorded snooker match on the telly, he never heard the stranger clap three times and say, "Let it be so."
Inside the house, as Mick raised the silver whiskey tumbler to his lips, he did not know, or even begin to realise, the fabric of time, space, and reality itself had intrinsically altered.
Inside the house, as Mick took the first swallow of "The Good Stuff", and sighed with satisfaction, he was blind to the fact he was the cause of the monumental change to the entire Universe.
One problem with living in the country is some farmer will undoubtedly have a cockerel that, without fail, sounds off at the crack of dawn. Well Dawn must have been walking by, because the cacophony of the cock's morning chorus brought him out of the land of nod. It did not matter how sound asleep he was, the raucous call always pulled him free of slumber's grasp. Once awake he would have to endure the blessed creature for, at least, a half hour or more. One morning the bloody racket continued over an hour, before the bloody rooster shut-up. On hindsight, he should have been a bit more frugal with his redundancy and fitted the double glazing when he could have afforded it. At least he paid off the mortgage, and bought a new car. The last car they ever owned. Robert, having past his test, had asked his father nervously if he could borrow the car so he and some mates could go for a spin. Remembering his own youth, Mick happily tossed the keys to his son; his last words were "Be careful boy, she's new. Don't ya' be scratchin' it." The trouble with country roads are their size; only big enough for one car at a time: The visibility on them are poor; they snake around blind curves, and the hedgerow is usually too tall and thick to see through. Bu kids will be kids; and kids love speed. As did his son and another fathers offspring who met head to head, bumper to bumper, engine to engine, at a blind curve with high, dense hedgerow. Everybody was killed.
Shaking himself out of his melancholy, he realised how quiet the morning was. The rooster was no longer crying at the top of his lungs. No birds sung in the trees. Only the sound of the summer breeze made any noise at all, as it idly played and teased the leaves on the two old oaks. "Strange," the old man muttered, feeling alone in the big empty house.
After throwing on his dressing gown, which had quickly become his usual attire for the day, after he lost his Mandy, he plodded down the wooden stairs. At least good old Marmaduke will be talking to me, he thought and smiled, he's always so talkative before breakfast. As he entered the kitchen, his eyes caught movement in the periphery of his vision. Had he seen a single ginger paw step out through the cat-flap? The flap moved a little, back and forth, though it could just be the wind. Strange for the cat to leave before being fed. Mick looked at the clock on the oven. It read six-fifteen He was not late at all so, why had ‘duke left before scoffing his meat? It was very unlike him. Then again, he could have scented a field mouse; God knows there were plenty around for ‘duke to play with before ripping their little bodies apart to devour all their succulent bits.
Picking up the kettle, he shook it gently in his hands, to gauge the amount of water inside. Satisfied there was enough for at least a cuppa' he plugged it in, flicked the switch, and waited for it to boil. While waiting he ran a tea-towel quickly over a mug, he picked up from the draining board, and dropped a fresh tea bag into it.
Then he turned on the radio. It was always tuned to BBC Radio 2 because there was nothing quite like Wogan in the morning, to set a soul right for the day. There was nothing. No sound emitted from the speakers. The power light shone green, announcing it was on. If it glowed red then it would be in stand-by mode. He turned up the volume; there was no sound at all. As the dial reached the maximum volume, he thought he heard breathing. It was so soft, he could not be completely sure it was not just static. Straining to listen to the silence, he placed an ear up to the speaker and could almost feel the pulsating electric. Did he hear a chair slide over carpet? A soft squeak as someone pushed back in the leather to repel the chair backwards.
An icy shaft shot cold and hard up his spine and lodged in his soul. Gut instinct told him someone was sat at the other end of the airwaves, in a small studio. Though, for the life of him, he did not understand why they were not speaking. Maybe something had happened to the radio presenter and there was nobody to stand-in, so dead air was broadcasting. But, it was not dead. There was the breathing.
He leaned over and flicked the switch above the right speaker. If he could not listen to the radio then a tape would have to do. He selected a box with Richard Clayderman hand written on the spine. He slipped it into the open slot, pushed it closed and pressed play. Behind him, the kettle clicked off and he poured the water into the awaiting mug, over the tea bag. Vigorously, he stirred it, leaving the bag to dance around in the water as he fished the milk out of the fridge. As he spooned out the used bag and added a drop of milk, he wondered why the music was not playing.
He hit the stop button, and then flicked the fast forward. After a count of five, he stopped the speeding motor and hit the play button. Still no music. Inside his veins, his anger began to gather steam. He turned the tape over and rewound it for a count of fifteen. Silence sounded out when he pressed the play button.
Ripping the tape out of the player, he cast it onto the worktop. A pre-recorded original James Last dropped into the door. Nothing. He reversed the tape and rewound over half the way back before pressing the play button. Silence. James joined Richard. After trying ten other cassettes, Mick was fuming. He stormed and blundered all about the kitchen, "They're blank! All the bastards are blank!." He shouted his allegations into the silent air, "if I find the bloody buggers responsible I'll tan their bloody hides." Noticing the cup of tea cooling by the kettle, he let out a pissed-off sigh, grabbed the mug, spilling tea over the counter, and headed to the front room and the television, "I'll make the bastards regret the day their mother ever opened her legs."
Slowly he settled his old bony arse into the armchair and a smile of satisfaction lit his face. The armchair had lived in the room for the last fifteen years and perfectly moulded to his contours. His bum in the seat was like the proverbial hand in the glove. He pressed the ON button on the remote, without a doubt the best invention ever. Colours flared on the screen and he settled back to watch the news.
The set was bare. The male and female presenters were nowhere to be seen. He watched the sofa for ten minutes before asking, "What the hell's going on this morning? Are all the TV stars on strike?" Changing channel, he came to a cartoonish set. He knew there should be a couple of puppets dancing about and being silly for the kids. The coldness was beginning to freeze his body. Another channel: This showed an outside scene. It looked to be a dirty alley; it was from an advert, something to do with quitting smoking. On an instinct, he flicked back to the first channel. The sofa was gone, now the camera pointed at the weather wall, where graphics moved lazily over a map of England. Mick was sure a hand had just departed from the shot to the right of the screen.
Something was very wrong here, where was everybody?
The cat-flap sounded in the kitchen, very quietly. "Duke, that you boy," he called out, "come to Papa, show ‘im ‘e ain't goin' mad." Sighing and groaning in pain, as his back reacted to losing its comfy seat, Mick stood up and walked, gingerly, into the kitchen; just in time to see a ginger tail slide sarcastically out of the flap. He picked up the book, he was reading, from the kitchen table, "at least I still have you, until my eyesight packs in, anyway." Back in his chair, he turned the telly off and supped his cold tea, as he read about Miss Marple's adventures. Maybe that old broad could solve this mystery for me, he thought.
Two hot cuppas and fifty pages later, he decided to head into the village to pick up his shopping. He was running low on vegetables, bread, eggs, and milk.
As he wondered up the lane, he mused at how quiet it was. Though it was a very small place, there was usually somebody about, especially on the open green to his right. There were always hikers stopping to take in the scenery and have a drink. Locals met out here to chat and walk their dogs. "God-damn-it," he muttered, "where are those stinkin' birds?" He looked to the small wood at the end of the green, eager to see something small and flying. Again, there was nothing. Or was there something. Could someone have pulled their dog into the deep shadows? Checking his watch, he noted it was playtime for the school; the playground was empty and silent. There should have been about twelve children, of mixed ages, running about and yelling. Sometimes, the older ones were allowed to kick the football about on the green. Scanning the boundaries, he spotted a football, just coming to a stop. He stood a long while and stared into the tree-line where the ball would have continued too. In the darkness, shadows moved.
He picked up speed, becoming more than a little scared and in need of some human company, he headed to the little shop at the end of the lane. It acted as an all-in-one, Post office, Newsagents, grocers, florist, and market. Seventeen years ago, when the new people took over, they converted the adjoining house into a Chip shop. Mick was the first to admit they did the best Cod and chips he ever tasted. Quickly he pushed the door open, "Good mornin' Alan, you wouldn't believe the day I'm hav..." He should have known it would be empty. In the back he heard the muted thud of a door closing, could he hear the tapping of heals on concrete, walking away?
"What ‘ave I done t'you guys? Why ya treatin' me like this?" No answers came from the empty shop. Picking up a basket, he wondered around the shop picking up his groceries. At the till, he dropped a ten pound note on the counter and left, owing them £1.64.
"If ya' want the rest, ya' know where I am. Just call in an' get it."
A cars engine ripped through the unsettling silence and his hear filled with hope. There was a car coming down the road at the end of the lane. There was no way it could know he was there, and by the time the driver saw him it would be too late to hide. A good distance away from the road he heard the brakes screech and the engine die. By the time he reached the fork in the road and looked toward the car, he knew what he would see. An empty car.
The unstoppable tears cascaded down his face in rivers.
The radio; the TV; the shop; the school; the car: It wasn't a joke. It could not be a joke. He turned around and was not surprised to see the football had disappeared.
Back in the house, he put away his shopping and sat, heavy hearted, in his chair. Within an hour, he sobbed himself into sleep and dreams of cities, devoid of life, but full of dancing shadows. The grumbling of his empty stomach woke him to the setting sun and the deafening quiet of twilight.
Mick repeated his morning ritual. He put meat down for Marmaduke, tapped his plate, made high pitched calls, and shouted, "Duke, come on boy, food's out, come on." The ginger tom remained absent, as did the TV & movie stars on the television. Manically, he flipped through the channel's and saw shots of empty hospitals, police cells, hot seats, quiz sets, empty podiums, deserted city streets. The worst being the movie: He knew the action film was shot on the busy streets of New York; now everywhere the camera panned only the city and central park stood, never had it been so desolate, empty, and dead. A ghost city. Saddened, he turned the television off and for the first time in ten years, he unplugged it. The powered up radio played silence; not total silence, but close. Once or twice, there may have been loud, strained breathing; and he was sure there had been a fart. After pulling the plug out the wall socket, he stood it on the telly in the living room.
The clock on the cooker blinked 21:34. He needed a drink and decided to risk the pub. Silently he walked out the house, across the road and up the lane. Lights burned in the few houses around the green, but no shadows moved behind the closed curtains; and no muffed music or distorted talking could be heard. Silence took on a new quiet.
He stood by the side of the small school and listened intently for any sign of life coming from the public house to the rear. There was nothing but the lights cutting their way through the nicotine covered patterned glass of the windows, and his gut screaming at him that the locals were inside and sitting statue still, waiting his decision.
"Well," he sighed, "let's see how fast ya' can scurry away in'ta hidin'." With that resolution, he put his best foot forward. Within mere seconds, his hand found and depressed the latch, and with a sudden outburst of speed, he stumbled crazily into the pub. On any other night, the patrons would have been laughing at his carelessness, and pointing accusing fingers. On any other night, there would have been people everywhere in the cosy set of rooms. Now, however, it was empty. "Damn," he shouted at nobody in particular, "You bloody buggers're fast."
Mick plodded over to the bar and slapped the palm of his hand down on the cold wooden counter, "Bar keep, bar keep."
"Keep ya' hair on, ya' old sod." He replied.
"That ain't no way to t'talk t'ya best customer, is it?" He retorted.
"Sorry sir, I didn't see it was you." He apologised.
"Well, that better be so, cause, otherwise, I'll report ya t'boss." He warned.
"And just what is it ya'll be reportin' t'me about, eh?" He countered.
"I'm reportin', it's time t'stop screwin' about and serve us some bevies." He ordered.
With that, he walked to the end of the counter, where the top met the wall and deftly flipped the catch underneath the overhang, and lifted a three foot section oh bar, and fastened it to the wall. With his foot, he pushed the front bit of hard wood panel in towards the bar, on its hinges.
"Don't worry," he laughed, "I'll get it me'sen."
Grabbing a pint glass from the back of the bar he quickly placed it under the Black Sheep tap. The first pint he pulled went down the sink, too much head. He took his time on the pump and his second pint was nearly as good as the landlord pulled. With the first smile, of the day, on his face he took his usual seat by the fire, and sipped his pint with a feeling of satisfaction. The stillness was eerie, where were the locals? Maybe they all left for home or were they waiting, out back, for him to take himself off, so they could continue to enjoy their evening?
Growing old was not fun, he pondered. His memory was not as reliable as it once was. For the life of him, he could not figure out how all of this happened. The scale of his problem made him tremble inside, as fear ran around, unbound. Two pints later and the unease had grown to paranoiac proportions. He found his eyes were darting to the shadows around the small room, in the hopes of detecting movement, however small.
When he could not take the stress any longer he stormed out of the pub, stopping long enough to swipe a large bottle of whiskey from the under the counter. Halfway past the school he paused and looked back. His gut told him, and he knew it to be true, most of the drinkers were back inside the pub. Could he make it to the door, before they could exit through the back?
"Bugger it!" He exclaimed, and realised he was defeated. With dejection in his heart and a profound feeling of loneliness, he trekked down the lane and home.
As his hand closed around the door handle, a voice shattered the silence. Though it was only a whisper it sounded as dark, menacing, and as loud as rolling thunder.
"I made a deal some time ago."
Mick spun on his heals and looked into the darkness beneath the oaks. As shadow shifted slightly and two piss coloured eyes stared back. "To, be honest though, I thought it might be fun. And it was; for a while."
"Who are ..."
"Shh. It doesn't really matter anyway. Now once upon a time there was a wily man who believed in legends and myths, spirits and magic. This took him on some great adventures in strange lands and dangerous places. He was looking for treasure, you see: The elusive "get stinking rich quick scheme". That, is where he found me.
"I was trapped in a sealed lead vessel. Luckily, for me the wily man was as curious as a kitty cat; and we all know what happened to the pussy. No sooner had he unsealed my cell than I tried to kill him. But, as I said he was wily. He knew who and what I was. The little bastard trapped me in the pentagram, where he opened the box.
"To say I was pissed is an understatement. To be so close to freedom but not able to grasp one little bit of it, now that is torture. He dared to speak my name, and as it is scribed, it is done. Speaking my name gave him control over me. I am the breed of Jinn, and we have the power to grant wishes.
"For years, I granted him his wishes from my tortuous prison. I gave him money, women, boys, girls. I kept the police away from his door, for the crimes he committed; you see, while on his adventures he picked up some very nasty tastes and bad habits. I kept him out of the army and the bombs away from his home.
"The years and over indulgence in everything rich did not weigh lightly on him. By the age of fifty, I knew there was little time left for him. But, that nasty wiliness came through for him, again. All the while, I suffered alone in the locked attic he studied, and learnt of the Jinn power symbol, nothing more than a simple triangle. He also memorised a capture and binding spell. This would tie me to the symbol. One day he came into the room and threw hundreds of silver coins into the pentagram then proceeded to recite the spell. On the backs of these coins are three thistles. These intertwine at the centre and form a triangle.
"I do not know what happened to the little old wily man, but without my magic all of his indiscretions would come into the light. I have no doubts he died a very nasty death indeed.
"Now, I see incredulity on your face. You are probably wondering why I am telling you my story. Well with your last wish, you have set me completely free. With every wish on every coin, a little part of me gained freedom, and I grew stronger. My entire entity was held within that last piece of metal. Thank you."
A marble white hand shot out of the darkness, without hesitation and only reactions, Mick grabbed the hand firmly and shook.
"Can you break my wish?" Mick's voice quavered in awe; he could feel the Jinn's immense power pulsing from his hand, "take it all back. Please, I don't want this."
"Ah, sorry old lad. I cannot do that. You only get the one wish, and since I'm no longer trapped, there aren't any other coins for you to find. You can take consolation in the fact this wish is my best. It took so much power to do; and to show my gratitude I forged it so tightly no spell could ever break it. Sorry to bother you, but I did just needed to say thank you.
"Now, I'll leave you the hell alone to live your life." The hand shot back into the darkness and they nasty yellow eyes closed.
Only blackness and the sudden flood of memories remained.
The cloudy details of the previous night flooded into Mick's mind and he knew there was only one person to blame for his predicament.
"NO." He screamed into the silence.
Crying he walked, forever alone, into his evermore lifeless house and away from the eternally insensate world.
The words both his mother and Mandy were fond of saying haunted him, "be careful what you wish for ..."