Short Story – The Third Wish

 by Ross Newberry

Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.


She flashed by the office door, pale skin and fiery red hair. Too much skin. “Aidyn!” I called. She stifled a curse and slammed the front door before retracing her steps, stomping as she came. Too much fire, as well.

“What now, Mom?” she asked. “I’m going to be late.”

“Then you should have tried to leave sooner. Now you’ll be even later, because there’s no way you’re leaving in that skirt.”

Mom, I wish you’d just leave me alone!” she spat.

A tingle plunged from the top of my head, straight down through my stomach and out my toes. Even after years of fighting it off, it took three deep breaths before I could respond.  I’d been dreading The Talk for sixteen years, but I couldn’t put it off any more.

“You wish…. The most dangerous thing about wishes is that they sometimes come true. We forget this at our peril,” I said. “Once upon a time…”

Once upon a time?” she interrupted, tossing her flaming curls back over a shoulder. “Don’t you think I’m too old for fairy tales?”

I took one more deep breath, shot to my feet, and shifted fully into Mom Mode.

“Four things. First, give me ten minutes and I’ll change your mind about fairy tales. Second, I’m old enough that once-upon-a-time applies. Third, I need you to be quiet while I speak.” She tried to butt in, but I leveled a finger at her and finished quickly. “Fourth, as long as you don’t interrupt too much, I promise you won’t be more than fashionably late to Cade’s party.”

“I wasn’t going to….”

“Yes, you were. I’m old, not dead. Still interested in going?”

She sat, suddenly serene, the picture of youthful innocence. I shook my head. I was in so much trouble, raising this one.

***

 I’ll begin again. Once upon a time, I was fifteen pages into a twenty-page paper on Irish mythology, and running on fumes. I’d gotten too far in to consider major changes to a document full of stuff like, “eó bo háille d’ḟíoḋḃaiḃ,” and yet not quite far enough for the creative application of margin, line spacing, and font size to see me through. Yes, we did that back in my day, too.

Anyway, I was just about to bang my head on the desk to shake loose knowledge of the ancient Irish mythic figures, the Tuatha Dé Danann, when my room suddenly filled with the pungent aroma of cannabis. Erika from down the hall breezed into the room on the arm of some foreign exchange student. She always seemed to have a new one each week.

“Quitting time,” she said, “let’s go dancing!” She let the guy twirl her, the tan and green of her 100% organic hand-woven hemp dress flaring around her. Sitting there in my cut-off acid-wash jeans, steel-shank combat boots, and Jay Z t-shirt, I had a sudden college epiphany that our recent friendship was already waning.

“Not this weekend,” I said. “If I don’t pull off a B in Irish Myth, I’ll lose my scholarship.”

“Sure an’ you’ll do it,” the guy said in a soft Irish brogue, and winked at me. I thought it was maybe his green eyes, or his fine, dark hair, or the way he just stood there like he owned the place, but every hair on my body stood on end, and I felt all my scattered thoughts of the Irish gods settle into order. At the time, I chalked it up to the power of positive thinking, but I had a lot to learn.

“Hey yeah, Colin knows this stuff. He’ll teach you, but you have to come wiiiith us!” Erika teased.

I knew Erika had been working hard to get through remedial calculus. “I wish you’d knock it off,” I told her. Without warning, she slipped and fell backward, her head rebounding from the tile floor with a crack! I felt the flow of something within me, and somehow emptier than I had seconds before.

The blood drained from Colin’s face. “Shite! What’ve ye done?”

A number of other girls poked their heads into the hall. I saw the pool of blood spreading from the back of Erika’s head as the screams began.

“What happened!?” I shrieked.

“Ye wished `er ta death.” Colin said it wistfully, but without any real concern.

“Then I wish her back alive!” Again, I felt empty, like the air had been sucked out of my lungs, and taken my dinner with it. Nothing happened, though, other than the pool of red slowly widening and the frantic babble of five girls calling 911 at the same time. One of the other troubles with wishes, I learned later, is that nothing granted by a wish can ever be undone. No take-backsies. Try it and you waste your wish.

“I just wanted ta help ye with yer class, but I can only give the power. Ye killed `er with it, sure as sorrow. They’ll lock ye up fer sure,” Colin said. My eyes met his, and he suddenly looked old and tired, and lots of both. “Ye should come with me.” And the next thing I remember is sitting beside him in first class, somewhere over the north Atlantic. I didn’t even have a passport, or any memory of how he got me on the plane. I filled my lungs to scream that I was being kidnapped. “Wish ye wouldn’t,” he said. “It’d be a bother, cleanin’ it all up. Anyway, I’m doin’ ye a favor, so relax.”

“How,” I hissed, “is kidnapping a favor?”

“This way, they all think I’m the bad guy. Stay with me a couple weeks, then head home. Ye can say ye escaped, an’ nobody’ll know yer a killer.” What can I say? I was young, and scared, and in shock, and he was glamouring me besides. I caved instantly.

When we landed in Dublin, he secured two liters of Bushmills and a rented Vauxhall Astra diesel. It wasn’t until we were both in the car that I realized we were finally alone.

“So…stop me when I say something wrong,” I said. “I’m thinking you somehow gifted me with intimate knowledge of Irish mythology, and magic power, too, since I somehow wished Erika dead. I’m thinking that, plus your Irish accent, means you’re one of the Irish fairies, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and magic is real, and I killed someone, and we’re running off to fairyland, and why aren’t you interrupting me?!”

Colin cracked the lid on one of the bottles of whiskey and took a long swig. “Ye said ta stop ye when ye went wrong. `Twould be me honor if ye’d accompany me. Ye’ll be…ye’d make a man quite happy. Do ye mind drivin’?”

How many times in your life do you get to go on a road trip with a fairy? “OK,” I said, “where’s the secret entrance?”

***

In the foggy twilight just before dawn, we ended up slinking around the outskirts of a village called Elphin. Like elven? I laughed at the absurdity of it, but Colin said it was us who named it. “Keep yer eyes open fer mushrooms,” he said. “We need to go on a trip.”

“I don’t do drugs,” I told him.

“Not that kind of trip,” he sighed. “Not that kind of mushroom. We need a ring an armspan wide. It moves around day to day. Don’t pick `em.”

We found the ring behind a silversmith’s shop. Colin pulled me into it and held me tight. Up close, he smelled like whiskey and the undersides of fallen leaves. Earthy, but not unpleasant. He dribbled the last of the first bottle of Bushmills onto the mushrooms. I can’t really explain what happened next, but I felt like the earth dropped out from under me and I tumbled upside down. When I dared to look, I was standing in a painting of early summer: a close-cropped grassy meadow ringed by fruit trees, with a clear, stony brook babbling along a sandy path that wound away into the distance. Colin walked to a tree beside the start of the path and picked up a longbow, quiver, and a long hunting knife in a silver sheath.

“There’s things ye’ll need to know, if ye’re to pass into Tír na nÓg and live with me,” he said, “There’s a sort of gatekeeper, to keep out iron and other stuff that’s bad for our folk, and keep out human folk as well. Ye’ll have to challenge and best him, and ye’re out o’ wishes, so it’s down to yer knowledge and cunning.”

“I…don’t have a lot of those,” I said. I was so far gone with shock and glamour at this point that I didn’t even notice that my brief visit was now being discussed as a more permanent arrangement.

Colin smiled. “Well, we have two days’ walk ta reach `im.”

He was, at least in that, true to his word. He talked me through his people’s history, from their arrival in Ireland and the defeat of the Fir Bolg, the warrior people who’d lived there. Their king, Nuada, had offered the Fir Bolg their choice of one fifth of the island, and, to his dismay, they’d chosen Connacht, where much of the land’s magic resided.

Then, the Gaelic people had come across the sea, bringing iron weapons and armor, and both groups were driven “underground” into the magical realm of Tír na nÓg, the Land of Eternal Youth. Due to the Fir Bolg’s choice of land, the Tuath Dé then had to travel through their lands to reach the only way in or out, which was the reason for our two-day journey afoot.

Though I was still somewhat in shock, the beauty and perfection of the landscape weren’t lost on me. When I got hungry, I could pick a ripe pear or apple, and we had plenty of water, as the clear brook never left the path. As the sun began to set, Colin felled a majestic buck with one shot from his bow, and we made camp by a close bower of pines with a dense carpet of pine straw beneath.

After we’d eaten, I went to bathe in the brook, and before long he found me there. I could try to blame what happened next on my mental state, or the glamour he was laying on me, but honestly, I was twenty, he was a hot immortal straight out of legend. It was impulsive, and stupid, and I’d expect you to make better choices, but given the way things turned out, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The next day’s lessons involved a more in-depth history of the Fir Bolg, since the gatekeeper was of their race, and Colin said it’d be wise to know as much as I could about them. We arrived at the gate sometime in the late afternoon. Colin had told me the Fir Bolg were imposing, but I honestly hadn’t expected an eight-foot-tall behemoth with a massive club and a chronic case of War Face. Colin sauntered up to the man and smiled.

“Eothec of the Fir Bolg, `tis once again a pleasure ta see ye,” he said. “As was arranged, here be the price of my passage.” He produced the remaining bottle of Bushmills, and the giant smiled as he took it.

Then, he turned his eyes to me. I took a breath to steady myself and dipped a curtsy, as Colin had instructed. That’s when he kicked me, hard, in the back of the knee. I was sent sprawling before the beast.

“An’ this lass, my good man, is the one thousandth, and last, of the wives yer folk were promised. In return, we’ll be expectin’ free passage fer our invasion force as agreed, hear?” Colin turned to me and sketched a dismissive bow. “I’m afraid this is where our paths diverge, lass. The Fir Bolg’ll treat ya less…gently…than I have, but I’m told some of their wives develop quite the fierce attachment to their men, after a time. Those who survive birthin’, at any rate. And ye’ll be happier than those on the other side when we leave this perfect, boring hell and take back our island.”

I was, of course, stunned. The glamour fell away from my mind, and I expected myself to quake with fear, but what I found surprised me. Anger. Boiling, effervescent hatred for someone who could so easily toss aside a human life. And nestled deep down inside the anger was the knowledge I’d received over the past two days. Knowledge of these creatures, their history, and their weaknesses. Knowledge that our legends, almost all of them, were at one point based on truth. Slowly, I stood and faced Colin. Then I laughed.

He hadn’t expected that. “Ya find it funny, do ya?” he asked.

I took a step toward him. “I find you funny, you monster. You gave me everything I need. Haven’t you heard that wishes always come in threes?”

***

Aidyn’s jaw hung open. “So you wished him dead? Or wished yourself out? Tell me!”

“No,” I said, “what is given with a wish can’t be undone, so I wished for all of his family’s power to pass to mine. I felt the warmth of it settle in my mind. What I hadn’t expected was to feel a second focus, nestled down within my pelvis. Inside you, Aidyn. And I felt a sudden, primal urge to protect my baby.

“He was either in shock, or stunned by the loss of his magic, but for whatever reason, he didn’t react when I drew the hunting knife. It had the sharpest blade I’d ever seen, and made quick work of the sole of my boot. I pulled out the steel shank and drove it into your father’s chest. It burned both clothing and flesh to black, and he fell over, dead.

“I spun to defend myself from Eothec, but he merely looked puzzled. ‘You kill Tuath Dé,’ he said. ‘You strong. Want be wife? Put down iron.’ I declined as politely as I could, and even managed to trade Colin’s bow for the secret to coming back through the portal.

“That’s why I moved to Ireland, set up shop in Elphin, and waited. So, go to Cade’s party, but tomorrow we’ll begin your training.”

“Training for what?” she asked, her confusion obvious.

“Training to use your power,” I said, “to keep yourself safe, and protect the women of this world, because if those bloody fairies steal one more, the way’ll be open, and we’ll have to fight them all at once.”

Author’s Notes

This was my submission for Round 1 of the NYCMidnight.com Short Story Challenge 2015. Contestants were given 8 days to produce a 2500 word story, and those in my heat had to follow these prompts:

  • Genre – Fairy tale
  • Subject – Immigration
  • Character – A tutor

I decided to play with these prompts a bit. My story is a cautionary tale about wishes, as many fairy tales are, but also directly involves one of the original “fairy” mythologies from Ireland. I decided to deal with the subject of immigration in two ways. At first, the unnamed main character is attempting to move from our world into another, with a sort of magical customs officer in the way. At the end, though, it’s revealed that  there’s a contingent of that world interested in moving back to ours. Finally, the tutoring also has two layers, as Colin provides information during the journey to the gatekeeper, and our main character is teaching her daughter, Aidyn, about the magical power for which she’ll be responsible.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank Melody and Manda for reading my draft and offering excellent feedback, and Christie for reminding me that writing things a certain way can exclude a potential audience.

Positives

This was my first story with a female main character, and I was a bit worried about how it might turn out. There’s definitely a reason that I had two women read it first, and they offered several useful suggestions about a woman’s way of thinking that I’d gotten wrong. After a bit of tweaking, I think it turned out well.

I decided, early on in the process for this story, that I was going to try to pack a full adventure, with an included frame story, into 2500 words. This required me to be sparing with descriptive language in the settings, but I think it takes you on quite a ride for such a short piece.

Negatives

As a side effect of the way I framed the story, I didn’t have room to stuff in some explanation that would help to ground readers unfamiliar with some of the material. I also didn’t have enough space to dig into Colin’s motivations.

There’s not really anything in Irish mythology about wishing powers, so that was an amalgamation of my own design.

Judges’ Feedback

I won second place in my heat with this story! Every story submitted to the Short Story Challenge gets feedback from the judges, and I just got the feedback report for mine. Here’s what the judges said:

What the judge(s) liked about your story

  • Good opening — I like the snappy and real dialogue between mother and daughter. Effective  way to ease into her telling the story. Confident writing here.
  • Great hook at the beginning.  Dialogue is really well-written and engaging.  Fantastic pacing.

What the judges feel needs work

  • The ending feels abrupt, for some reason. Is this part of a larger work? Strong writing — but I also want more!
  • This was an excellent story, and I have little in the way of criticism.  I was left wondering about the death of Erika, and what Colin’s initial intentions were when he gave the narrator his power, but I think those things could easily be explained in a brief line or two.

I can’t disagree with the criticism. I intended the ending to be somewhat abrupt, but I may have taken it too far. At least one other person has asked me when I’ll be writing the rest of it… As for the granting of the power and Erika’s death, I agree. That’s the part of the story I had the most trouble pounding into shape, and I never got it quite right.

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