Ascension

Girl

She lightly licked her pointer finger, her pink stub of a tongue barely flicking out. Holding it aloft in imitation of her grandfather’s memory, she scrunched her miniature features in serious concentration. She pulled the small finger and fist back to her body. Looking determinedly solemn, she nodded to the setting sun.

She glanced down to her other hand; its grip tightened reflexively, pulling purple plastic wrinkles tightly toward it. Purple streamers of plastic rustled in anticipation.

Stooping, she used her licked-finger hand to scramble a spool into its too-small palm. Looping curves of cheap string threatened to come away between her fingers. Regardless, her grip was certain.

She stared ahead. Taking in the moment, her grandfather had called it. She breathed deeply in, raising her tiny shoulders up to her ears to ensure it was the deepest moment-taking-in possible.

Her breath came out dramatically, lowering her shoulders and entire upper half clumsily. She paused. Then, she ran.

Dandelion spores scattered, grass blades bent, and a languishing dog yawned near its park bench owner. Her stubby legs drove her rapidly down and up the small rising knolls of the field, convincing her of an immense speed.

Now! Her left arm flung wildly up and behind her shoulder, releasing its purple quarry. The flailing plastic tails flew behind her ungainly man-made bird. They struggled and whipped and bobbed in the erratic running rhythm.

The kite caught, tugging at her right hand and its death-gripped string. She kept moving as fast as she could, nearly outstripping a few passing, drifting butterflies. They floated translucently away, as their sunset meeting was rudely interrupted by the large, purple, flapping object.

No butterfly nor bird ever bobbed and wove such a barely buoyant path before. The purple kite fluttered and flopped obediently. It followed closely behind her pumping legs, her taut string, her stubborn grip.

Let out some string, her grandfather’s gruff voice directed her mind. Stumbling slightly, she loosed some string from the matted bunch inside her clammy hand. The freed clump reached the flapping purple animal tailing her; straightening, liberating, lifting.

She felt the tug of success. Chancing a quick backward glance, she saw her kite rising, rising!

Stop! Her furious toddler-run wobbled to a halt. She immediately turned, releasing yet more string and running it through both hands. That’s it, keep her steady, grandfather complimented.

Orange-red beams from the Westward sun glowed up the bobbing string. The plastic purple kite flew high and sure in the light evening winds. She pulled a few sweat-wiped strands of blonding hair from across her flushed face, immediately re-gripping the twisting, pulling string.

She looked up at her kite. Her whole face smiled.

From a higher vantage point amongst the painted clouds, Grandfather looked down. The glorious rays spread across the entire expanse as he smiled in return.

 

Ascend

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Writing Prompt: Badlands

Write a short story and it must contain the following words somewhere: downtown, graveyard, passenger, decoder, suave, badlands.

Photo

It was a typical late afternoon for K. Jones: dusty, dry, barren. Even when she wasn’t standing as she was then –hands folded across her chest surveying the badlands– K. never shook the feeling of orange. Bits and pieces of windblown world caught at the edges of her tied handkerchief and protective sunglasses. She’d find them in every crevice of her equipment later.

*Jones* her left hip crackled. *Jones, Bwishda gurb donet!*

Quickly unfolding from her stoic stance, K. grabbed at the radio hanging to her side. She deftly activated its decoder switch in time to translate the end of the garbled message to “…Station 5 at Sundown, over.” She waited for the message to repeat, and was rewarded with silence. K. rolled her eyes. How difficult did her team find simple tasks, exactly? –Tasks like following certain protocol so a person had time to grab her radio and get the whole message, for example?

K. brought the mouthpiece near her face, squeezed her thick gloves over Respond, and enunciated, “Jones here.” She waited the required five seconds before continuing, “Repeat full command, over.”

Static. Then, she heard an impatient, “Smith here.” Roughly three seconds followed, if K. counted generously. “Assigned rounds completed. Will meet at Station 5 at Sundown, over.”

The setting sun pierced through a cloudbreak and caught K.’s glasses at an annoying angle. She squinted, repositioned. Shading her eyes, she peered off toward the general direction of the station referenced. It was either past the butte, down the dirt path, and near a distant mountain; or she was experiencing miragelike imagery.

Shifting the radio from one bundled hand to another, she applied the Respond button once again. “Jones here.” Five seconds. “Request transport en route. Will wait at Camp Point One near butte, over.”

K. used her right boot to shift adobe-colored sand over the top of her left boot as she waited for an answer. “Smith here.” K. mentally counted to two before Smith immediately continued, “Will meet as requested. Watch your back. Over and out.”

Though no one could see her expressions, K. smiled a wry, experienced look. She wasn’t novice enough to laugh aloud at Smith’s suggestions, however. Confident and skilled she might be, but anything could change on the swirling sunset landscape of these uninhabited zones. –Of these usually uninhabited zones, K. mentally amended.

She glanced right, left, behind, up, down, forward. She carefully deactivated the decoder option on the radio and returned it, swinging, to the side of her ocher pant leg. Following protocol, she checked the readings on her instruments. They were set to alert her if any anomaly appeared. As such, K. would have to remember to tone her tracker down a bit once she reached Camp One. She didn’t want to impulsively vaporize her ride just because of nerves.

She hefted straps, instruments, and packs from one sore area to another and began walking. Fingers of moving sand sank in a circular divot around each of her carefully-placed footfalls. The oranged sky outlined her bulky frame as airborne copper dust pushed and pulled at her tired body. She was regretting the rash, confident decision she’d made to patrol on foot.

A shape suddenly shadowed the glaring natural light and K. automatically reacted. In less than a second, laden as she was, she’d assumed a fighting crouch facing the unknown risk from the West. She breathed heavily beneath the kerchief, fogging her vision with each exhalation.

It was only a landform. Her heartbeat slowed in much less time than it had accelerated.

In fact, she knew this rock. It was a sort of gateway to an area they’d nicknamed The Graveyard. Beyond the tall Stele lay a carefully silent sort of valley decorated with small, oddly-placed stones. When K. and her team had first encountered the area, outlining its features by swinging desert-dusted beams, they’d all been struck by a creepy cemetery familiarity.

Cutting through The Graveyard also shaved five minutes off her trek to the rendezvous butte. K. looked at its shady entrance, then glanced toward the area she could go in order to intentionally not walk through there. Up a scrambling red-rock slope and down through a very wide, open area of squat, wide rocks they’d named Downtown ran her longer option.

The sun seemed to sink more quickly. Graveyard it was.
Readjusting straps once again to cover for the unaccountable fluttering in her stomach, K. stalked determinedly into the tiny valley.

Red-yellow motes magically suspended among the headstone dirt and stoneforms K. suddenly remembered. The whole valley reminded her of an old toy her grandfather had let her play with decades ago. Whenever she had shaken the glass ball in a pudgy hand, swirling white pieces had danced and then floated slowly back down upon a small, smiling child on a sled.

The badlands were no winterscape, however. K. felt she was tiptoeing through the polar opposite of a cheerful, safe sledding holiday. The dead, hot air was oddly still in The Graveyard, but still omnipresent. The particles may have been suspended in this sudden wind shelter, but they never disappeared either.

K. felt a small pulse from her chest-mounted sensor. Her heartbeat increased once again as natural terror primed her body for action. That sensor could only activate when it sensed movement of a living thing –other than her and her team members. K. increased her pace, sweeping her view around and attempting to keep her back to the randomly-placed rocks.

The pulse grew stronger as she neared the center of The Graveyard. K. tried desperately to see what was triggering it. She peered from one shadow to another in the dimming evening red-orange that barely penetrated her current location. Her mind constantly tricked her in the unfamiliar crowd of stones and sweeping sands. Imagination aside, everything appeared empty.

She continued her slow, hyper-sensitive, circular tread to the opposite side of The Graveyard. The pulse grew faint, and died. If nighttime and her ride were not so imminent, K. would be required to search until the source had been found. Fortunately, she thought, the rules clearly stated that no parties were to be on The Badlands after sundown. She could thank P. Brown for that, if he had still been around to thank.

K. stalked up the sandy incline exit, trying to keep everywhere in sight –especially the area she’d just left. She still saw no movement. Another sensor, one near her wrist, began to vibrate instead. Looking up, she saw the butte just ahead and to the right. Her wrist sensor indicated that a vehicle was nearby, hopefully the one carrying J. Smith.

Despite the landscape and unnatural gravity, K. increased her pace. She came out into the buffeting wind and tinted sunlight once again. The sun really was dropping quickly, as it always did when teetering on the edge of night. She could hear an offroad motor rumbling, even over the overpowering shrillness of moving air.

The pulse on her chest began again, very faintly. Stumbling in surprise, K. turned back to The Graveyard. No, she told herself and her trained senses. No, she did not see light in that vale. And yet, something that was not orange, not the setting sun, and not just a rock was moving. In fact, it was moving nearer. Quickly.

Like dreams where she tried to run and felt instead like she was slogging through mud, K. tried desperately to sprint the few hundred feet to where she knew Smith was waiting. Sunset sand particles flew from her muted, skittering footsteps. Her view was again fogged and unfogged with her heavy breathing. The jeeplike transport was there around the bend; Smith turned her direction.

He stood suddenly; yelled in surprise. She knew better than to look behind, but real or imagined noises pursuing told her she wasn’t going to make it to that passenger seat.

She looked up at Smith again, noting his suave, steady figure. He was the only one she knew who didn’t resemble a rambling, bloated marshmallow in his desert suit. Tiredly, she saw he had raised something. She was nearly to the rear tire when she realized he held their one allowable defense since Command had limited firearms to lower ranks two years previously.

K. heard the small *fzzzz* noise of the tiny laser pistol and watched, distantly, from some other place, as it floated over her left shoulder and made contact with something directly behind her.

“Aiiieargghhhhhgggggguuggh!” Something inhuman reacted.

K. reached the side of the transport. Smith dropped his gun to drag her panting form onto the seat, then immediately sat and gunned the engine. They shot forward in the dying twilight, scattering badland sand and rock sharply outward from the squealing tires.

Bracing herself unsteadily against the jouncing framework, K. realized she’d made it. Still breathing heavily, she turned to the dark outline of her teammate. He stared ahead, his face determined.

“Thank you, Jim,” she said, though first names were against protocol. Rules were irrelevant now.

Science has invented a pill… your spouse doesn’t want to die.

Writing Prompt:
Science has invented a pill that will cure any illness and prolong life for another twenty years, at the expense of your personality. Anyone who takes the drug will become an entirely different person, with a completely different set of interests and memories.

Your spouse is terminally ill and doesn’t want to die.

“As you can see,” Dr. Mortem concluded, “We don’t recommend Paraphenyloxomene for every layman.” He carefully cleared his throat with a polite medical cough, then continued in the same bored tone he’d been using for the past fifteen minute lecture, “I encourage you to look into the options we discussed at our last meeting before going this route.”

Finally turning his attention to Ken and I, the doctor stopped speaking. Given his tone, somewhat-slumped posture, and the fact that he was making eye contact with the wall art somewhere above our heads, I wasn’t certain Dr. Mortem actually expected a response. I began to wish the assistant was back. Then, at least, we’d have literal excuse for saying we felt like we were talking to a machine.

“Well,” I began, to help the doctor understand that we were still there, and able to speak, “We understand the risks. As I said when I first asked about it, we really wondered if you had any patients who had used it and if they thought it was worth taking.”

I saw Dr. Mortem animate slightly at my mention of “any patients” and cringed a bit inside. “I’m sorry, but we respect our patients’ privacy and I couldn’t tell you that information.” He slumped back to resting position and now studied the light switch.

I wondered why we would be charged the doctor visit for this, when I’d found out just as much doing my own research.

I looked over at Ken, who sat miserably slumped in his plastic chair that matched my own. I reached over and took his hand. As usual, he slowly, painfully rotated enough to look back. He gave me as much smile as he could muster: the effort and expression I’d always loved.

“Dr. Mortem,” I said clearly and slowly, “We understand the risks.” I turned from Ken and tried to get the doctor to meet my eye, then continued anyway, “We’re out of time, and we’ve decided to take Diversis.”

Sighing, Dr. Mortem stood and collected his tablet. He tapped the screen authoritatively a few times, frowning in the reflected glare of its filtered display. Soon, he held the device out to us. A lengthy page of legal agreement scrolled before me.

His hand shook slightly in the strain of the lightweight computer, so I relieved him of it and began reading.

“You’ll receive a copy to review at your leisure,” he intoned.

“Thank you,” I answered him, continuing to read. It was like any other medical disclaimer I’d read in my life, up until the Possible Side Effects section. I wished the researcher had livened things up a bit to alleviate the main, uncontested outcome of Diversis, but all prescriptions must have the same, dry author.

“Less common side effects include dizziness, lethargy, upset stomach, dry mouth, mild nerve pain, and weight loss.” I read first, out of interest. Everyone knew about the main effects, the ones I was avoiding even though Dr. Mortem all but tapped his foot as I tried to be thorough. I distracted myself in perusing these milder ones.

Like any human drawn to morbid news, however, my focus irresistibly pulled upward. “Main side effects include, but are not limited to: personality alteration, complete memory loss, mood swings, lack or loss of previous interests, and all effects associated with the aforementioned effects.”

“You’ll both need to sign, unless your husband has granted Power of Person to you,” Dr. Mortem supplied, nearly shifting forward with impatience. The man had lower body mass than Ken. I wondered if he ever went long distances unassisted.

Sighing, I allowed the text to scroll to the end. I hesitated, at the proverbial point of no return.

I felt a touch at my right elbow. Surprised, I turned to see Ken staring intently at me. His eyes shifted pointedly to the tablet. As wordlessly as he had been for about a month, I moved the device within his tenacious reach. If he’d had the muscle control, I was sure he would have put his tongue between his teeth the way he used to when concentrating, as Ken wrote his name as slowly and clearly as any kindergartener.

He made a slight noise as his hand dropped to his side, and I pulled the screen back. The consent for treatment line still held a space for my signature, but I stared at the blank space with dread.

I loved Ken, so much. Marriage wasn’t like the movies, though. Marriage was two people deciding to live together after initial attraction and the decision to make sharing your possessions easier. We’d had to reconnect and readjust every few years as goals, jobs, children, natural brain chemistry, and disease had sauntered in and shaken up our comfortable dynamics.

“I’ll need your signature, too, or we can’t move forward,” Dr. Mortem prompted.

Ken grunted.

Resisting my overwhelming urge to smash the whole thing to the floor, I signed my own name next to my husband’s. “Goodbye, Ken,” I whispered. I handed the tablet back to Dr. Mortem.

The demon who has haunted your family for generations…

Writing Prompt
The demon who has haunted your family for generations pays you a visit to tell you you’re next.

“Now, remember, children: Aunt Millie will be here in five minutes. No; don’t you give me that face! Robbie, don’t groan like that. You aren’t going to do that when she comes, are you? No, you’re not. Owen, get over here and let me tuck in your shirt.”

I pretended focused interest in my book as soon as Deb began talking. She always thought I couldn’t hear her, but my poor body automatically came to attention whenever her pinched nasal tone rang through the halls. If only she’d not decided to stand in the foyer to command the boys, then I could have slipped upstairs or out back.

Too late.

“Jim!” Footsteps.

“Jim, honey,” she paused behind me, gathering patience. She’d recently read a marriage book that recommended communicating in a way that made each of us feel acceptance. So far I’d had decreased yelling, but increased audible sighing.

“Jim, did you hear about your Aunt Mildred?” I heard her footsteps come around the couch, then hazily made out Deb’s body shape beyond my mystery novel. She had a hand on a hip.

“Yes?” I asked, neutrally. I shouldn’t have.

*Sigh* (That was Deb)

“I said Aunt Mildred would be here in five minutes. You’re the one who told me about it last night.” She gave me her stern face. “At eleven o’clock last night.”

My face betrayed my attempts at nonchalance as I felt it scrunch into a guilty expression. “Oh, yeah.”

I smiled sincerely up at Deb. “Thanks, Deb! I’ll go make sure the front porch looks inviting.” I got up and was outside before she could realize I had escaped. I heard another exasperated exhalation just before I pulled the door carefully closed.

A car noise nearby made me jump. I turned to look, but the offender was merely a passing VW. She wasn’t here yet.

Despite what assurances my wife gave us, I was with my boys: Aunt “Millie” was not an event to look forward to. I thought to run an errand or request an out of town convention from my boss, but knew that wouldn’t work.

My dad used to try avoiding her. But If he ran to the store, Aunt Mildred would wait. I still remembered her stiff, high-buttoned, lacy-collared form sitting disapprovingly straight in our front room chair, waiting with a stern frown for his return.

And no matter how impromptu my dad planned business trips, his dear aunt would always plan a surprise return visit the minute his car came home from the airport.

I realized now, upon reflection, that I had also heard my father ruefully exclaim, “I should have known better.” When pressed, he’d mumble something about Uncle Earl never being able to shake Mildred, either.

I frowned. Something wasn’t quite right.

A robin called to his friend from across the yard. Another bird answered cheerfully.

From inside the house, I heard a yell, scrambling feet, and “M-o-o-o-o-m!” Deb’s high tones soon followed, plus a smack that may have been something falling and not a love pat to some offender’s rear end.

Tuning it all out, I set my book on the front porch bench. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed.

“Hello?” My mother’s unsure voice asked, although I knew she would have seen my name on her screen.

“Hi, Mom!” I said brightly. “It’s Jim.” I paused, then joked, “Your son.”

“Oh, hi, Jim dear. How are you?” Mom said. I could hear her smile. She was always willing to play along, which made her a fun grandmother for my children.

“I’m good.” I studied the hideous flip-flop and water balloon wreath on our front door. “I was just calling to ask you a question, Mom.”

“Okay, dear. Shoot.” I could mentally picture my mother settling onto whatever chair she was near, even if she was out shopping.

I toyed with a stray balloon. “I just wondered if you could tell me about Aunt Mildred.” She didn’t respond, so I continued, “You know, is she my great aunt? Dad’s? Earl’s?” Nothing. “She’s been around for a while,” I added, teasing.

“Mom?” I asked, then frowned and looked at my phone screen. The call had dropped.

“Hello James,” a familiar female voice clearly enunciated behind me. I froze, then turned.

I hadn’t heard a car, but her suitcase sat by her feet. I hadn’t heard footsteps, though she still wore those black antique boots with the hard soles. I should have at least noticed the birds were no longer chirping.

“Au-Aunt Mildred,” I managed, pocketing my cell phone. She hated them and refused to have them in her presence.

“Yes,” she stated. Her ageless eyes bored into mine. “I’ve come, just as I promised, James. You’re next.”

Customer Service?

“And I-uh-I will all-ways love yooo-ooo-oou!” I belt out, then pause to strike a pose as the thrilling, albeit low-quality notes continue bravely on through the overhead speaker.

“Sharon, report to customer service. Customer waiting,” rudely cuts off the rest of Whitney’s (muted) boisterous tones.

I frown, and try to remember what I was doing on this aisle, before grabbing a random shelf item to sing into. I appear to be in the Clearance section. I am still holding my makeshift microphone.

“What the -” I think to myself, looking more carefully at my hand. It seems to be a tube full of glittering solution. I thought it was Princess-themed body lotion for girls or something, but now I see impossible phenomena: swirls of color float sporadically inside the bottle like miniature Northern Lights.

“Wow,” I breathe, a bit mesmerized.

“Dab. Da babba!” My infant son demands, smacking at the bottle awkwardly with his wet hands and breaking my concentration.

I smile at him. “Sorry, bub. We’re going now.” I notice I’ve picked up the crazy parent tendency to talk to my child, even though I am certain he doesn’t know what I say. I shrug. Maybe, I hope he does. Maybe I’m really just telling myself.

Absently, I allow him to pull the sparkle tube into his hands and I push the cart down the aisle.

“Squeee!” He excitedly screams, shaking his new toy. He tries to eat it.

“Now, Sam,” I begin, about to lecture a ten-month-old on the dangers of foreign paint.

“May I help you?” A man asks. I look up and see an oddly-dressed store associate. He looks as though he took his blue uniform vest home and embellished it with tassels at the corners. In fact, dangling fringe seem to be his thing; since there are also tassels on his slippers and his hat, and he sports a goatee.

“Whatever,” I think to myself. “They are scrambling for employees right now.” I smile at the strange man. Aloud, I answer, “No, thanks.”

He bows. “I was speaking to the Young Master,” Odd Associate clarifies, gesturing toward my son. “I didn’t understand his request.”

“Huh?” I ask, my face showing confusion. Perhaps this associate wasn’t all there. I mentally plan an exit strategy.

“Ah,” Odd One says. “I forgot to introduce myself.” He straightens up, smooths down his clothes and announces, “I am Amijd, Genie of Akmand. I am here,” he bows again, “to grant your wishes.”

If my face showed some concern with the confusion at first, I am certain concern -or, more accurately, alarm- is all I express now. I begin backing towards the other end of the aisle.

Amijd looks surprised. “I did try,” he hastily adds. He reaches behind him and pulls out a squeegee. I stop, and stare at it, and him.

He sees the look, and explains, “Young Master asked for a ‘squeee!'” Amijd looks apologetic. Sam gets excited. “Squeeee!” Sam squeals again, dropping the effervescent container and reaching slobbery hands out for the window tool instead.

Amijd steps forward a bit in reflex of the falling bottle, but it lands harmlessly next to Sam in the cart basket. Amijd appears relieved, and he instead places the squeegee into Sam’s hands.

I look at the overly-friendly Middle-Eastern man, standing expectantly near us and smiling. I look at Sam, trying to eat the corners of a black plastic sponge. I look at the swirling colors of the dropped toy.

Still eyeing “The Genie of Akmand,” I carefully pick up the bottle and wipe it off on my jeans. Amijd, if possible, looks even happier. He bows to me. “What wish do you command?” He asks.

“Well,” I begin. If there is any truth to this wish thing, it seems worth it to try. I look around the store, at the merchandise in my cart, and at Sam. “Well, how about, ‘I wish to have all of my purchases paid for today?'”

Amijd’s face clouds in concentration, then he waves his hands and says, “Done!” He looks hopeful. I look down at my basket. Nothing seems to have changed.

“Um. Okay,” I say. I decide to go to the checkouts, in case something looks different there. I turn and walk that way. The genie follows, his slippers softly shuffling across the waxed titles.

We reach the checkout, not without some odd looks from other shoppers. The checker seems unimpressed, though I’m sure she’s seen some odd getups working here. She scans my items in a bored manner. “That’ll be $65.83,” she says, looking out the window.

I glare at Amijd, who changes his pleased look for concern. I pull out my credit card and slide it through the machine. “I even had to pay for that squeegee,” I tell myself.

“Have a good day,” Checker automatically intones, as she hands me my receipt and starts scanning the next person’s items.

I gather up my bags and start walking to the doors. Amijd skips right along.

Once outside, I stop. I look at him. “What the heck?” I ask. “I still had to pay for everything -even Sam’s ‘wish’ you gave him!”

The genie is surprised. “I granted that everything was paid for,” he defends. I think about that. He is technically right. I groan. I didn’t want this kind of wishing, the kind where you might get dropped in an ocean if you don’t specify where you want to be when given a long-lost treasure.

“That’s not what I expected,” I tell the smiling tassel man. He looks thoughtful for a bit, then says, “Ah. I will try harder. But,” he adds, “I may only grant you two more wishes.”

“Of course,” I think. I look down at Sam, who has successfully gnawed a strip of the sponge away from the plastic. I try to think. “Any wishing for more wishes?” I ask. Amijd shakes his head, his tassel swaying across its hat and his head.

I think some more, hard. “Okay.” I pause. “I wish for our car to be paid off, but not by me, my husband, or any relative.” I look at Amijd as he does his frowning and hand-waving. He looks up. “Done!” He announces.

Just then, a crossover SUV peals into the parking lot. I catch a glimpse of a blonde woman applying lipstick, with a cell phone clenched between her cheek and shoulder. Half of a second later, she misjudges her turn into the stall and smashes into the side of my car.

I stand there, aghast. “Amijd!” I yell. “Damid!” Sam repeats, giggling. I watch the woman get out, still holding her phone. She looks at what remains of my car, from different angles. She seems to be trying to find a position at which the damaged vehicle does not look completely smashed in.

I might suspect coincidence, if not for the affably pleased oddity standing near me, and the fact that Blondie seems to have no damage to her car. I check the parking lot for any other random maniacs, and cross with my cart to the accident scene.

The blonde woman is still walking about, her black heels clicking loudly on the asphalt. “Hey!” I say. She stops, and looks up at me. I can see that she didn’t finish her makeup job.

“Oh my! I am so sorry!” She says, her apology fighting to show through the botox in her face. “I don’t know what happened, dear!” She finally detaches the cell phone, and flips her hair over a shoulder.

“You call the police, honey,” she points at me. Somehow she has already extricated her insurance information. “They always take a while to get here, so I’ll just pop in the store and be right back for my statement,” she says as she hands me her card.

“Thanks, dear. Sorry again.” I watch her blonde hair and black shawl walk away to the echoing sounds of her shoes. The store doors close behind her.

“One more wish, Master,” I hear near my elbow. I look from the toll-free phone number of Blondie’s car insurance company to the expectant, goateed man. I’m considering calling the police for two reasons now.

I have the feeling Amijd won’t leave till I’ve spoken my last wish, though -as tempting as arrest sounds right now. So, I try to think of a harmless wish as I dial the number to report accidents.

I’m put on hold.

“Okay, Amijd,” I say, holding my own phone with my shoulder. “I wish to lose twenty pounds.” He mumbles and waves his hands as the operator finally comes on the line.

“Hello. Yes, I’d like to report an accident,” I say. I glance around, happily noticing that Amijd is gone. I look back at my car and say, “Yes, we’d like an officer. It’s at- wait! Where’s Sam?!”