This story is by Kim Hardin and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I held the dying girl’s hand and tried not to think about work. The job I was probably losing this very moment. The look on my boss’s face when I showed up late – again. His “final” warning, just last week.
What was I doing? Worrying about a job while this girl’s life slipped away.
But I really needed that job.
Other motorists had stopped and now milled about. The guy next to me was on the phone with a 911 operator. The rest of us waited.
The girl in the car moaned, barely conscious.
“Hold on,” I said, trying to comfort her. “The ambulance will be here soon.”
Please hurry. Please don’t let her die. She’s so young.
I couldn’t bear the thought of any more death in my life. First, my dad – sudden, unexpected, sucking all the joy out of the world. Fifteen months later, my mom. Hers was a long, agonizing death; a helpless, clawing, heart-scraping death.
I was alone, empty – and buried under piles of medical bills.
Some days I don’t know how I did it. But I kept going. Making it to work each day. Paying off what I could. Ignoring the rest.
Today was one of those days.
But when I came upon the mangled car wrapped around a tree, I had to stop. The girl inside was just a kid. Pretty, with long blond hair. Too young to die.
Where was the damned ambulance?
Something moving in the road caught my attention. An animal, maybe? Still alive, but hurt, and crawling toward us – right into traffic. Horrified, I watched as cars rolled along, oblivious, barely missing it.
Oh, god. I can’t let it get run over. I just can’t.
“I’ll be right back,” I whispered to the girl, then darted out to save the poor thing before it got hit.
“What the hell’s she doing?” someone said. “Is she crazy?” Cars honked, but stopped to let me slip between them. Not thinking about anything except the little creature, I scooped it up and rushed to safety.
It took a minute to catch my breath. Maybe I was crazy.
The thing hung limp in my arms. It definitely wasn’t an animal. I turned it over to see a hairy human-like face looking back at me. Blood dribbled down its chin.
What is this thing? I wondered aloud. It looked like a tiny fur-covered person, but with a round body and spindly arms and legs. It smelled like apples.
“Brownie, Miss,” came a thin voice, causing me to nearly drop him. What the heck was a brownie? More blood bubbled in the corner of his mouth.
“You’re hurt. What can I do?”
“There’s some in my car.”
The others gave me strange looks as I passed. I really couldn’t blame them.
The brownie gulped the water, but coughed most of it back up. Poor thing. But I wanted to get back to the girl.
“I have to go check on her.” I nodded toward the wreck. “Be right back.” As I propped him up on my seat, I heard sirens. Finally.
She looked the same, but her hand felt colder now. Loss of blood? Shock? At least she was still alive.
“They’re almost here,” I said. She gave my hand a weak squeeze.
When the paramedics arrived, I went back to the brownie to find him barely holding on. I had to do something.
“Can you help him? He’s hurt,” I asked the nearest paramedic.
“Who?” The guy looked at me, his face blank.
“Him.” I held him up. “It’s a brownie. I think he got hit by a car.”
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“What? No. He needs help.”
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, lady, but we’re busy here.”
“Please? He’s dying.” I begged.
Everyone stared. The people closest to me backed away.
“Never mind.” I turned back toward my car. The brownie was nearly gone.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to save you.” Tears filled my eyes.
“It’s my time, Miss.” He wheezed the words out. “For your kindness, I grant you a boon.”
A boon? “Oh, like a wish? But – I didn’t do anything.”
“Choose, please. My time’s near.”
My eyes stung. So. Much. Death.
What should I wish for? If I chose money, I could pay off Mom’s medical bills and start fresh. Or-
I glanced back to where the paramedics were working on the girl. One of them knelt over her, doing CPR.
They were losing her.
“The girl,” I said, “save the girl.”
“It’s done, Miss,” he said. “My thanks.”
As I watched, his small body relaxed and slowly, collapsed in on itself, dissolving into a pile of gray dust. I didn’t try to hold back the tears.
* * *
My phone buzzed. “Hello?”
“Andi Peterson?” A strange man’s voice.
“This is she.”
“My name is Paul Stevens. My daughter, Carly, was the girl from the accident.”
“Oh, how’s she doing?”
“She’s good. The doctors said she’s very lucky.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“I’m calling because I wanted to thank you personally for being there for her. She said you stayed by her side through it all. If anything had happened to her-” He stopped, emotion choking his words. “She’s our only child.”
“I just did what anyone would do.”
“Maybe so, but I appreciate your kindness more than I can say. Carly does too.” He paused. “We’re always looking for good people – maybe you’ve heard of our company, The Stevens Corporation?”
Wow. Have I ever. They’re only one of the biggest conglomerates in the US. Maybe the world.
“I have,” I said.
“Well Andi, as a way of saying thank you, I’d like to offer you a position at our headquarters. A very lucrative position. Would you be interested?”
As I sat for a moment, stunned, I caught the briefest scent of apples. A smile crept across my face.
“Yes. Yes, I would.”
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