This story is by Glenn Ravan and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I’m not a bad man.” Eric stared at the floor before lifting his eyes to meet me. “Not really.”
“I know.” I said.
“It’s that damned necklace. Pardon my French.”
I waved a hand dismissively. “Necklace?”
“Yeah. See, I missed my bus and thought I’d look around this pawn shop near the stop. There was this necklace. Hanging in the window with a little gold charm that glinted in the sun. An old Arabian oil lamp. You know, like Aladdin and the Arabian Nights?”
I smiled. “Like genies live in?”
“Yeah.” He gave me a toothy grin. “So I go in, and me and the owner, we haggle. Five bucks, one, four, two, we finally settle on three. That’s nearly half a day’s wages, but he swears it’s solid gold plated then winks and says it may even grant wishes.”
“That is expensive.”
“I know, but I thought Delores – that’s my girl – I thought she’d like it. Course, at that price, she better love it.” He chuckled.
“And did she?”
“I . . . I never gave it to her.” Eric broke his gaze and ran a hand through his dirty hair. “Soon as I bought it, I said ‘I wish I had $100,’ and we both laughed at the joke. I swear to the Almighty, no sooner did I walk outside when I saw this billfold next to a trashcan. Inside . . .” He took a deep breath. “Inside I found a wad of cash.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he leaned in close as if afraid someone would overhear. “Must’ve been nearly $100. Forgive me, but I . . .” He bit his lip. “I kept it. Threw the billfold in the trash. I’m not proud of what I did, but that money would feed us for weeks.”
I sat quietly as he gathered his thoughts.
“By the time I stuffed the cash in my pocket, the next bus was already pulling away. So . . .” He shrugged. “I wished it to stop.” His gaze returned to mine. There was sadness in his eyes.
“Oh?” I was intrigued. “And did it?”
“Yes!” He almost shouted before lowering his voice again. “Yes. It did.”
“So you think there was –”
“No.” Eric vigorously shook his head. “You don’t get it. The reason it stopped.” He paused. “Someone ran in front of the bus and got hit. Killed ‘em.”
“And you think . . .”
“I made it happen? I don’t know, but I sure got the heebie-jeebies. What’s that saying? Be careful what you wish for?”
I straightened. “Yes, but surely that was a coincidence. Tragic, but nothing to do with you.”
“Yeah well, I decided to take a walk and clear my head. That’s when I found the bookmakers, and thought what better way to test my new found lucky charm?”
I raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
“I found a horse.”
“It is a betting shop.” I said.
“Yeah but this horse was special. And he was running in the next race. I had to bet on him. It was fate, I tell ya.” Eric hammered a clenched fist on his knee. “So I put five bucks on Aladdin’s Wish. Aladdin’s Wish! What are the odds? It was meant to be. And I was sure to win. Oh, I was nervous – you know; in case,” He gave me a knowing nod and arched his eyebrows. “but I made my wish and waited. I thought I’d messed up as soon as the gates opened, but then as they rounded the second turn, boy oh boy, a big pile up. Took out most of the field. Except Aladdin’s Wish and some old nag behind him. He went round the outside to win the race by half a length! Five hundred smackers.”
“You were lucky.”
“But not everyone was. One of the horses had to be shot, and a jockey got taken to the hospital. I felt kinda bad. Up until they laid that cash in my hand.”
I tried explaining the evils of gambling. “A fool and his money –”
“But I won! And now I knew I couldn’t lose. Ever. As long as I had that necklace. So you see. I couldn’t give it to Delores, not now. I had to keep it, for both our sakes. She would’ve wished to get rid of the A-Bomb or communism or somethin’. Nah.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t take that chance.”
“Those are fine virtues. It’s okay to have money, but –”
“You don’t understand. I’m done goin’ without.” He locked eyes with me.
“So you kept it?”
He shrugged. “A few days later, I was running low and decided to wish for more money. This might be my last wish so I had to make it count. There weren’t no instructions or anything so I was kinda guessing, ya see?”
“Yes, but surely if you give a man a fish –”
“Yeah yeah, I know. But I wished for a big fish. A hundred thousand big.” His eyes widened.
“And that’s how you –”
“I’m getting there.” Eric waved off my question. “I’m about to get on the bus for work when I hear these sirens on the next block. Well, who can resist a siren’s call, eh? So I investigate.”
I listened, enthralled, to his tale.
“All these cop cars were at the bank. It’s gotta be a bank robbery.”
“So you helped rob –”
“No!” He was upset at my insinuation. “I had nothin’ to do with it. Except wishing for money.” He gleefully rubbed his hands together. “So I stood there in the street watching.” He shook his head. “Wouldn’t you know it? All of a sudden, the street’s packed with onlookers. So I moved to a nearby alley. I can’t have no witnesses seeing me get my money. Well, I spot this guy lyin’ on the ground. It’s one of the robbers.”
“How did you –”
“The gun was a big clue. And the bag of money. I didn’t see any blood, but he sure looked dead to me. But he was a bank robber so who cares? I just grab the bag and start running.”
“But he wasn’t dead?”
“Nah.” He swats away my question. “Bozo shoots me in the back. Well, right here.” He raises his arm so I can see the bandage. “Well, I don’t stop to make small talk. I keep running. All the way home. Come to mention it, I probably should’ve got on the bus and gone to work. As it happened, the cops found out where I lived. Someone saw and ratted me out. I didn’t know it, but a cop got killed in that robbery.”
“Yes.” I dipped my head. “It was –”
“Nothing to do with me.” Eric said quickly. “I’m sorry ‘bout the cop, but I didn’t shoot him. I just made a wish. So really, it was mine.”
I tried correcting him. “That’s not –”
“Anyway,” He furrowed his brow. “the cops ain’t exactly known for being Mister Nice Guys. Luckily, Delores was down at the Bingo Hall when they knocked on the door. Course, they knocked with a battering ram then shot up the place. I got hit three times. Took one in the chest. Thought I was a goner. And I would’ve been too if I hadn’t wished not to die.”
“Oh?” I was beginning to worry where Eric was going.
“God’s honest truth.” He raised his hand as if swearing an oath. “And you know. They said it was miracle I survived. I didn’t tell them about my necklace. But I knew.” He had a sly smile.
“But it was a miracle, Eric. God gave you a glorious gift. An opportunity to repent. Ask for forgiveness before it’s too late.”
“You kidding? I got nothin’ to worry about. You should know that.”
“Eric. For the sake of your everlasting soul –”
“Padre, I appreciate everything you’re trying to do, but you don’t need to worry. I can’t die.”
“We’ll talk when I get back.” He tried to reassure me by patting my hand. “Here. Look after this for a minute. I think I can trust you.” He laughs as he presses something into my palm.
I performed Last Rites as we walked up the steps, the gallows looming into view. He even joked with the hangman. It was a little unsettling, seeing one so full of life moments away from his final judgment. When asked if he had any last words, through the hood he calmly said “How long you gonna to leave me hanging?” then turned in my direction and said “Relax. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
At that moment, the hangman released the trap, he dropped, and his neck snapped. He was dead. I opened my hand to reveal a small necklace, the gold charm – an Arabian oil lamp – caught a shaft of sunlight through the barred window and glinted brightly.