#62 Careless Wishes by D.E. Helbling

Editor’s note: What’s this? A flash story with no connection whatsoever to Pasadena? And no links? It’s true. Earlier this month, Rose City Sisters contributor Ann Wilkes asked me to judge the flash fiction contest sponsored by her science fiction blog. All the entries reflected the “freaky weather” theme, and I chose D.E. Helbling’s great story about an unusual storm. It also appears on Ann’s blog.  

“I’m sorry, son,” she said as I helped her up from her rocker on the front porch.

“Never mind that now, Momma. Let’s get you to safety.” I led her down the steps and across the brown, patchy lawn of the front yard. I whistled for Scruffy, her Jack Russell, as we made our way toward the storm cellar. The sky had grown dark in just a few short minutes. I was fixing to pull the door shut behind us when Scruffy appeared and nudged his way past me. I shoved the heavy crossbar into place and descended the steps into the depths of the shelter. I flicked on the switch for the battery light, and then joined Momma and Scruffy on the tiny couch in the back of the little room.

“I’m so sorry, Billy,” she started again.

“I’m sure you didn’t mean it, Momma. Maybe it wasn’t even you. You know, sometimes storms are just storms.”

“If only I wasn’t so greedy,” she said, shaking her head. She looked grayer, more tired and frail than I’d remembered…it had been too many months since my last visit.

“Now, Momma, you can’t help wishing for things.”

“Like that scholarship of yours?”

“You didn’t know the kids on that bus were after the same scholarship as me, did you? You didn’t wish that bus into the river. Momma, that was years ago. You gotta let that go!”

“Or your sister’s new husband?”

“Now, come on, Momma. None of us liked Harold, not even me, and I went to school with him. Did you wish Harold into bumping that radio into his bathtub? I know you didn’t wish him into beating up Charlene every time he and Johnnie Walker got together.”

“I’m just saying—”

“I’m just saying, too, Momma. I’m saying it’s all about silver linings. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. OK, so maybe Harold was an exception. But still, sometimes those bad things mean good things for somebody else. If that somebody else is you or me, or Charlene, well, that’s just God evening out the blessings is all.”

The door to the shelter started to rattle and shake, straining against the big iron hinges. The wind howled through the cracks. Momma looked up at the ceiling in surrender. “I think I used up our share of blessings, son.”

“Let’s never mind that mean old storm,” I said. “Say, I know you have some shortbread down here in one of these tins.”

“Over there on the second shelf.”

I found the tin, opened it up, and fished out three cookies. I gave one to her and one to Scruffy. The three of us sat there, nibbling our cookies, while the wind roared above like a train was running over the top of the shelter.

“Still the finest cookies in the county,” I said.

“Or what about that time—“

“Jesus, Momma!” I almost choked on my cookie. “You can’t go on blaming yourself for every little thing that happens.”

“Now let’s not be bandying about the Lord’s name.”

“I’m sorry, Momma,” I said. “But I’m sure Jesus wants you to be happy, just like the next person.”

Scruffy perked up his ears, turned his head toward the stairwell. I started to hear it myself. Plops, first a few, then more, then a thunderous smashing, pounding barrage. “It is surely hailing big time out there, Momma.”

“Oh, my,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t think that’s hail, son.”

The pummeling sound stopped as quickly as it had begun. Now there was no howling wind behind it. We sat in silence, listening for further signs that the storm had really passed. Scruffy decided we’d waited long enough. He bounded up the stairs, barking at the door for us to let him out. I followed him. I put my ear to the door. Nothing but a couple of birds chirping. I slid the crossbar over and shoved on the door. It resisted. I shoved again. Fallen tree limbs, I hoped, though I feared it might be the remains of Momma’s house on the other side of the door.

I shoved again, harder, and the door finally gave way. I stepped out of the stairwell and promptly slipped, my feet flying out from under me as I slid a few feet into the yard. I propped myself back up, my arms wrist deep in dark goo, a mush of red and green and black that seemed to cover the entire yard.

The house, at least, was still standing. Scruffy was running all over the yard, barking wildly, bits of goo hanging from the corner his mouth.

“Oh, my,” Momma said from somewhere behind me.

“Be careful, Momma,” I said. “The ground’s pretty slippery. It looks like the twister dumped a load of silt from the river right here on top of the yard.”

About then the smell of the goo hit me. I raised one hand to my face, gave the mush a sniff. That’s when I saw that some bits of the mush had form. And shape. This one little bit looked like a salamander leg. That bit wasn’t worm, but a trace of tiny intestine. Those round things: little eyes.

“Oh, my, Billy,” Momma said. “Looks like we got us a frog puree.”

I brought myself up to my feet, found a sturdy looking branch poking out from the goo, and brought it over to Momma for a makeshift cane. “What’d you wish for, Momma,” I asked, as we made our way slowly across the yard and up the steps to the front porch.

“Fertilizer,” she said. “That soil around here is so tired, I figured it was due for some kind of ripening up. Good thing.”

I helped her back into her rocking chair and began to pull off her shoes. “Good thing?”
“Good thing I didn’t wish for a new rock garden.”

“Good thing, Momma.”

© Copyright 2011 D. E. Helbling. All rights reserved.

D. E. Helbling is an engineer, writer, and a native of the Dakotas, now living in Oregon. When he’s not working on strange cryptography projects, he explores fiction, philosophy, paranormal research, and game A.I. software development.

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