PRW Runner-Up Tour: Bloodwish by CC Dowling
The back of my grandfather’s antique shop is usually off-limits. But I’m jonesing to light something on fire and there was a cool looking flip-top lighter with a dragon on it last time I was here.
Maybe I’ll torch one of his rare coo-coo clocks that chimes incessantly and makes me crazy. Or maybe I’ll burn my grandmother’s scarf, the only remnant left of her life in Vietnam before the war’s end. That’ll get their attention.
I bump into one of several overcrowded shelves. A vase is on a crash course with the concrete floor. I don’t care about it breaking. I care about it giving away my location.
As I dive to save it, my foot gets caught in a box. I go down, spilling its contents. At least I caught the vase.
“Troy? What are you doing back there?” My grandfather says in Vietnamese. I mostly understand him.
“Nothing,” I answer in English as I pull my foot from the box.
I stand up and kick it, sending it sliding across the floor. A flash of silver and the tink-tink-tink of metal against concrete hastens me after it.
I switch on a lamp. A three-headed beast with fangs and glowing red eyes comes alive under the light. I yank my hand back so it can’t bite me, which is stupid. It isn’t real.
The round-bellied Buddha statue in the corner mocks me as I crouch and reach behind it.
“Your parents and sister are on their way,” he says, his voice somehow reaching me from the front of the store even though he never shouts. “They’ll expect you to be part of the celebration.”
My fist connects with Buddha’s stomach. I shake it, stretching my fingers to make sure nothing is broken. Tracy, my twin sister, got accepted to Yale. I’ll be lucky if I graduate.
It’s not that my sister doesn’t deserve a party. She does. She’s done everything right. But being around her reminds me what a failure I am. It’s not a reminder I need.
“I wish I didn’t have to go,” I tell Buddha and the Beast. They’re less than sympathetic.
A shock of electric blue fire lights up the corner. The weight of something cool and heavy presses against my palm.
“Troy? What are you doing back there?” My grandfather says as if he didn’t just ask me that two minutes ago.
I stand up and shove my hands in my pockets. “I’m coming.”
“There’s no need to hurry.” He sticks his head through the beaded curtain separating the back room from the rest of the shop. “Just make sure to lock up when you leave. I’m off to your sister’s party.”
“You’re going? Without me?” I scratch the back of my head just behind my ear.
“You told your father you weren’t coming. Did you change your mind?”
“I never told him that.”
He reaches a wrinkled hand toward my forehead. I swat it away. “Are you feeling okay?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I answer as my fingers skim the carved ridges of a metallic dragon. “I’m fine. You should get going.”
He nods once then retreats into the shop while humming the same tune my mother used to sing to us at bedtime.
I don’t move, don’t dare breathe, until the bell over the front entrance chimes.
He’s gone. I can’t believe he’s gone and I’m still here.
I grab the lighter from my pocket, turning it in my fingers. It’s unremarkable, save for the image of a Chinese dragon that’s more lion than reptile. I click the top and twirl the thumbwheel.
I bang the butt of the lighter against my palm and try again. Nothing.
I wish this thing would light. “What a piece of sh…”
Fire, the kind that crawls and morphs and breathes like a living being, erupts from the wick.
I can’t help shrieking like a girl as I fling the lighter across the room. As soon as my heart resumes a normal pace, and I can breathe without hyperventilating, I retrieve the lighter.
I stare at it for a long time, not ready to believe what I know is true because I’ve been told that magic isn’t real, that miracles aren’t possible. To test my theory, I concentrate on the poster of an Adrenaline Red SRT Dodge Viper taped to the ceiling of my bedroom.
My hand starts to tremble as I say the words that either makes me the world’s biggest idiot or the master of the universe. “I wish for a red Dodge Viper.”
The lighter heats up. Its flame turns blue then yellow then orange. My liquid wish spills from the wick and hits the floor as my dream engine roars to life, rattling the windows.
I fling open the back door and step into the alleyway, almost banging my knee against the front fender. I rub fingerprints along the door and side window to make sure it’s real. When I’m convinced, I open the door and slide into the driver’s seat. Leather crunches against my jeans and the unmistakable scent of “new car” intoxicates me.
Dangling from the ignition is a keychain. T-R-O-Y is scrawled in neon orange block letters. That’s when the laughter starts. Maniacal? Maybe. Triumphant? Definitely.
It’s about time I take control over my life, over my destiny. I’ll finally be accepted for who I am, not what I’m expected to be. They’ll have no choice.
School is going to be so different on Monday.
Every head in the parking lot turns my way as I pull into the Principal’s designated space. She won’t need it. She isn’t reporting for duty today…or tomorrow.
I jump out of the car amid astonished murmurs and jealous stares. The security guard catches up to me, red-faced and out of breath. “You can’t park there.”
I glance at my ride and shrug my shoulders. “I wish I could.” The corner of my mouth tips up as I stare at him over the top of my sunglasses.
His face goes slack. His eyes gloss over. “Of course you can, Troy. I’ll make sure no one touches your car while you’re in class.”
“You do that.”
I jog across campus to the gymnasium where the basketball team runs drills before school starts. I’ve always wanted to watch them, one of them in particular. Fear stopped me from doing it.
There’s a reason I turned down Anh when she asked me to the homecoming dance. I haven’t had a girlfriend since sophomore year.
My family wouldn’t understand. They already judge me because of my grades. Every time I want to tell my father, the memory of him beating my sister with a belt because he thought she kissed a boy reminds me why I shouldn’t.
I sit on the second row bleacher, propping my foot on the one below, as I stare at him and try not to drool. After practice, I hang around, waiting for him to come out of the locker rooms. My stomach twists in knots. Breakfast is threatening to make a second appearance.
My fingers caress the tiny square of cool metal. I wish I wasn’t nervous. Warmth, like a campfire at midnight, radiates from my chest to my toes. And that I’ll know what to say, I add.
I work a clump of grass free with the toe of my shoe as I lean against the wall. I wish he’d hurry up.
The door swings open and every molecule of air I’ve ever breathed explodes from my lungs. His dress shirt hangs off one arm. The muscles in his bare chest move like snakes under his dark skin. His beltless jeans hang low on his waist. The valley his hips make, leading below his boxers, draws my attention, igniting my desire.
“Hey, Brandon,” I say, my voice cool even though I’m burning from the inside out.
“Wuzzup, Troy?” He stares at the other half of his shirt like he’s trying to figure out what it is. “I was just getting dressed. I think.” He pushes his muscled arm through the other sleeve.
“We’ve got Trig in five minutes. Want to walk me to class?” I ask.
“Yeah.” His dimples carve valleys in his cheeks. “Let me grab my bag.”
When he exits for the second time, I change my mind. “I wish we didn’t have to go to class.”
He stops midstride. “We don’t.”
“I got a new ride. A Viper.”
“Wanna see it?”
“Dude, I want to drive it.”
The tires squeal and the engine whines as Brandon pulls onto the street. He heads for the highway, mostly empty of traffic by now. The Viper boasts speeds in excess of two-twenty. Today, we’re going to prove it.
By midday our stomachs are growling louder than the engine. I suggest a classy seafood restaurant overlooking the bay. It’s the kind of restaurant with white table linens and a waiter in a tux.
“I don’t have that kind of money, Troy.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this one.”
I weave my fingers with his on the steering wheel. He yanks his hand away like I burned him. “Look, man, I’m not…”
“I know.” I sigh as guilt flushes my cheeks. It’s not enough to stop me. “I wish you were. I wish you liked me as much as I like you.”
Cars honk as Brandon cuts them off, weaving his way to the gravel shoulder. He slams the car in park and grabs my shirt, ripping the collar as he pulls me into his lap. My knees dig into leather on either side of his hips. His hands wrap around my neck, forcing my lips to his.
Excitement presses against my lungs and between my legs as sinful desire unravels within. I wish my father could see me right now, the real me. I wish he could acknowledge who I truly am without expectations and disappointment.
The screeching of tires forces me to pull away from Brandon. Out of nowhere, my dad’s Mercedes is barreling toward us. In the moment before crashing steel and shattered glass turn my world black, my father’s face contorts with understanding of the secret I’ve been hiding from him, from all of them.
The weight of the blanket against my leg hurts. Come to think of it, everything hurts.
The sunlight through the window shines in my eyes. I lift my hand to shield them. Nothing happens. I squint against the headache pounding the inside of my skull like it’s begging to get out and assess the damage. Immediately, I wish I hadn’t.
Thick, white gauze covers the stump of my right hand. Tubes snake their way across my chest, into my mouth. Stitches hold together the flap of skin covering my chest.
“Your heart stopped,” my grandfather says, making the blips on the monitor dance an erratic rhythm. “They had to cut you open to get it beating again. Your father wasn’t so lucky.”
I blink hard, trying to focus on his face. “What about Brandon?” I say except my words come out jumbled around the tubing.
He shakes his head, lowering his eyes to something in his hand. “Your friend didn’t make it either.”
Pain that has nothing to do with surgery makes me hurt all over again. I pull the sheet off my legs and kick my feet over the side of the bed, ignoring the stabbing sensation that makes me want to scream. I yank the tube from my throat, losing my meager stomach contents on the floor.
That’s when the nurse runs in, forcing me back to bed. I glance at the beeping machine hooked up to the ventilator.
My grandfather is sitting in the chair next to the bed when she leaves. “I should have destroyed this a long time ago. But your grandmother made me promise to keep it. She was too sentimental, too stubborn to let go of things that reminded her of home.”
I take a break from staring at the back of my eyelids and tilt my head to face him. Excitement kicks up my heart rate, making the machine beep faster, as my vision focuses on a dragon.
“I killed her just like you killed Brandon.” His eyes turn red as tears slip down his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know what I was saying, what I was doing. It’s too late now. There are some things we’re never meant to get back.”
“You’re lying.” My voice is scratchy from the tubing and from the tears I’m desperately trying to hold back. “I don’t believe you,” I say, unwilling to accept his weakness as my own. I reach out my good hand. “Give it back.”
He flips the top open and close, open and close. “It’s tempting having the power to make our heart’s desires come true. It also shows you what kind of a heart you have.”
He stands and heads toward the door.
“Wait!” I try to get up but whatever the nurse gave me is starting to kick in. “Please. I can fix this if you just give it to me.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t allow you to do any more damage.”
“One wish. Just one wish.”
I hold my breath, willing him to give me a chance to undo some of the mess I’ve made.
He turns to face me. His thumb traces the dragon as he stares at the lighter. I wait for what seems like forever before he speaks. “Just one.” He crosses the distance between us and sets it down on my chest. “Make it count.”
“I wish that Brandon wasn’t dead,” I say, ignoring my broken body and the fact that my father is gone.
My grandfather shakes his head like I’ve missed out on some private joke that isn’t funny. He grabs the lighter and shoves it into his pocket. Without a word, he closes the door behind him.
When he’s gone, and I’m alone, I allow the tears I’ve been holding back to fall.
Hours later, I awake to a dark room and a scratch on the door. I’m just about to tell whomever it is to go away when it opens.
His tall, muscular form blocks the light from the hallway. A torn hospital gown hangs off his shoulders and draws forward like it isn’t tied in the back.
“Brandon?” His name sticks in my throat.
He remains still, motionless, like he’s not even breathing.
“Is it really you? Are you okay?” I kick off the blanket and sheet covering my legs and make a second attempt to stand up.
Aside from my death grip on the bed rail, I’m mostly standing on my own when I speak to him again. “I understand if you’re pissed. You probably want to kill me. I just want to say I’m sorry, for everything.”
I turn on the lamp by the bed with my only remaining hand. A yellow glow fills the small room, illuminating his face.
My blood turns to ice, trapping the scream in my lungs.
Chunks of flesh from his jaw and right shoulder are missing, exposing the gooey, bloody muscles underneath. Sticking out of the top of his gown are angry stitches in the shape of a Y. His left leg is twisted and bent at an odd angle making his slow walk toward me both gruesome and terrifying.
I stumble back against the wall, ripping the I.V. from my arm. As drops of my blood spill to the floor, Brandon’s body jerks. An evil hiss bubbles forth from his severed throat.
And then he’s on me. I don’t stand a chance against his size and strength, against him. Maybe I never did.
Petrified with fear, a horrified whimper is my only protest as he rips a chunk of flesh from my shoulder and forces his fingernails deep in my gut, spilling my entrails.
With my final breath, I wish for the one thing I never needed a magic lighter for.
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