Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I didn’t feel so stupid this afternoon, when I was being a good mother. It was a crisp fall day and the leaves were gorgeous colors, so I took my daughter for a walk. We strolled the back paths while she asked a thousand questions, and I listened as she recounted each fairy tale that the woods brought to her mind. It didn’t matter to either of us that I was the one who had read all those fairy tales to her in the first place.
No, none of that was stupid. But wandering near the crumbling old wishing well certainly was. She was enchanted by it.
“Have you ever done it, Mommy? Made a wish here?”
“I’ve made two wishes,” I said. “Once, I wished for you, and then you came true. And you only cost me a penny.”
She giggled and asked about my second wish.
“That wish was the most heartfelt I’ve ever made, because it was for you again.”
“But you already got me!”
“Yes, but I didn’t want to lose you. I made the second wish when you were a baby, when you were sick and the doctors said there was no hope. I was so sad that I dropped in another penny. And that wish also came true, because you got better. Are you glad I wished it?”
So was I. And I wasn’t lying, I really did make that wish.
But I didn’t tell her the whole story. I didn’t tell her how, after I’d tossed the coin down the well, it came back up and landed right at my feet. I didn’t tell her that when I touched the coin again, I instantly understood that something down there—or maybe the well itself—was making a wish in return. And it wanted more than a penny.
“Did Daddy make a wish, too?” she asked.
Of course she would ask that. She thinks the world of her father, even though she never really knew him. I told everyone else that my husband ran away, but I’ve only told her what a loving and devoted man he’d been, until he went missing. In her imagination he was a long-lost king, and she was his princess.
“No,” I said, “I never dragged Daddy all the way out here.”
Except I did.
Because some wishes cost more.
And now, tonight, someone is beating on my front door. There are tortured groans that vaguely resemble my name, and I can smell something terrible. It’s a musty odor, like the mold in a damp cellar or cave.
Suddenly there is silence. Then with a crash, the window is shattered by a grasping, skeletal hand, and the moldy smell is overpowered by the stench of decayed flesh.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
What was I thinking? What else was a little girl who loves her missing daddy going to wish for?
Why did I give her a penny?