Be Careful What You Wish For

Submitted into Contest #117 in response to: Write about a missing person nobody seems to know or remember.... view prompt

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Fiction Mystery Urban Fantasy

It had been an accident.

Well, alright. Caleb had said it on purpose, but he had also been seven years old, head filled with Grandma’s stories of fairy rings, when he came across the circle of mushrooms just a few hundred yards from his home, in a gap in the trees that seemed perfectly sized for it.

“I wish she would leave me alone,” he said to the circle of mushrooms, because no seven-year-old boy wants to be constantly followed by a three-year-old girl, and it didn’t matter how he asked or cried or begged their parents to keep her busy for a little while. Unless they were doing something that might conceivably impress the neighbors, Caleb’s parents didn’t actually care much for parenting.

Caleb Richmond loved his little sister. He didn’t really have much choice, considering how much she clung to him. But sometimes, with her talking and grabbing at him and talking and climbing on him and talking and clinging to him and talking and talking and talking, it got to be a bit much, and on the few times he dared to tell her to shut up, she just upped the ante to crying. It was worse than the endless talking and would usually summon their parents' ire.

So, no, he hadn’t actually said the words on accident, but the outcome had been an accident.

He made his way back to the house when he could just barely see the neighbors’ street lamps coming on through the trees. His sister’s absence was notable, but not strange. After the last time he told her to stop talking, he figured she’d just run back to the house to sulk, but when he pushed open the front door and stepped inside, he couldn’t hear her.

“Where’s Daisy?” he asked.

His mom paused in scrubbing a dish as she looked over her shoulder at him. “Is that one of the neighbor kids?” she asked.

Caleb stared at her, waiting for her to say ‘just kidding,’ despite the fact that neither of his parents had ever told a joke in the whole of his seven years. When she just looked at him expectantly, he said, “My little sister? About this tall?” and held a hand out about where the top of her head would be.

His mom laughed. “Aren’t you a little old for imaginary friends?” she asked, before shaking her head. “Go upstairs and get cleaned up for dinner.”

Dazed, Caleb turned toward the stairs to do as he was told, hoping that it was just a prank and that he would find Daisy sitting in her room. But when he peeked into what should have been her room, all he saw was a guest room with an off-white bed that didn’t have an ounce of personality and a dresser that was far too large for Daisy to use it. There wasn’t a sign of her anywhere. No toys. No dresses. No pretend fairy wings.

The pictures of her on the walls were gone. It was as if she had simply never existed.

Time passed, as it was wont to do. Caleb’s mom and dad tried to convince him to stop with the odd game. They tried to convince him to stop with the imaginary friend nonsense—to grow up and be a big boy. His grandma believed him, even if she didn’t remember Daisy herself, but she was sent away to a home when his mom and dad decided she was encouraging him too much.

He had nightmares. He saw therapists. So many therapists over the years, each one more baffled than the last that Caleb seemed largely fine, save for the delusion that he had once had a younger sister who evaporated into thin air because he wished her away.

He left the house often and for hours, at first just hiking as far around the local area as he could, and then going as far as he could bike, until he had his driver’s license and every weekend and school break saw him leaving the house to go to some unexplored forest or mountain or hiking trail. Somewhere, anywhere, that he hadn’t checked before to see if he could find another fairy circle.

Mushrooms were plentiful, but never the type he needed.

When Caleb turned 18, he packed a backpack, got in his car, and left without looking back or even telling his parents he was leaving. He did odd jobs wherever he went, washed dishes, sold bracelets made of twine and odds and ends, just to keep gas in the car as he traveled from one end of the country to the other. He got well-acquainted with every national park that had more than a few trees.

It took until he was 19, nearing 20. He was pretty sure the woods he was camping in didn’t even have a name. He wasn’t even sure if he was allowed to be camping in them, but as long as no one saw his truck from the road, he figured he would be fine.

A stream babbled and sunset-colored leaves dropped lazily from their branches. The moon was full overhead, and the circle of white mushrooms partially buried in the leaf litter seemed to glow silver in the moonlight.

Caleb turned off his flashlight and sat down in the dirt beside the fairy ring.

“I never really meant to say it, you know,” he told the mushrooms. “It just kind of slipped out. I would take it back if I could.”

He lapsed into silence. The mushrooms didn’t do anything. He wasn’t sure if he was actually expecting them to.

“I miss you,” he offered to his knees after a few minutes of silence, fingers absently tearing a fallen leaf to shreds.

“Still?” someone asked, incredulous but fond.

In Caleb’s mind, she was still just a three-year-old girl, but when he looked up, he knew in an instant that the teenage girl standing in the middle of the fairy ring was Daisy. She would be nearly 16, had Caleb never made that wish.

He scrambled back to his feet, but then he paused after only taking a step forward.

Grandma had always told him to be cautious of fairy rings, no matter how long he had looked for one.

Caleb stared. Daisy stared back, expectant and curious. Finally, she held a hand out, offering it to him.

“What will you do now?” she asked.

Caleb took a deep breath and, with a single step, he made his choice.

Far away, in a quiet suburban neighborhood, Mr. and Mrs. Richmond sat at their dining room table, finishing their dinner. It had been a quiet day. Mrs. Richmond had watched the neighborhood kids play the most convoluted game of tag she had ever seen for part of the afternoon.

She finished her meal in contemplative silence, and as she put her fork down on the empty plate, she wondered, “Do you ever regret that we never had any children?”

October 30, 2021 00:19

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2 comments

Kyler Mattoon
16:33 Nov 17, 2021

OH I loved this!!! You really captured the essence of the Fae - how no request ends up quite how it starts. I especially liked the end line.

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S. Thomson
13:44 Nov 04, 2021

Loved the concept on this story and really really great ending. Your second sentence in the opening paragraph is quite long and the syntax is a bit confusing, so maybe I would break it up into smaller sentences, but other than that really really great work, thank you for sharing.

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