Wishes

The poor boy just touched it, just a brush of the pads of his fingertips and the whisper of skin against the brass, and everything stopped. From the spout boiled something red and dark and quivering into a great cloud of bloody air which gathered and pulsed until in the mass of red could be seen the shape of a body.The man folded his arms and peered down at the boy, who quaked and tried not to whimper.

The red man sank to the ground. His body trailed into mist after the waist, but he could have been sitting. He spoke, and his voice was dark and shaking. “Listen, child,” he said, “Three, and that is all. Use them well, for you are a little lamb of a thing.”

The boy thought that perhaps this meant that the demon would take pity on him, and he drew in his breath to speak. “Please, sir,” he said, his voice a thread, “I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what I did. I am small, and, and, like you said, I’m not going to hurt anyone, I don’t know what I did.”

The red man bent closer and with his sharp red teeth showing, he smiled. “Ah,” he said to the boy. “A lost lamb, yes. So lost. I will explain to you, dear one, and then you will understand. You’ve heard stories, you know what I am. I emerge from that metal prison, I grant you three, and then I am suffering inside while you go on with your life, while you humans take what I have given and toss aside this ornament that is of no use to any, not even for light.”

The boy sat back on his heels and fixed his eyes on the red face. At last, he said, “Three? Any three?”

The demon nodded.

“I want a wife, please, Wait, though, I know how this works. I need to explain. I want a wife who the same age that I am, and alive, and well. She must be very beautiful, and she must be here. Please.”

The man nodded, and the woman appeared. She was very beautiful, so lovely that the boy was stricken. He gazed at the bright eyes and full lips and long limbs of his new wife, and he fell to his knees. “I love you,” he said. She spat in his face and walked out of the attic room without looking back.

The boy scrambled to his feet, knees jerking in his eagerness and despair, and followed her. For a week the red demon watched them as he tried to reason with her, tried to tell her how much he loved her, tried to make her understand that his heart beat for her. One morning, the boy came to the demon and said, “I need to use the second. I want my wife to love me. I want her to love me more than anything.” The red man nodded.

Barely had a moment passed when the boy heard footsteps pounding down the hall. The boy’s wife rushed in. She knelt in front of him and turned her lovely face to his. She said, “Oh, my husband, I love you,” and the sound of her voice was sweet and soft to his ears. He pulled her to her feet and kissed her. She drew him out of the room. The red man watched for a day as the boy lived in perfect happiness with his bride. The boy thought of nothing else until they woke the next morning. The boy walked into the kitchen and his wife followed him. He prepared breakfast, brought it to the table, and began to eat. His wife watched. When he offered her a morsel of food, she shook her head. He pushed a glass of water toward her, and gently she slid it back to him. The boy stopped eating and said, “My love, why will you not eat or drink? You must be hungry.”

She looked at him with something like surprise written on her face, and said, “My husband, I love you more than anything. I cannot love anything else more than I love you. I love you more than the wants of my body. I love you more than life itself.”

“I don’t understand,” her husband said. “You love me, and I am glad. You need to eat.”

She shook her head. Finally, he shrugged and finished his own food. They repeated this scene at midday and in the evening. They sat on a terrace before the lightless sky and he begged her to eat, but she only shook her head. “I cannot,” she told him, “for that would change things. I cannot.”

On the third day, the boy’s wife could not get out of bed. He lay next to her and put his arms around her, and her answering smile was week. On the fourth day, he tried to pour water into her mouth, but she choked and spat. On the fifth day, when he awoke, she wasn’t breathing.

The red demon smiled at the boy, whose eyes were swollen and sore with tears. His voice was ragged and he said, “I need to use my third. I know better than to wake the dead, so you won’t have me that way. I want to go back to before any of this. I want to go back to before I touched your lamp, before you appeared, before any of this happened. Please.”

The man nodded, and the world shifted. The boy was alone, with no horrors clouding his mind. He was trying to clean out the attic room at the top of the stairs, but it was so cluttered with the shiny forgotten pieces of somebody else’s life that he was struggling to find anything. He reached into the box in front of him, and his fingers brushed the smooth brass of an old lamp.

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Castle in the Sky

The castle in the sky where Annie lived wasn’t made of pink cotton candy or gumdrops. It wasn’t spun out of wistful fairy tales or princesses with impractical hairstyles. That’s not what a castle in the sky is. It’s simply a dream, or a wish, or a hope that’s been held close for too long. Annie’s castle wasn’t made of anything but longing, and so it was a frail and brittle castle, stretched too thin as it braced against the whipping wind above the clouds. She stayed inside, mostly, and didn’t venture too close to the windows for fear of heights. Looking out through the glass to the dizzying pinpricks that were houses below always made her sway and clutch at the wall.

People didn’t often come to visit Annie in her castle where she lived most of the time. It was a long and lonely trek to get there. It always is, to reach somebody else’s hope. Her very best friends would brave it, and they would huddle with her inside her castle built of longing, because they wanted to be with her there. They spoke in whispers, as though they were afraid that their voices would echo against the slender walls. They spoke to Annie as though they were afraid to injure the silence that reigned in her castle. She was always glad to see them there, because it meant she didn’t have to be alone for a while. They left eventually.

Annie had to leave the castle in the sky at times too. She liked going out, most of the time, for a short time anyway. Dropping backdown to earth meant that there were no heights to pull her brain to bits of vertigo. It wasn’t as lonely back on the earth as it was in her castle. She could see people’s faces there, and hear their careless voices. Eventually, though, the faces started to seem strange to her, and she had to go back up. The castle was always waiting. She returned with a twinge that now everybody real was too far away to touch. There was relief in it too, though. Her castle was cold and it was empty, but it was familiar. The rooms fit her like a shawl she could wrap around herself, its touch cold on her skin but comforting and soft. The castle is beautiful, because it is built of longing. Wist makes for lovely decorations. The rooms are narrow and stretch forward before her, and the hallways wind in a maze. It is made for wandering.

For now, Annie spends a lot of time in her castle in the sky. She doesn’t like to, exactly. The chill in the air and the distance from the ground brings a shiver of foreboding to clasp at her. She does not like to be lonely. The emptiness does not make her happy. But she needs the castle right now. It’s like a drug, and it fills her veins with an ache that she craves. She comes back to it, makes the ascent, settles into the rooms of thin frigid air and sinks away behind the gossamer weave of stone walls that veil her from the clouds and the world. Someday, the castle might not be enough for Annie. It might no longer pull at her. Perhaps she’ll simply stop coming, because she will gaze up at the sky and realize that she doesn’t need to leave the earth anymore for longing. The rooms will get dusty and birds will perch on the sills of the little windows until the castle crumbles and falls from the sky.

Annie might also come back to the castle and stay there until she knows that she has to leave. If she does not know on the ground that she isn’t able to live in longing anymore, she might realize it while she’s still there. It’s possible that she’ll walk closer to the wall and put her hand to the stone, feeling the pits and cracks that threaten to break the whole place apart. She might look down and see the world far below, her castle sitting on a cloud, and the two homes of hers so far away that she can never live in both at once. Annie could realize that she can’t live in the sky anymore in a castle made of longing. She may not be able to let it collect dust in the sky while she lives in the world and forgets she was ever there. Maybe she’ll jump.