This story was written for the October 2015 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
Diane Oh tried very hard not to be a child. She dressed herself in clothes that looked and felt grown up to her, and she combed her own hair with her own maple handle hair brush. She kept herself very neat and tidy, and she never let herself get messy, like children did. She talked like an adult, and she occupied herself with grown-up activities, practicing her violin, playing chess, reading books with lots of pages and very few, if any, pictures. She never ran or skipped or jumped or twirled in her twirly skirt or hung upside down on the monkey bars unless she was very sure that her mother was nowhere in sight. And she had never owned a doll or a toy and had never even begged for one, though she did, sometimes, wish for a rainbow-colored unicorn with a mane as soft as rabbit’s fur.
All the same, Diane Oh knew in her heart of hearts that she was, indeed, a child, and Diane Oh knew that her mother hated children.
“It’s not that I don’t love you,” her mother used to say, “it’s just children in general that I hate.”
A few evenings before Halloween, Diane Oh’s father surprised her by suggesting that she go trick-or-treating on Halloween with the other children.
“You mean, in a costume, and everything?”
“That’s usually how it’s done!” her father replied.
He took her shopping, and they found a perfect Cinderella-at-the-ball costume, complete with sparkling tiara. He even fashioned her hair into a bun, using her mom’s pearl-handled brush, to add the finishing touch. She felt like a princess; she felt like a child.
“Who’s been using my hair brush?” Mrs. Oh yelled the moment she entered the bathroom to freshen up after work.
“I’ll handle this,” said her father, scooting Diane out the door. “You go trick-or-treat and have a good time!”
“Diane!” she heard her mother yell. “How many times have I told you that children do not belong in the upstairs bathroom? How many times have I told you never to use my brush? There are hairs in the sink! Long blonde child hairs! Diane! Diane!”
The front door closed behind her, and Diane stood on the front porch, feeling her heart sink within.
All the pride, joy, and excitement that she had felt at dressing up in her costume and heading out for a night of fun like a regular kid faded quickly. She should never have even tried.
The other children, in their costumes, raced passed her, leaving her behind in the echoes of their laughter and footfalls. She didn’t have the heart to join them. She watched alone from behind as they went house to house.
After the last child left the block, and the sounds of laughter and shouting faded, she decided might as well give it a try.
When a witch answered the door at the house next to Dr. Jasmine’s, Diane Oh jumped. She had met Bay and Cathy Tea, who lived here, and this witch was neither of them!
“Well?” asked the witch.
Diane smelled something savory cooking inside: onions, basil, and garlic. She remembered that she hadn’t had supper.
“I forget what I’m supposed to say,” replied Diane Oh, in a very soft voice.
“Trick or treat, or what do you wish?”
“I have lots of wishes.”
“Take this, then,” said the witch, handing her a little black stone with a white stripe around its middle. “It’s a wishing rock, and anything you wish on it will come true.”
Diane Oh clasped the rock and felt it grow warm in her hand as she ran with it to the magic tree.
She thought of all the things she might wish. She just wanted to be a child–to play and run and break things and get into mischief and make noises and messes and not to be hated for it.
“I wish she would go away and leave me alone and never hate me for who I am ever, ever again.”
And when she had finished the wish, she threw the rock into the canal as hard as she could.
After wishing, she felt light and happy. The air smelled of apple cider, cinnamon, and candle wax. With giddiness, she skipped from house to house, chasing the shadows from the lighted Jack-o-lanterns and spooky decorations.
When she reached Dr. Jasmine’s house, dusk had faded and the moon was shining. She had collected hundreds of pieces of candy–enough that she could sneak a treat for every harsh word that her mother would ever utter!
It was time to go home, and the sidewalk felt cold and hard with every step.
Only the kitchen light was on in her house.
When she came in, she saw her dad sitting at the table, his head in his hands.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Where’s Mom?”
“She’s gone,” her father said.
Her father shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe for good.”
Diane felt her throat grow tight.
“Don’t worry,” her father said. “We’ll be OK. It’ll be quieter, right? Even if she never comes back, and it’s just you and me, we’ll work things out all right, won’t we?”
He turned and slowly made his way up the stairs. She didn’t think she’d ever heard him walk so slowly. She looked through the empty rooms downstairs. A lamp lay broken on the floor. Chairs were knocked over. The house had a feeling of being broken inside.
She remembered her wish with horror. She had done this!
She ran out the kitchen door and down the street. She had to find her mother and undo the wish.
The streets were empty now that all the trick-or-treaters had gone home. Shadows twisted and moved in frightening ways.
She looked down every street–where was her mom?
The branches traced ominous shapes against the sky.
She raced around a corner.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
It was the witch.
“My wish!” said Diane. “It came true and it shouldn’t have! It wasn’t the right wish!”
The witch laughed. “Just use the stone to unwish it!”
“But I don’t have the wishing stone!” said Diane. “I threw it into the canal!”
“Oh, then you are in a quandary.”
Before the witch could say anything else, Diane turned and raced across the street into the empty park and lost herself among the shadows.
It really was a bad thing to be a child, she thought, because children don’t think things out! They just wish, and then the wishes come true, and they’re bad wishes, and it all turns out the wrong way.
By the time Diane’s sobs subsided, she had reached the meadow’s edge. There, on the bench at the border of the park sat a woman.
It was Diane’s mom.
Diane Oh ran to her, full of joy, and stopped just short, remembering how her mother hated to embraced in a full-on hug.
“Hi, Mom.” Diane Oh said.
Her mother turned to her, and smiled.
“Hi, darling,” her mother said.
“I thought you had disappeared,” Diane said. “I thought you were gone forever.”
“I almost was. But I’m still here.”
They sat together on the bench.
“I’m sorry,” said Diane’s mother.
“No! I’m sorry,” said Diane Oh. “It was my fault! It’s always my fault. I’m stupid and I made the wrong wish.”
Her mother put her arm around her.
“It’s never your fault,” she said. “It never has been. And you are anything but stupid!”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Do you know how hard it is when I look at myself or hear myself, and I discover that I am not the kind of mother that a child should have? If you knew how I felt inside–well, I’m afraid that you do. It’s just so hard for me to go on being me, when I don’t feel the way a mother should feel, when I don’t have the patience for noise and laughter and toys and crayons, and all that paraphernalia! I think you and your father would both be so much better off without me.”
“It’s ok, Mom,” said Diane. “I won’t always be a child. And when I’m a teenager, who will be around to show me how to grow up if you’re not here?”
“I don’t want you to grow up into me,” said her mom.
“I won’t,” said Diane Oh. “I will grow up into me. But I want you to be there, so you can know me when I’m bigger. So you can see me for me, and not see me like just another little kid.”
As they sat together in the cold October night, Diane Oh closed her eyes. She imagined the wishing stone resting in the mud at the bottom of the canal, and she saw the sediment slowly wash over it until the white ring around the stone’s middle was no longer visible.
Undo, undo, undo, Diane Oh thought. I wish, I wish, I wish.
She wished the new wish so hard that her eyes stung and her cheeks hurt with squinting.
“You must be cold,” said her mom. “Let’s go home.”
“It came true!” whispered Diane Oh.
“What’s that?” asked her mom.
“Never mind,” said Diane, hiding her smile in the dark night.
Mother and daughter walked together beneath the twisted branches and into the clearing under the Halloween stars, heading towards a single light that shown in the window of a kitchen where a man sat alone, waiting for their return. Diane didn’t know if it were the stone, that somehow heard her magic words, or if it were just the single purpose of her child’s heart: but somehow, one wish had been undone, and another had come true.