From Natalie, republished with her permission. Visit her story and website here: http://nataliejsbooks.com/52-week-short-story-challenge-3/
Make A Wish
If Cassie hadn’t been looking up from her phone at that exact moment, she might not have seen the toad. In fact, two or three more steps forward and she probably would have stepped on it.
“Hey little guy,” she said, stopping in her tracks. “What are you doing up here?” The toad stared at her, its rapidly working throat the only movement she could see by the fading light. The sky was turning from lavender to a deep blue blanket speckled with stars and Cassie tapped her phone’s screen to get to the camera. She wanted to take a photo of the toad before the light was gone.
From her limited experience with toads, she expected it to hop away as soon as she got closer, but it simply sat there staring at her with eyes whose pupils looked far more human than any amphibian she’d ever seen. She squatted down to take the picture and the toad locked eyes with her. She noticed, much to her surprise, that they were silver.
If you could have one wish, what would you ask for?
The voice popped into her head unexpectedly, as clear and businesslike as if she was speaking to a man sitting across from her in an interview. She frowned and pressed a hand to her forehead, then looked around as if she expected to see someone behind her. There was no one else around and the last of the sun had finally disappeared, leaving Cassie and the toad in almost total darkness.
“This is crazy,” she said, standing up. “For a second I thought you were talking to me.”
Who said I wasn’t?
Cassie stared down at the toad, who was now looking up at her. Its silver eyes hadn’t left hers for a moment, and when the light on the roof came on they seemed to glow. Apart from its eyes there was nothing about the toad that would give any indication that there was something unusual about it. It looked like a run of the mill, everyday toad.
I can grant you a single wish, the voice in Cassie’s head said as the toad hopped closer to her. Just one. And it can be anything. None of those restrictions from legends and movies. Love, money, even bringing someone back from the dead. I can do all those things and more.
“How?” Cassie couldn’t shake the feeling that she was losing her mind. She’d come up to the roof to clear her head after getting her second notice from the debt collection people, not have a conversation with a toad. Yet here she was, actually talking back to a voice that might or might not be all in her imagination.
Does it matter? Make a wish and I will grant it.
“This is completely ridiculous,” Cassie said, at the same time thinking about what she would wish for. Talking to a toad was weird enough and believing it could grant her a wish was bumping right up against the edge of a break with reality, but there was no harm in considering the question. If she could wish for one thing, anything at all, what would it be? The obvious answers like world peace and a cure for cancer flitted through her head but Cassie pushed them aside. There was no one around, and the toad’s half of the conversation was only in her head. She could be as selfish as she wanted and no one would know the difference.
“All right,” she said, squatting down again so that she was closer to the toad’s level.
Good, the voice said. Tell me what you want most.
“Money,” Cassie said. “A hundred thousand dollars. I want to pay off my credit cards and my car loan, and not have to ask my parents for money anymore.” The toad closed its eyes and nodded but nothing happened.
Cassie wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. A notification from her bank saying that she was suddenly $100,000 richer? A man stepping out of the doorway to hand her an oversized cardboard check? Neither of those things made any sense, and Cassie almost burst out laughing. None of this made any sense. It was more likely that she was tired and imagining things, or that she had fallen asleep on the roof and this was all a dream.
“So much for making a wish,” she said, straightening up. “At least my brain didn’t make me try to kiss you.” She was just about to walk away when she decided that even though it hadn’t given her the cash she wanted, she couldn’t leave it on the rooftop. She had no idea how it had gotten onto the roof but she doubted it was going to be as lucky on an attempt to get down.
“Come on, toad,” she said, scooping it up. “I’ll take you down to the garden. Save you the trouble of trying to get down the stairs.” The toad was silent and she stuck her cell phone in her back pocket and headed down the stairs that led to the roof.
There were people hanging around the front of the building as always, laughing and joking as if they hadn’t a care in the world, and Cassie couldn’t help wondering if they ever went to work. She walked past them without making eye contact and found herself wishing for the thousandth time that she could afford to live somewhere else.
That’s what I should have wished for, she thought. It has just as much a chance of coming true as anything else. One of the men hooted loudly and she went around the corner of the building to the garden along its side. Cassie deposited the toad in the flowerbed and smiled.
“Have a good night, toad,” she said. The toad didn’t respond and she turned to go back inside, steeling herself for the walk through her neighbors’ impromptu get together. If the guy with the blonde hair was there, she could expect at least one comment about her ass.
When she was finally in her apartment with the door locked, Cassie sank down onto the couch and leaned her head against the back. There was no way a toad could have given her money, yet she couldn’t help feeling somewhat disappointed. Even if it had just been for a few moments, she’d expected something to happen. Her back pocket started vibrating and she pulled out her phone, the familiar sensation of fear whispering through her when she saw it was an unknown number.
“Dammit,” she sighed. The only people that called her from unknown numbers were debt collectors and she’d been successfully avoiding them for the last few weeks, but something told her that this was the moment to answer the phone. I’ll just tell them I don’t have any money to give them, she thought. It’s the truth. “Hello?”
“Are you Miss Cassie Bates?” The voice on the other end wasn’t what she expected. It was a little warmer, and didn’t sound like it was reading from a script. There was something unsettling about it, though, and she responded cautiously.
“Miss Bates, my name is Richard Reilly and I’m an attorney in Minneapolis representing your parents.” He took a deep breath while Cassie was trying to process his words. She couldn’t understand why a lawyer would be calling her but had a feeling it wasn’t good. “I’m very sorry to be the one to give you this news but your parents were killed in an accident two days ago. We’ve been trying to contact you but couldn’t get in touch until now.”
“My parents?” Cassie’s entire body felt cold. The voice on the phone kept talking but there was a strange, high-pitched noise overlaying it that made it hard for her to make out what the lawyer were saying. Her parents were dead? There had to be a mistake. “There’s no way my parents are dead.”
“I’m sorry,” Richard said. “Their car was hit by a semi that drifted into their lane. If it’s any consolation, they were killed instantly.” His voice was calm but it made even less sense than the conversation she had – or thought she had – with the toad. Cassie had no idea what she was supposed to say to any of this, and Richard took her silence to mean he could go on. “I’m going to need you to come down to the office as soon as possible to sign the paperwork,” the lawyer said. “The insurance company wants to pay out right away for some reason. They’re never this pushy about it but it’s going to work in your favor.”
“Yes. Between your parents, their life insurance payout is just over two hundred thousand dollars.” He said more, but Cassie didn’t hear it. The phone fell out of her hand as she covered her face. To her next-door neighbors, her agonized sobs sounded just like screaming.
Underneath her window, the toad worked its throat and smiled. The next day her voice would be little more than a croak. That was how it started.
That was always how it started.
By Natalie :)