Be Careful What You Wish For
Have you ever hated anybody? I mean, truly hated someone. I have. His name was Tom Porter. I say was because he’s dead now. And am I sorry that he’s dead? Not on your life. My only regret is that I wasn’t there to see him die. I like to think that he suffered, and I’m sure he did. I bet those final moments were bloody terrifying.
But why did I hate him, I hear you ask. Because he had everything and he wanted more. Don’t get me wrong he wasn’t a rich man. Well, not financially. What he did have in abundance though, was confidence, good looks and plenty of charm. The girls loved him. I didn’t care, though. Why? Because I had Sally. My childhood sweetheart: Sally Reeves. The most beautiful girl in my class. We clicked right from the start. We liked the same movies, enjoyed the same food, and the sex was great. Five years we were together. And we would have been together for longer, had I not found out that Tom had been seen talking to her down the pub. As soon as that happened I knew it was the end. I questioned her, she denied it, we started arguing . . . you get the picture.
After a while she started accusing me of pushing her away, and in some ways – okay, in many ways – she was right. But it was only because I feared I was losing her. Which, of course, eventually I did.
Talk about being depressed!
What do you do when your heart feels like it’s been ripped out? Staying at home watching TV is pointless, because all you can think about is what they’re doing together. So you go out and get pissed. And when you wake up in the morning and the pain is still there, you go out and get pissed some more.
However, the contents of a pint glass can only give you so much solace, and after a couple of days of drowning in my own misery, I went out for a walk to get some air. I didn’t care where I was going, I had no destination, but I found myself down by the river. I stopped by the weir, content to just listen to the sound of the river flowing over the stones, when I realised I wasn’t alone.
‘That water’s too cold for suicide,’ said a voice behind me.
I spun round, and there, sitting on a bench, was your typical old-age pensioner: flat-cap, walking stick, woolly cardigan, the lot.
‘I was just looking,’ I said.
‘Is that right?’ he replied.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Why would I want to commit suicide?’
‘I don’t know and I don’t care. But it’s no coincidence that you’re here, lad. That place there,’ he said, and he used his walking stick to point at the weir, ‘is special. Always has been. She calls to people who are in need. She did it to me many years ago.’
I looked at him questioningly.
‘Belisama,’ he said. ‘You know, the lady in the lake? You must have heard the story. After his final battle, King Arthur is lying mortally wounded, surrounded by scores of dead enemy soldiers. He gives his sword, Excalibur, to Bedwyr, his most trusted knight, and he tells him to throw the sword into the lake. Bedwyr goes to the lake, grabs the sword with both hands and then casts it as hard as he can. And just when the sword is about to hit the water, a female hand reaches up from the depths and deftly grabs the sword by the hilt, before disappearing back down into the dark waters.’
The old man had his stick up in the air, in an effort to act out his story.
‘Very dramatic,’ I said.
‘All you’ve got to do is make an offering, and then make your wish,’ he said.
I started delving into my pockets for some loose change.
‘Don’t you dare insult her by throwing in your shrapnel. That will only make her mad. Why do you think wishing wells don’t work?’
I held my hands up in dismay. ‘Make up your mind,’ I said. ‘Do I make an offering or not?’
‘You see, there’s the problem right there,’ he said. ‘People have forgotten how to talk to the old gods. You live out your lives with your gadgets and your games, and when things go wrong you throw a couple of quid in a council made well and expect miracles to happen. Let me put it this way: if I asked you to carry me home on your back, would you do it for a couple of quid? Of course you wouldn’t. But if I got ten grand out my pocket and started waving that around, I’m sure you’d do it then.’
‘But I haven’t got ten grand to give her,’ I said.
‘And you haven’t got the brains, either,’ he countered.
I glared at him, but he just smirked and continued. ‘She doesn’t care about money, lad. All she wants is proof of your sincerity. Give her something that has value to you. Only then will she listen when you ask her for help.’
I started fiddling with my necklace; something I always do when I’m concentrating. The old man was watching me, curious about what I was going to do next. I couldn’t look at him, so I turned and faced the river. Something had changed. It was as if each ripple sparkled like diamonds. I stepped closer to the encouragement of the old man. It was then that I heard words. At first I thought it was the wind in the trees, but then I realised it was a female voice. I couldn’t hear what she was saying so I moved a little closer. The rush of the water over the weir was loud, but the voice continued. It became hypnotic. A part of me desired to jump in, to leave this world that had caused me so much pain, but thoughts of Sally gave me strength. And then Tom’s smiling face entered my thoughts and in one swift motion I ripped off the necklace and cast it towards the weir.
‘Belisama, I want him dead.’
As soon as the necklace hit the water it was as if I’d just awoken from a dream. It was also physical, as if someone had let go of me. I stumbled back and gasped and I heard the old man chuckle. I turned and looked at him. His face was beaming, as if he knew exactly what I’d been through.
‘Did you hear her?’ he said. ‘Did you hear her voice? It’s so beautiful.’
I didn’t know what had happened. What was I supposed to say? That a water goddess had spoken to me?
‘Fuck you!’ I said, and then I ran off.
I was terrified. What the hell had just happened? Had I really heard her voice? It didn’t matter; I just wanted to get as far away as I could.
When I got home I felt dirty, as if my murderous thoughts had covered my body in a layer of filth. I stripped off and stepped into the shower and let the water cleanse me. I closed my eyes and tried to forget it all.
Why is my life so shit? I asked myself.
I didn’t expect an answer.
‘It doesn’t have to be,’ said a female voice.
I froze. Straight away I knew who it was. I could feel her right in front of me under the shower.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to.’
I kept my eyes closed; I was too scared to open them. Then I felt her finger run down my cheek and then over my lips.
‘Why do you cry?’ she asked.
I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t know what to say.
‘You should be happy,’ she said. ‘I don’t make a habit of showing myself to mortals. Do you know who I am?’
I nodded, but kept my eyes firmly closed.
‘For centuries the people of this island have honoured me, though lately too many have forgotten my name: Belisama. It’s such a beautiful name, don’t you think? The Gaul’s call me Abnoba, as do those you now call Germans, and the Egyptians – such an ancient people – they call me Nephtys. But Belisama is my favourite. Say it for me, as you did by the river, when you said it with so much passion.’
My mouth opened and I could feel the shower water bouncing off my bottom lip, but I couldn’t produce a sound.
‘Why don’t you open your eyes,’ she said.
I did as I was told and she was beautiful, though not what I’d expected – she was made completely of water.
‘Hold me,’ she said, ‘like you would a lover.’
When I hesitated, she grabbed my hands and forced them behind her. It was no different than placing my hands on someone real.
‘That’s better,’ she said contentedly, and she rested her head upon my chest.
For what seemed like an age we stayed in that pose. But then she asked, ‘Do you like me?’
‘Y-yes,’ I stammered. ‘You’re very beautiful.’
She giggled and I could feel her whole body shudder.
‘That’s good,’ she said, ‘because I only grant wishes to those who think I’m beautiful.’
She lifted her head from my chest and looked at me. ‘Do you remember what you asked of me?’
I nodded and a part of me thought she was going to rebuke me for wanting someone dead.
‘Is Sally more beautiful than me?’ she asked.
‘I love her,’ I said.
It was the truth, albeit evasive. But the answer seemed to satisfy her and she smiled at me.
‘Your request has been fulfilled,’ she said, and then she was gone.
I didn’t know what to do next. As I climbed out of the shower and got dressed, I wondered whether I’d been daydreaming, but then it occurred to me that she’d mentioned Sally.
Oh no, not Sally.
I suppose you could say that this was the point where everything went tits-up. Why did I have to phone Sally?
‘What?’ she answered sternly.
‘I . . . I just wanted to know you were all right,’ I said.
‘I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘No reason. Have . . . umm . . . have you had a shower today? This afternoon?’
There was long pause.
‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Oh my God, you’ve hidden a camera somewhere, haven’t you?’
‘No, no,’ I quickly answered. ‘You should know me better than that.’
‘You’d better not have,’ she said and then the phone went dead.
Well, at least she was still alive. I grabbed my coat and raced out the door. When I reached her house, a police car was parked outside. It was twenty minutes before they left.
I waited until they drove round the corner and then I went and knocked on the door. I hadn’t given any thought as to what I was going to say, and neither had I considered her emotional state. When she opened the door, her face was red and puffy from her crying.
‘Oh my God,’ I said. ‘What’s happened?’
‘The police have just been. Tom’s dead.’
‘Tom’s dead?’ I echoed.
I was shocked. Yes, I’d had a water goddess in the shower with me, but until that moment I’d thought it could have been a dream.
‘Oh no,’ I said, trying to sound like I cared.
I should have comforted her, maybe even have put a supportive arm around her, but my curiosity was gnawing at me.
‘How?’ I asked.
She walked along the hallway and then disappeared into the lounge. I followed her and watched her fall onto the sofa. She immediately grabbed a cushion and hugged it.
I sat across from her in one of the chairs and asked my question again.
‘They’re not sure,’ she said. ‘But they reckon he drowned.’
‘It doesn’t make sense,’ she blurted. ‘How the hell do you drown while taking a shower?’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Had I really done this?
‘So he wasn’t . . . murdered, then?’ I enquired.
‘They said they won’t know for sure until they examine him, but as far as they can tell there was no sign of a struggle.’
I just nodded and considered where to go from here. Sally would probably need some time to get over this, while I gave her a shoulder to cry on. I’d be supportive and considerate, and before I knew it she’d be mine again. Or maybe not.
‘Why would you think it was murder?’ she asked suddenly.
I had to think quickly. ‘Just ignore me, I was thinking out loud.’
Her eyes narrowed.
‘Hold on. You asked me earlier if I’d taken a shower. You know something, don’t you?’
Christ!What do I do now? It was too late.
‘What the hell have you done?’ she asked.
‘Nothing,’ I said.
‘Bullshit! You never liked Tom.’
She jumped off the sofa and charged out the room. I followed her into the hallway where she was putting on a coat.
‘You’re lying,’ she said accusingly. ‘I’m going to Tom’s house to tell the police.’
‘You’re going to do what?’
‘You heard me.’
I was in trouble. But then again, was I?
‘Look, let them conduct their investigation,’ I said. ‘If you go there, you’ll just be getting in their way.’
‘Rubbish. More like you’re too scared to go.’
She opened the door and stormed out. Reluctantly I followed.
Tom lived in a part of town where I very rarely ventured. The first thing you noticed was the trees and hedges. In fact, there was so much greenery you could barely see the bloody houses. However, finding Tom’s house was hardly difficult; there was a police car parked outside and a white van with Forensic Services written on the side.
Sally approached with the obvious knowledge of someone who visited regular, but she was stopped by a policeman who’d been hidden by a hedge. I wasn’t close enough to hear what was being said, but Sally turned and pointed at me and the policeman spoke into his two-way radio. It crackled as the response came back and then he indicated that we could pass.
I hesitated, but Sally glared at me.
‘Hurry up,’ she ordered.
The policeman stared at me as I approached. I smiled at him and made small talk.
‘Looks like it might rain,’ I said, but I received no response.
Sally had already knocked on the door when I finally caught up with her. A policewoman opened it, and smiled. She invited us both in and led us into the lounge where we were greeted by the detective in charge.
‘Hello again, Miss Reeves,’ he said. ‘We would have come to you, you know if you’ve remembered something new.’
‘I know, I know,’ she said.
He then looked at me and smiled. ‘And you are?’
Before I could answer, Sally decided to do the talking.
‘This is my ex-boyfriend, Joe,’ she said. ‘I think he may know something about what happened to . . . to Tom.’
‘Now you wait just a minute,’ I protested. ‘Why the hell are you trying to get me in trouble?’
‘No one’s getting anyone into trouble,’ said the detective. ‘Now why don’t you both calm down and start from the beginning.’
Sally couldn’t wait to make a start. ‘He phoned me earlier . . .’ she began.
As she rattled off her version of events my eyes were drawn to a fish tank in the corner, behind the detective. Belisama was in there. Not full size; she was no bigger than a child’s doll. The fish were swimming around her as if she was one of the ornaments. But she was furious. She was glaring at Sally and the detective as if they had insulted her in some way.
‘Joe?’ said the detective, startling me out of my fixation.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘Do you have something you want to add?’
‘Only that I should leave.’
The detective seemed in two minds about what to do and sighed. ‘I think it might be best if you made a statement first. You seem very on edge, Joe, which makes me believe that this is more than just old resentments creeping to the surface.’
‘Am I under arrest?’ I asked.
‘No. However, since Mr Porter’s death has yet to be explained, and murder hasn’t been ruled out, I’d like you to answer a few questions: So, why did you ask Miss Reeves if she’d taken a shower?’
Before I could answer, the fish tank started behaving strangely. It was bubbling like a kettle coming to the boil.
‘Oh my God!’ said Sally.
The detective turned and moved closer. ‘What the bloody hell?’
Sally hovered just behind him. ‘Are the fish dead?’ she asked.
The detective bent down and switched off the filter and the light above the tank went out too.
‘We’ll soon find out,’ he said.
As his fingers closed on the lid, there was a high-pitched sound behind us, followed by a gurgling. It was as if all the pipes hidden within the walls were rattling and burping all at once. Sally jumped, as did the policewoman, who laughed nervously.
There was a scream upstairs, followed by the thud of something heavy falling to the floor.
The detective quickly barged past me and disappeared upstairs. I followed, as did Sally and the policewoman.
As I closed in on the bathroom, I heard someone talking and it wasn’t the detective.
‘She was examining the shower when the showerhead burst off, striking her in the face.’
‘Have you called an ambulance?’ asked the detective.
‘No, I haven’t had a chance,’ was the reply.
I entered the bathroom and stopped dead. There was a camera on a tripod pointing towards the bath. The detective was beside it frantically tapping on his mobile phone as a guy in a forensics outfit was performing CPR on his female colleague. Her face was covered in blood and her eyes were staring vacantly towards the ceiling.
‘Blast. I can’t get a signal,’ said the detective.
Sally entered the room and screamed. I just stared.
‘Come on you two,’ said the detective as he herded us towards the door, ‘back downstairs. You shouldn’t even be up here.’
When we entered the lounge the policewoman was by the phone. ‘I’ve tried ringing the station, sir, but the phone’s dead. And my mobile isn’t working.’
‘Mine isn’t either,’ said the detective.
‘The laptop’s playing up too, sir. I can’t send out emails, but it is accepting incoming. The last email I received was from the lab. It said that not only did our victim drown, but his lungs were filled with river water.’
‘River water?’ said the detective. ‘How the hell . . ?’
This was my time to leave. ‘I’m getting in your way—’ I began.
‘You’re not going anywhere,’ said the detective. ‘I don’t know why, but my gut instinct is telling me that you’re involved in this somehow, so you’re staying right here. The best thing you can both do is get comfortable while I go and tell the constable outside to call in.’
Sally did as she was told and sat down on the sofa.
When the detective returned from outside his shoulders and hair were glistening from the rain.
‘There’s something strange going on around here,’ he said. ‘The officer I stationed outside has gone. But the odd thing is he’s left his helmet. I found it lying in a puddle.’
He held it up for us all to see and then placed it on the table. He then dug in his pocket for his mobile again, but his expression said it was still not working.
‘Does anybody have a signal?’ he asked.
Sally and I reached for our phones. Sally shook her head and mine wouldn’t even switch on.
‘All right then,’ he said. ‘I’m going next door. Maybe their landline is working.’
‘Where’s that copper? The one who was outside?’ I asked.
The detective looked troubled. ‘Like I said, I don’t know. We’ll talk when I get back. Just calm down and go and have seat.’
He gave me a gentle push and closed the door. I raced across the room and looked out of the front window.
‘What’s happening?’ asked Sally.
‘Nothing’s happening,’ said the policewoman. ‘The phones aren’t working, that’s all. It’s hardly a reason to get excited.’
Outside, the detective was hesitating. He was standing on the garden path, letting himself get soaked by the rain. Could he sense something in the street, waiting for him? Then, whether because the feeling had left him or he had berated himself for being cowardly, he slowly edged up the path. When he reached the end, he leant forwards and peered around the hedge. He took long, lingering looks to the left and right, and then stepped out onto the pavement.
When nothing happened his shoulders dropped as if the weight of expectation had fallen from his thoughts. He turned and smiled at me; he must have known I’d be watching from the window. But then he suddenly fell into the puddle as if the tarmac was no longer there. His arms reached out in an effort to save himself. For a moment I thought he was going to pull himself out, but then a hand appeared from out of the puddle, rested on top of his head, and dragged him downwards. Then he was gone.
‘Oh my God!’ I said, stepping backwards and away from the window.
‘What happened?’ asked Sally.
The policewoman made for the door.
‘Don’t!’ I screamed, but it was too late: I heard the front door slam closed.
I returned to the window and the policewoman was already at the end of the garden. With no sense of impending doom, she walked out onto the pavement and her foot made the tiniest of splashes in the puddle. She had sprung the trap.
Belisama leapt out of the puddle and embraced the policewoman like a lover. Their lips touched and immediately the policewoman started to convulse while frantically trying to push her assailant away. I watched it all; right up to the moment Belisama stopped her deadly kiss. She turned and looked at me. Her smile was that of a young child who was having the time of her life. She then disappeared back into the puddle, taking the limp body of the policewoman with her.
Sally must have felt my fear, as she asked me several times what was happening.
‘Joe, you’re scaring me.’
I don’t know why, but I ran upstairs to check on the forensics guy. When I entered the bathroom, it was just as I’d feared. He was on the floor, his back propped up against the bath and his chin resting on his chest. Tentatively I reached down and pulled his head back. Water spilled from his open mouth.
When I returned to the lounge, Sally was by the window.
‘What’s taking them so long?’ she asked.
What was I supposed to say?
‘We have to leave,’ I said.
‘Why? Where’s the detective?’
‘He’s dead. They’re all dead.’
She backed away from me.
‘What?’ she asked.
‘They’re all gone, Sally. We’re all that’s left.’
‘What do you mean? What have you done?’
‘Done? I haven’t done anything. I’ve been with you the whole time.’
‘Then who? You know, don’t you?’
‘If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. You’d think I was mad, and maybe I am.’
‘Just tell me!’
‘All right. I was jealous of Tom. So I made a wish, down by the river. I asked a water goddess to do Tom in for me.’
Her reaction, I suppose, was pretty much what I expected.
‘Fuck you, Joe,’ she said. ‘I’m shit scared, and you still can’t tell me the truth. I hate you.’
‘It’s the truth,’ I said. ‘I was missing you and was finding it hard to move on. I went for a walk down by the river and there was this old guy who told me to make a wish. So I did. But I didn’t think anything would come of it. I thought it might help me with the loneliness.’
She stormed past me. ‘You’re mad. Just leave me alone. I never want to see you again.’
I raced past her to stop her opening the door, but she kicked me in the groin. I doubled up and let go of the door, allowing her to run past.
‘Please,’ I choked.
Forcing back the pain and nausea, I stumbled after her. She was already standing over the puddle where Belisama had shown herself with deadly consequences. I prayed that nothing would happen, and nothing did. But beyond the garden everywhere was covered in puddles. The whole street was littered with watery traps, and with the steady rain that was falling, the puddles were growing larger.
Sally stepped out into the road and it was then I saw Belisama. She was on the far side of the street, standing under the broken guttering of the house opposite as a steady trickle of water cascaded down to the garden below. She was in the water, dancing and singing. Our eyes met and her mouth curved into a mischievous smile, and then she vanished.
Belisama leapt out of a puddle and embraced Sally. She looked like she was standing at the bottom of a lake. She was watery grey and her hair moved as if flowing on a current. Sally didn’t scream; she just stared in horror.
‘Please,’ I said. ‘Don’t hurt her.’
Belisama moved her watery hand in a caress over Sally’s hair, like a lover showing affection. Instead of leaving the area soaking, her hand sucked the moisture away, leaving Sally’s hair dry.
‘Why?’ she asked. ‘Why should I let her live? I believe she’s already stated that she hates you, and with all the hurt she’s caused you, you still want her to live?’
‘Yes. I love her.’
‘I know I can feel it. Nearly every thought contains her. It’s all very sweet.’
Belisama’s hand moved down Sally’s face and on to her neck. She then ran her finger towards the end of Sally’s chin, forcing Sally to look at her.
‘But none of her thoughts are for you,’ she said.
‘Why did you kill all these people?’ I dared to ask. ‘I only wanted you to get rid of Tom.’
Belisama kept moving her hand over Sally’s body, continually sucking the moisture out of her clothes. She seemed captivated by Sally and disinterested in me. It reminded me of old vampire movies when Dracula savoured the moment before sinking his teeth in.
‘I could sense your concern,’ she said. ‘Their ultimate goal was to interfere in the request you made of me. And you asked me so nicely; I wasn’t about to let them jeopardise that now, was I?’
This was all spiralling out of control. So many deaths. And regardless of Sally’s thoughts of me, I couldn’t let her die.
‘Yes, I know I asked for your help, but please, let Sally go.’
‘For centuries I’ve given help to those who’ve asked for it. Kings have prostrated themselves before me, giving me gifts beyond price. What is she worth to you?’
Belisama slowly let go of Sally and smiled at her. ‘Such a sweet child,’ she said.
But then she turned on me, and her mood changed. She smirked as if I’d disappointed her.
‘Come and find me,’ she said. ‘You know where I’ll be. We’ll discuss a price.’
She then disappeared down into the puddle.
As soon as she was gone, Sally burst out crying, so I hugged her.
‘I’m scared,’ she cried. ‘I don’t want to die.’
‘You’re not going to die. I’ll make sure of that.’
‘So what happens now?’
‘You get to go home, I suppose.’
I reasoned that if Belisama wanted her dead, she would have been.
‘Will you walk me home?’ she asked.
My heart craved those valuable moments with her, but something told me I shouldn’t keep a goddess waiting.
‘I really would love to, but I have to try to sort this mess out.’
There was no hug, no kiss goodbye; we just went our different ways. I did turn around after walking away, though, to see her one last time before she disappeared around the corner. But Belisama was right: Sally no longer thought of me as I did her. Was I disappointed? If you had asked me that question at the beginning of the day, I would have quickly said yes. Now, though, my mind was clear, the fog of sadness had been washed away, and for the first time since Tom had destroyed my life, I could actually think straight. I knew that Sally and I had no future.
As I walked towards the river I mused on what Belisama had in store for me. I was in no doubt the price was going to be high, and you could say, I suppose, that I deserved it. But all I did was make a wish. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe she’ll go easy on me. I wonder if she’ll let me have another wish.
Born and bred in Warwick, and ventured not much further since, I’ve decided it’s time to put down the beer and fags and pick up a pen instead. Currently looking into Tolkien’s links to Warwick and how places in the district may have helped shape the world of Middle Earth. I’m also writing a Fantasy novel called Hawkes War.
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