If Wishes Were Horses: A Short Story

I don’t usually post stories on the blog, but what they heck … It is also available in the usual places (Smashwords, Feedbooks, Amazon) – a sort of gnostic twist on the sugary notion of”God’s plan”

If Wishes Were Horses

a short story by Tom Lichtenberg

copyright 2014 by Tom Lichtenberg

“I knew everything about him,” Marcus said, “but I didn’t know that.”

He paused for a moment, but one that soon turned into an awkward silence Marcus was seated at the head of a long gray Formica-topped table in the “free morning breakfast nook” of the Coastside Residence Suites. Gathered around him were the eleven official members of the Anti-Wish Brigade, who were in the midst of their fourteenth annual convention. Before Marcus had entered the room only minutes earlier, the membership was busy microwaving popcorn and gulping coffee while milling about waiting for August March to take control of the situation. They weren’t much of a group, to tell the truth, hardly worth gathering once let alone annually, but each year on the second Saturday in January they duly made our way to that drab half-deserted motel to compare notes and swap stories. Most of them were simply fed up with the phenomenon known as “The Sparkles”, the mysterious but commonplace way that people’s deepest wishes were arbitrarily granted to them willy-nilly by some unknown universal agency. Some of the members of the Brigade had a suspicion that life wasn’t meant to be lived this way, yet this is how it was. Everyone in the whole world was unconditionally guaranteed to have one of their most precious wishes granted to them at least once in their lifetime. Of course, you could never know which wish it would be, or when or where this granting might occur, but everyone could see it happening all around them all the time. A person would suddenly be surrounded by The Sparkles, which were brightly colored flashing lights that lit up all around the body, sometimes accompanied by sickly sweety tinkly noises, but more often mute, but in any case there they were, The Sparkles, and within thirty seconds of that flashy showiness, the person so be-sparkled would be gone, in a twinkling you might say, just like that, just gone, their life irrevocably changed forever. You could never knew where they’d get to, at least not right away, and it was the custom to let them go, but there were some who defied the norms. They investigated. They pursued. Sometimes they got lucky. Usually they merely grumbled their disapproval of the whole scam, and these were the members of the Anti-Wish Brigade. They didn’t like it, not one bit, but they were just the bitter few. Most everyone in the world was quite happy to go along with. After all, who didn’t want their dreams to come true?

Marcus had been one of those. They’d all been among them at one time or another, even August March, who took advantage of the silence to look around the room at the meager collection of would-be dream-destroying avengers. He was the oldest at sixty seven years old and quite certain, although he couldn’t begin to prove it, that the world had not always been like this. He claimed to have memories of a childhood in a world where people only hoped and prayed that their dreams would come true. It was probably his own dream, otherwise history and especially literature would have reflected such a world, would have left traces. Such a truth could not be so thoroughly covered up, could it? Even August was not so paranoid as to believe in a conspiracy as vast as that, but still he had his doubts, as did Veronica Pierce, the next oldest at sixty one. She said she’d originally come from a completely different continent entirely, across a vast ocean no less, when it was quite well known that there is only one Gaia and has always been only one, surrounded by the deep vast Oceania with no other land masses out there. Ships have sailed and proved it conclusively, at least those that returned. Makima Dukat was the other elder among the eleven, a pink-toned, pink-eyed, gray haired giantess known to have traveled on foot from one side of the land mass to the other in all directions in her day. She spoke the loudest, if not the most frequently, and it was she who prompted Marcus to continue.

“No one knows anyone’s darkest secret,” she said, “not even their own. That’s why no one can guess where The Sparkles will take them.”

“But it turned out he did know, all along,” said Marcus. “He knew it in his heart, if not his mind.”

“Then you did find him?” Dolly asked. Dolly Parker, at fifteen, was the youngest in the cabal, attending only her second convention. She seemed to have the great gift of forgetfulness, so that every story was new to her no matter how many times she had heard it. The other members liked that very much about Dolly. They all had their stories, their own very personal reasons for joining the group, and were always happy to tell their tales to whomever was willing to listen.

“Obviously,” Snake injected. Snake, who went by that single name only, was distinguished by an equally singular tattoo of the obvious creature which wrapped around his entire torso, up to and including his neck, where it grew taut and perpetually threatened him with strangulation.

“Only yesterday,” Marcus sighed, and lapsed again into reverie. Clearly the events he was trying to relate had troubled him considerably. On the other hand, it was always a pain trying to squeeze words out of that guy. Although he’d been a decent if relatively unknown storyteller earlier in his life, by middle age he’d tired of words and tales and would have preferred to type if forced to communicate at all. He usually lived holed up in a tiny apartment surrounded by blinking monitors displaying the inner status of the multitudes of systems he administered for various sleazy entrepreneurs. Marcus was a recluse by choice, but after The Sparkles took his younger brother, Ben, he emerged from his room and undertook the journey which eventually led him to that moment, to that clammy coastal breakfast nook. None of the group had ever met him until that very morning.

The convention had “begun” promptly at nine, when August and Veronica entered the lobby and taped up a bright green banner to the front door of the nook, which was shortly thereafter removed by the desk clerk. They had ordered a special breakfast buffet to be set up, where the rest of the membership had assembled soon afterward and were milling about when Marcus had entered the room looking lost and perturbed. George Spiros spotted him first.

“Hey, look,” George announced, “it’s a new guy! Hey, new guy! How ya doin’?”

“I’m looking for the Anti-Wish Brigade?” Marcus replied uncertainly. He glanced around the room looking convinced he must be in the wrong place.

“Yep, that’s us,” George beamed.

“How do I join?” Marcus asked.

“Take a seat,” August March said, coming over from the coffee machine and gesturing towards the one at the head of the table.

“Everybody, gather round.” he continued. “This session is now in order.”

Marcus sat where he was told, and waited while the eleven pulled up chairs and planted themselves around the table. August took the seat at the other end, flanked by Veronica and Makima, as the group arranged themselves more or less by age, so that Dolly and Snake found themselves on either side of Marcus, with the others filling in the gaps. All told there were six women and five men in the Anti-Wish Brigade. The oldest three had been the original members of the group, with several others joining the following year, then no one new was added for nearly a decade, until George, then Snake, then Dolly joined up at the rate of one per year. There were no rules or obligations of membership, no dues, no forms to fill out or oaths to swear. One merely affirmed one’s membership by showing up at this gathering. Some did not even keep in touch otherwise. Some kept their participation a secret even from their spouses and closest friends. It was not the most popular thing in the world to be anti-wish. It was, in fact, an inconceivable position to most people.

“Tell us your story, then,” August said once everyone was settled.

“I lost my brother,” Marcus began, “to The Sparkles, of course, and then I went to find him.”

A murmuring of approval rose up around the table. Such quests were generally considered rude. Although few would care to admit their true feelings of dismay at losing loved ones forever at the drop of a hat, most clung to the belief that the Sparkled had gone to a better place, even if they later found out that that “better place” turned out to be some stupid little house on a prairie somewhere. The sparkling was not to be questioned. And even the Sparkled themselves would never think of complaining about their new situation, even if it was not one they would have consciously chosen for themselves. The unknown and forever invisible Sparkler clearly had its reasons, had its “plan” for everyone, and there could be no denying that the Sparkled’s new conditions could always be described as “improved” by one sort of measurement or another. Whoever had not been Sparkled had simply not yet been Sparkled, and so there was always the certainty of better things to come.

“Where did you begin?” August had to prompt Marcus again. Marcus didn’t seem to want to come out with more than one sentence at a time.

“I knew everything about my brother,” Marcus re-iterated. “We’d always been very close. We were only children when our parents, you know.”

“Sparkled,” commented several members in unison.

“Yes, first our father vanished. Although we didn’t witness his Sparkling, our mother assured us that he was bound to be happier now, and so we accepted that, but then one morning, it happened to her as well. We were at breakfast,” he said, and paused again, looking around at the nook as if the word “breakfast” combined with his current location had knocked his train of thought off its rails.

“Can I get you something to eat?” Dolly asked after Marcus failed to continue with his narrative.

“Oh, no, thanks,” he said, recovering his bearings. “Yes, we were at breakfast and Mom was flipping flapjacks when The Sparkling started happening to her, only it was more like Sparking. Of course we’d seen others Sparkled before, random people going about their every day lives, shopping for groceries, working behind the counter, walking down the street, that sort of thing, but with Mom it seemed different. It looked like it was hurting her and she cried out in protest. “No!” she shouted,”not now! My babies! No!” and there was the sound of loud crackling in the air, like lightning, and I could see tears in her eyes as she reached out to me, and then she was gone, first at the edges just a little bit, and then altogether, poof, all at once. Ben was only two and I was only five, and there we were, alone in the world with no one to look after us.”

“That damn Sparkler!” Veronica cursed. She was always the most vehement of the crew. Her own experience had been similar enough, only in her case she was the mother and it was her own small child who had taken from her by Sparkles, in the very act of breast-feeding. She could never understand what wish a mere baby could possibly have had that could be granted by the Sparkler. It seemed more like malice, like common theft, like an act of cruelty than a granting of desire.

“What happened next?” Dolly asked, literally holding her breath in suspense until Marcus continued his story.

“Well, of course life went on as normal, like it does for everyone while waiting for their sparkling, We all have to keep ourselves occupied, earn our bread so to speak, put on a show like we mean it, though deep down we all know we’re only just waiting for it. Ben and I were taken in by a woman who had known our father, known her quite well as it turned out, unbeknownst to my mother. It was from her we discovered that our father hadn’t actually been sparkled when he left us, but later on, through a series of curious incidents he did eventually meet his end in his own peculiar way. Even then, no one could be quite sure There were witnesses who claimed to have seen sparkling involved, but others said no, that wasn’t sparkles, that was flames.”

“All the witnesses agreed on the circumstances, though. Our father was driving a bright red convertible down a windy road at twice the speed limit on a rainy slick afternoon when he lost control of the vehicle and slammed head on into a very old and very large elm tree. The car exploded and no one ever saw my father again. The firefighters claimed there was no body in the wreckage, and so the story went out that he was sparkled at the very last moment before the car hit the tree. Our step-mother had her doubts, primarily because our father never owned or was ever seen to drive a red convertible, and also he was on a fishing boat at the time, pulling in lobsters with his colleagues. How our father got mixed up in the story is still a mystery to me but the truth seems to be that he took advantage of the confusion to find himself a new life. Apparently it was not the first time he’d pulled a trick like that.”

“He sounds like quite a character,” Snake said admiringly.

“But anyway,” Marcus went on, ignoring the comment, “we had a good enough childhood even at that. Kitty looked after us, and we went to school more or less. We shared a bunk on her houseboat and worked around the dock as youngsters, picking up compliments from old-timers who compared us favorably to our father, who was famous as a shirker and a loafer in those parts. Ben and I were always close, and kept no secrets from each other. I knew all his private dreams, what kind of girl he hoped to marry, what sort of job he’d like to have, what sort of life he’d want most to live. He was quite a daydreamer at that. He always saw himself living on a tropical island, fishing all day and feasting at night, with a nice friendly plump girl by his side and at least seven children running around the encampment he planned to build, which was to consist mainly of bamboo huts on stilts above the shoreline.”

“What’s a tropical island?” Dolly asked, confused.

“Oh that’s a kind of fairy tale we once read about,” Marcus smiled at her. “It was warm all the time, even at night, and there was nothing but sand along the ocean except a volcano in the center of the island surrounded by something called a jungle where funny creatures called monkeys lived.”

“I know that fairy tale,” George piped up. “I read about it too when I was a kid. There was this guy who set sail to find the end of the world and he got lost in a storm and his boat washed up on that very kind of place. An island!”

“Isn’t an island like a small continent?” Mildred queried. Mildred was never much of a reader. She only knew what people told her in person.

“It’s a myth,” George nodded, “a fairy tale Everyone knows there’s only Gaia.”

“So how was Ben going to live on a place that doesn’t exist?” Dolly was puzzled.

“He was not very realistic,” Marcus said. “That’s why after high school he went to work in a copy store and then everything went wrong. He met and married the wrong woman. His whole life went down the drain after that.”

“That’s sad,” Dolly said and Marcus nodded.

“It was very sad. Gloria was always telling him what to do, where to go and making fun of his dreams. She mocked him and scolded him and berated him and demeaned him constantly. That’s why he ended up staying long hours in the store and even working weekends. He didn’t want to go home where she would only complain and be mean to him. He told me there had never been anything good in their relationship, it was just a force of habit. He’d never loved her and she’d never loved him. There was no such thing as love, even. He was in a terrible state.”

“Why didn’t he leave her?” August wanted to know. “That’s not so hard to do.”

“There are always two people to blame in every bad relationship,” Veronica added. “It’s not fair just to put all the blame on the wife.”

“He lost his will to live,” Marcus said. “It doesn’t matter anyway does it? That’s what he’d say to me whenever I had the chance to talk to him in those days, which wasn’t often, because, well, because we didn’t talk much. Why bother, he’d ask me. We’re just going to get Sparkled anyway, and then we’ll be gone, right out of here, everything will change and it will all be better, right? So why even try? Why do anything?”

“That’s the whole problem,” Makima said, slamming her fist on the table. “There’s no point in anything as long as there’s these stupid Sparkles! You don’t even have to want anything in particular, not consciously at least. You don’t get a choice. The Sparkler decides for you. Why bother, indeed?”

“There’s not even room for hope,” August declared. “In the time before The Sparkles people had hopes. They had faith. When they prayed, they meant it. When they truly wanted something, they wanted it with all their hearts.”

The room fell quiet for several moments. August was spouting nonsense again. Heresy. No one else believed in an actual time before The Sparkles, they only imagined what it might be like to live with no guarantee of ever getting anything you wanted, where you’d have to actually do something, take action, put in some effort, work at it if you wanted to make your dreams come true. With the world as it was, your labors sometimes brought their own rewards, it was true, but those fruits could never be very meaningful. Only the rewards brought by The Sparkles could be the True Desire. Everything else was merely cause and effect. Dig a hole in the ground and you’ve got yourself a hole Build a business and you have a business, but what does it all mean? Very little if not accompanied by little bright lights and occasional twinkling noises.

“I told him to focus on the things he could control, like his domestic situation, like his daily life, but he wasn’t interested in any of those things,” Marcus said. “As for myself I enjoyed solving the puzzles and challenges my various jobs bring to me each week. It’s not much but it’s enough for me.”

“What about your dreams?” Dolly wanted to know. Marcus shrugged.

“I don’t know if I have any,” he said. “Except wanting my brother to be happy. He was such a happy kid. We used to play all sorts of games when we were small. He was a fantastic swimmer and diver, and he was fast, super fast. He loved to race anyone and beat them and he’d laugh, he’d laugh so loud sometimes it hurt his sides and he’d fall over, banging his head on the ground from too much mirth. He told terrible jokes. He loved playing jokes on Kitty, like hiding in the cupboard and jumping out when she wasn’t expecting it. Even as a teenager he still enjoyed living. I taught him how to drive and we’d go for long road trips, all up and down the coast, sleeping in the back of my old pickup truck and playing with our old dog, Kettle. We still shared a room the whole time I was off at trade school learning about machines and he was finishing high school. It wasn’t until he met Gloria, that’s when his life turned to shit.”

“You don’t like her much, do you?” Dolly clucked. “Is she really that bad?”

“Was,” Marcus corrected her, “and yes she was, until she got Sparkled. That was just luck. And everything was looking up after that. Ben was cutting back his hours and thinking about writing down his daydreams. He always had a lot of those. Nobody went to the copy shop much so he spent most of his time there sitting behind the counter and imagining other worlds. He told me he was starting to care again, about living, about life, but then it happened to him.”

“The Sparkles?” Veronica asked.

“The Sparkles,” Marcus nodded “we met up at The Lake House, it’s a bar down on Broad and Tantee”

“I know it well,” August interrupted.

“And we were just about to sit down – there was a wait of about twenty minutes. It was a Sunday and so you know about the brunch crowd.”

“Oh yes,” August said. “The brunch crowd.”

“I offered him ‘the man seat’,” Marcus said, and had to explain, upon Dolly’s query, that ‘the man seat’ is the better seat at the table, the one with the best view, where you could see all the people and/or scenery depending on which was more interesting.

“I took the bad seat myself,” Marcus continued, and then had to agree with Dolly that if the good one was ‘the man seat’ than clearly the other could also be referred to as ‘the woman seat’, but said he himself never called it that, only ‘the bad seat’.

“And then it happened. He was half-standing, half-sitting, when the lights appeared around him and they were accompanied by a sort of crackling noise. Everyone in the restaurant turned to look at him. Some of the people shouted encouraging words, others laughed and clapped their hands. A little boy asked his mother if this is what she meant when she talked about the sparkling and she said yes and the little boy said wow and Ben had a startled look on his face at first. I knew it was only a matter of a few seconds, so I asked him how he was feeling and he said that it didn’t hurt, not like with mom, but it didn’t feel right either.”

“It didn’t feel right?” August asked.

“His exact words,” Marcus nodded “’It doesn’t feel right. It feels wrong’. I asked him what he meant by that and he said ‘this isn’t it. This isn’t it’. What isn’t it? I asked and he shook his head and looked straight into my eyes and the last thing he said was ‘find me’, in a pleading tone of voice he said ‘find me’, and then in a flash he was gone.”

“So you see, I had to go and look for him. It was what he wanted.”

“I wonder what he meant by those words,” August puzzled. “I’ve heard a lot of last words at sparkling, but I’ve never heard anything like that. It doesn’t feel right?”

“It feels wrong,” added Veronica.

“This isn’t it,” Makima pitched in. “This isn’t it.”

“It isn’t what?” Dolly wanted to know. “What isn’t it? Or is it what it’s not? Oh, I’m so confused.”

“Like it was a mistake?” Snake offered.

“That’s what I was thinking,” said George. “He didn’t want to get Sparkled because Gloria just did and everything was looking up for him in his life, so it wasn’t what he wanted so it didn’t feel right.”

“That’s sort of what I thought at first,” Marcus agreed.

“What does everyone else think?” August asked, looking around the table, and indicating those who hadn’t spoken up yet.

Ham was the first to voice his opinion. A smallish, tough-looking guy, he’d seemed especially interested in the ore aquatic parts of Marcus’ story, which was not surprising to those who knew him, for he’d been a seaman in his time, and bore the scarred limbs and weathered skin to prove it.

“A fisherman knows about feel,” Ham said. “He knows the touch of the wind and the flow of the water. When a fisherman says that something doesn’t feel right, he knows what he’s talking about. In a word, there was something fishy going on, and Ben caught the scent of that.”

“Everyone harbors a secret hope about The Sparkles,” Finika Wallis said. Finika was a poet and a thinker and a professor of literature at a local community college. “To my mind when he says this isn’t it he means it doesn’t match his own private desire. It’s said that everyone knows at the moment of Sparkling exactly what is in store for them, though for some reason no one has ever been able to utter it aloud”

“That’s what I hear,” marveled Suleia, the helmet-haired beautician sitting next to Finika. “There’s a look on their faces, like the expression of angels in those ancient paintings. They’re in on it but they’re not allowed to say.”

“Nonsense,” Niryan Jarvis sputtered. Niryan was usually the quietest member of the Brigade but whenever she spoke she spat, and this time was no exception. “Nothing good ever comes of a Sparkling. It’s all just show and pretense. Everyone makes believe they got what they really wanted but the truth of the matter is we all get what we get and don’t dare make a fuss because, after all, we might get a second sparkling in our lifetime. It’s known to have happened, and maybe if we just put up with whatever crap we get the first time around, the second time will be the real deal. It’s all garbage if you ask me.”

“Nicely put,” August smiled. “And what about you, Morris? What do you think about Ben’s final words?”

“Hmm,”, Morris murmured. “I’m not really sure. I don’t quite have an opinion on the matter, if that’s quite all right with you.”

“Quite all right,” August said to reassure him, as Morris looked fairly worried.

“Spy,” Veronica hissed. She was always convinced that Morris was a secret agent of some agency or other, maybe even sent by the Sparkler itself. He never had an opinion, and never contributed anything to any discussion.

“Now, now,” August said mildly, and gently patted her hand. “We all agreed, remember?”

“Oh yeah,” she remarked facetiously, acknowledging their acceptance of Morris’ presence, whether spy or mere idiot, as harmless in any event, as they themselves as a group were utterly harmless to anyone.

“So where did you begin to look for him?” Dolly prodded Marcus.

“I honestly had no idea what to do,” Marcus began. “I mean, Gaia’s a big place and there are lots of people in it. Ben could be anywhere, anywhere at all. He might even be “n a ship in the vast Oceania for all I knew. There seemed to be no possible way to find him other than sheer luck. I tried to think of all the places he’d ever indicated any interest in going to, but soon realized that all those places were fictitious. He’d never wanted to go anywhere for real. Even on those trips he and I took up and down the coast, it was always my ideas, my choices, my destinations. Ben was content to ride along, or drive when it was his turn. My best guess was simply to retrace those steps. Perhaps there was one place we’d camped or passed through that made a special impression on him, that might end up the impetus for his sparkling.”

“Nonsense!” snorted Niryan, but Marcus ignored her.

“I rented an old blue pickup truck, like the one we used to have, and set my status on ‘autopilot’ so that my programs would take care of any problems my clients might come up with during my absence. Of course I kept tabs on the business and checked in periodically, fixing stuff remotely that my programs couldn’t handle, but otherwise I took to the road and made the old journeys once again. I was surprised to see how little had changed in the intervening years. It seemed like progress was a thing of the past, perhaps something I’d invented in my own imagination. Those small coastal villages looked exactly as I remembered them, even down to the waitresses in the diners and the watchmen in the campgrounds, I had the strangest feeling that everyone I spoke too was somehow recording our interaction and storing the details in some special repository. I’m sure this was just my own imagination. I was after all doing the thing that none of us is ever supposed to do after a sparkling. We’re supposed to respect the fates, and let the person go. But my brother had asked me specifically to find him. I felt I had a greater obligation. Still I sensed that other people knew my purpose and were judging me on it.”

“People are idiots,” Niryan spouted. She was squirming in her chair by this point. August knew it was only a matter of time before she knocked over a cup or a bowl and stomped off to the restroom to cool down. It happened every year. Morris continued looking blank, while Ham’s face expressed the certainty that he already knew where the story was going to lead. Dolly was all eager for more details and leaned forward, barely able to stay in her seat. The rest of the group was relaxed and attentive. Marcus took a deep breath before continuing.

“I reached the southernmost border town. Jaliyo, perhaps you know it?” He looked around but no one said anything.

“It’s a sleepy place,” he continued, “not unlike this town. There’s a pier, a main street with a couple of restaurants and motels, a handful of houses and a school. The town’s most known for its friendly beach campgrounds to the south and the west of town. I’d thought maybe this was the place, out of everywhere we’d been, that might have appealed to Ben the most. It’s nowhere near tropical but it is as warm as anywhere on Gaia, and I could envision a hut or two along the shoreline. But he wasn’t there, no one was there on the beaches. I thought this was strange, since it was such a nice day, especially for January.”

“When was this?” August asked, suddenly intensely curious.

“Yesterday,” Marcus sighed.

“Then you did find him there?”

“Yes,” Marcus admitted, “but not on the beach.”

“Where was he, then?” Dolly asked.

“I went back to town,” Marcus explained. “It was the middle of the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.”

Again Marcus went silent at the use of that word. He looked around the break room, just as he’d done before, and August imagined he could see, in the reflection of Marcus’ eyes, Marcus’ mother flipping flapjacks in the moments before her Sparkling. “No!”, she’d cried out. ‘Not now! My babies!”, and August reflected on the unearthly cruelty of a blessing that would snatch a person away from the thing that they loved best, their own life, the way it was, the way it should have been, just like his own Sparkling had been, once upon a time. It was many years ago already, long before the Anti-Wish Brigade had come into being. August March had been the happiest of men. He had lived contentedly with his beloved wife, April, and their darling children, John and Mary in the city of his birth far to the East of Gaia. He had worked in the library of that city, curating the ‘visible collection of the week’ and recommending reading to all who asked, a wonderful job at which he excelled, and then, one miserable morning, to find himself on fire! Bright lights blinding his eyes, an awful noise roaring in his ears, drowning out the world, and the sensation in his mind, the vision, the seeing, the awful truth of his next infernal destiny, a lonely old man walking along a deserted highway with no hope or prospect of ever experiencing the beautiful growth and development of his darlings as they made their way into the wider world, and then, in an instant, that old good valuable world was gone and in its place there was nothing. A curse. A trap. A lie. The Sparkles, he knew then and still knew now, lead one only down, and out.

“As I walked down the main street,” Marcus was saying, “I looked at every shop along the way. I passed a small grocer’s, then a postal office, then a barber shop, and then a copy shop. I remember thinking to myself, good Lord, what would such a tiny town in the middle of nowhere need with a copy shop, and I almost laughed, but something caught my eye, and I looked into that copy shop, and I saw my brother, sitting there behind the counter, daydreaming.”

“Oh my goodness!” Dolly declared.

“Could it be?” Suleia asked, astonished.

“I don’t believe it!” Morris said.

“Morris?” Veronica said.

“Morris?” added Makima.

“What are you thinking, Morris?” asked August.

“I don’t believe it,” he repeated.

“Believe it,” Marcus advised him. “Because it’s true. I went in to the copy shop and I said ‘Ben!’ and he looked at me with the most embarrassed look on his face.”

“What are you doing here?” he asked me.

“What are YOU doing here?” I replied.

“You’re not supposed to see me like this,” he said.

“You told me to find you,” I reminded him.

“Yes, but it’s not the way,” he complained.

“Aren’t you happy to see me?” I asked, and he shook his head.

“You won’t understand,” he told me.

“What won’t I understand?” I asked, but he didn’t have to say another word, and I didn’t have to say another word, because right then, she appeared. She must have been in the office in the back of the store but she she came out and glared at me like she always had before.

“Get out!” she hissed. “Get out of here right now and never come back!”

“It was Gloria?” Dolly nearly fell off her chair.

“Gloria,” Marcus nodded.

“But how?” Ham wondered.

“The Sparkles!” Snake snickered.

“They’re supposed to give you what you want,” muttered George.

“Nonsense!”, Finika shouted, and she jumped out of her chair, knocking over her coffee cup in the process. “It’s all nonsense!” she yelled again, as she stomped off to the restroom.

“I knew everything about him,” Marcus said, “or at least I thought I did, but I didn’t know that.”

August sighed and shook his head sadly. The truth was cold, but like Morris, nobody wanted to see it.

“We’re such poor beggars,” he softly said, “always being taken for a ride.”

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