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Wishlocked, and Key

by Jo Seysener

 

She dallied along the riverbank, fingers trailing in the mesh of the fence. Overgrown and rough, she was glad of her strong boots. Finely crafted, as always, they tread softly along the old pathway.

The metal of the locks was cool beneath her touch, though she wasn’t really paying attention. No more than she did on any other morning while her eyes sought out figures in the mist that hung over the water.

A boat flitted in and out, though it wasn’t really here, as a lock warmed against her hand. Her eyes stayed on the river as she plunged her free hand into her purse, dredging out a ring of keys that broke the morning silence. Rings upon rings, piled tight with keys jangled brightly. Somewhere, a boat rang its bell, a merry reply.

She huffed, tracing the keys until she found the right one. She always knew, her hands always felt for the one that would slide into the lock.

The key slid in as predicted, tumblers weighting into her hand as the lock clicked open. She knew better than to look, turning her back to the fence line, cluttered with its many locks. So many, waiting for the right key.

But many were empty; she’d seen to that.

A genie a day keeps the wishes at bay.

People had done that; locking their wishes to the fence in the hope they would come true. But they locked away more than their wishes; their hope seeded in that wish, which grew into a genie. And with their hope, also went the genie.
And so she set them free.

Walking the river, day by day, waiting for each hope and wish to seed, to grow.

A shiver passed along her spine. She didn’t turn; didn’t speak. Just stood, waited.

A wish I will grant, for you have set me free. A wish I will give you, for giving life to me.

It was their pledge. Their wording never differed. And so she would wish them free. Wish their wishes away, wish the people’s hope returned, that it might seed something more than a thin wisp in the willows of this place.

“I wish …” she sighed, the thought forming in her mind. That’s all it would take, and their hope would be returned.

What of your hopes, your wishes?

She paused; they didn’t usually speak to her, and certainly not inside her mind. This one was different.

Her head canted to one side, she felt movement behind her. Mirroring? She refused to look. Didn’t want to see the trickery, herself reflected as she wished she might be.

Too many wishes?

“Take your wish,” she murmured to the river but knew the words caught.

Nothing was ever missed—unless they wished it, of course. She smiled, a crooked thing aimed into the mist. But that never happened, of course.

They were greedy for wishes by nature, sucking them down to remain in this world.

This wish deserves to remain locked.

She sighed. The mist moved, forming into tiny wisps, pressing against each other in their hunger. They would take it, she knew. Take the wish and consume it. But the fence full of locks held them at bay.

“Take the wish,” she whispered, energy draining from her as cold fingers caressed her, sought her wishes.

As you wish.

She wished they wouldn’t be so … corny. Predictable.

Over the river, the wisps moved. Milling at first, then circling, forming a maelstrom in the center of the river that drew its occupants up, sending them high before scattering the souls it transported. They shimmered, unable to exist outside the waters, their light failing, until there were none.

“What did you do?” Her gaze drags along the river, empty of its charges. No boatman, no souls. Just the sludge that remained beneath; all the emotions and baggage people dropped as they passed, letting their baggage slip free.

She wished to be free. But she already was.

She turned, facing the genie. Her own face looked back at her, eyes opaque. The form blinked.

To be free of death is to be nothing.

She nodded, studying the facade of herself.

“Would you like to go back into your lock?”

Her own head nodded, opaque eyes blinking.

Will you wish me in? Sometimes, the wishes take too much.

Her fingers found the lock, keys slipping into her bag. Her opposite shivered, thinning to a wisp, and slid into the lock. Waiting.

A wish I will grant, for you have set me free. A wish I will give you, for giving life to me.

“What do I wish? I wish …”

She let the genie do the rest. She didn’t have to say the words, she never had. The genie knew.

The lock clicked in her hand, sealing the genie inside but this time, it wasn’t hope that was locked away.

“ … I wish she weren’t free.”

She walked along the riverbank, trailing her fingers along the locks, keys jingling in her bag. One warmed beneath her touch. Her step faltered but she pushed on.

One wish was enough for today.

 

THE END

 

Author Bio

Jo Seysener is a mum of three crazies living with her husband in rural South-East Queensland. Jo writes speculative fiction for adults and picture books for children for Library for All, a not-for-profit Brisbane based enterprise who aim to increase literacy in third world countries. She is dabbling in romance and next year will release her first middle grade series. Jo adores alpacas.


2 Comments

Kelly Matsuura · December 30, 2020 at 5:54 am

Great story, Jo. It really drew me in 🙂

Dawn · December 30, 2020 at 10:49 pm

Very nicely done! Congratulations!

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