Wishful Thinking
By: Tom Fowler

Prologue

"Choose carefully what you wish for, for you will surely get it," goes an old saying. In the spring of 1989, Charles Kingham, in all of his 42 years, had never heard these words of wisdom, nor would he have thought much about them if he had.

Today, he can tell you much about foolish dreams and wishful thinking.

Charles Kingham was a reasonably happy man in April of 1989. A staunch republican since the pre–Watergate days, he was delighted that George Bush had been elected president the preceding fall, assuring a continuation of the Reagan era for four more years. As a self–employed computer programmer in high demand, he enjoyed a high degree of professional mobility and economic independence. He looked like the professional man he was, standing six feet, three inches high and carrying a lean 180 pounds. Sandy blonde hair and brown eyes complemented the browns and tans he favored in his wardrobe. His handsome face sported a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. A warm smile and engaging personality won him many friends. However, a cocaine problem and last year's divorce from Nora, his wife of 20 years, threw a cloud over what would have been the best time of his life. Still, considering what he had been through the last 12 months, he was getting along well. Tax time, April 15, came and went, and he fared better than he thought he would. He was in an upbeat mood that week. Then it started.

Charles remembers clearly when it began. It was a warm, sunny day in Houston, his home for the last dozen years. When relaxed and in a good mood he would tell friends, "The first thing I remember about it is the time I was driving down Highway 59 and having the driver side front tire blow out. I remember wishing with all my heart that it had not happened. As I struggled to keep control of the car, all of a sudden it began to roll smooth again. When I looked at the tire after pulling over, the tire was perfectly normal. I know it blew; heard the WHOOSH of the air and everything, but it was undamaged. No hint that anything was wrong with it. But I KNOW it blew. After that, I was aware that I could wish for things and they would soon happen or appear."

In reality, it took Charles several days to realize fully what happened. An incident with an empty salt shaker in his kitchen two days later, and a stopped–up drain in the bathtub two days after that, convinced him of his new power. He could make things happen by wishing for them.

He sat at his kitchen table and admired his saltshaker, the full one that had been empty for over a month because he kept forgetting to buy salt at the grocery store. A thoughtful man, he was taking stock of the situation. So far this week, he had been saved the expense of a ruined tire, (and possibly a collision on the highway), the cost of a bag of salt, and possibly the expense of hiring a plumber. He didn't know what to think about this newly found power, except that, so far, it scared him. A moment ago, he tried to switch channels on his TV set by wishing for it, but the channel stayed the same. Why could he wish for some things but not others? Luckily, it was Friday night and, with the exception of Elizabeth, he had nothing planned for the weekend. Maybe he could figure this out.

I wish I knew why the channel didn't change, he thought. A moment later, he had the answer. He realized he could not change the TV channel because it was not really important to him. It was not a heartfelt wish. Whoever or whatever that had placed this gift upon him had also placed an important restriction. He must truly desire what he wished for. He also realized that this awareness, this answer to his question, was another wish fulfilled. As Charles picked up the saltshaker and rolled it around in his hands, spilling some salt on his clean tabletop, another realization hit him. This strange power could be rejected any time simply by "wishing" it away. Charles certainly did not want to do that. It was too exciting. Still, he was puzzled, and he asked himself, why is an empty saltshaker more important in the eternal scheme of things than changing a TV channel?

He sat at the kitchen table, saltshaker in hand, and thought for a long time.

He let the phone ring several times. Elizabeth refused to get an answering machine, something that annoyed Charles very much. Finally, on the sixth ring, she answered, "hello."

"Hi Elizabeth." She wouldn't let him call her Liz, another annoyance to him.

"You didn't call last night." she said, a slight irritation in her voice.

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I've had a strange week."

"Did you get your tub drain fixed?"

"It's fixed," he answered, wryly. "Want to go out tonight?"

"I wanted to go out last night," she said, flatly.

"I know, and I am sorry." he replied, gently, "But when you hear what I have to tell you, you may not be so quick to go out with me." He said this half seriously, causing her to wonder what was going on. He always called when returning home from work on Friday nights, but not last night. "Let's get a bite to eat tonight. I have something to tell you."

"OK," she said, not wanting to pursue this further on the telephone. "See you here at 7:00?"

"See you then."

Charles owed much of his emotional well being to Elizabeth Cox. After Nora left him a year ago to move to Atlanta with her former boss, Elizabeth had come into his life three months later and picked up the pieces, getting him off the cocaine and booze and back to work. Younger than Charles by 13 years, she had a younger and fresher perspective on things which had been good for him. She was a very attractive blonde of medium height and build with light complexion and blue eyes. Quite often she wore her shoulder length hair in a ponytail. When in a playful mood, Charles sometimes called her Barbie. She had a sometimes too serious demeanor and would often frown, making her pretty face less attractive when doing so. But, she complemented Charles' mildly eccentric personality very well. They were in love, not yet realizing it.

Neither of them said much at dinner. Elizabeth knew him well enough to know that he would tell her all that was on his mind in due time. Charles rarely spoke of Nora, but he had mentioned several times that she was a nag. Why Charles felt this was necessary mystified her. In her relationship with him, Elizabeth had said little and listened a lot, which had been a good thing for both of them. She would know soon enough what was so important that it kept him from calling her last night.

Charles took her back to his place. Normally, they went to hers, but not tonight. When Nora left, he sold all of their furniture and got rid of all other reminders of her. Much of the money he made from his estate sale went to finance his brief but intense cocaine habit. As a result, he now lived very modestly in a clean, but sparsely furnished, one bedroom apartment in a medium–price complex. He was embarrassed to have Elizabeth over as a guest. He didn't know yet that Elizabeth didn't care what his place was or looked like. But, tonight, he felt it was important for her to see the saltshaker, even though there was nothing unusual to see.

He had a beer, only one, and she sipped bourbon and water while he explained to her the strange events of the last week. "I have to really want something before this will work," he told her.

Elizabeth was afraid he was back doing drugs, but he had seemed in control of himself, if quiet, at dinner. She thought carefully about how she would reply to what he had just told her, causing an uncomfortable silence while he waited for her to speak. He realized his story sounded crazy. He hoped to be able to prove it to her.

As if reading his mind, she asked, "Can you prove any of this? Can you make the salt disappear out of the shaker if you want it to? If you want to prove it to me bad enough, according to what you said, you can."

They were sitting at the kitchen table with the saltshaker in front of them. Like an illusionist, he had her examine the shaker until she was satisfied there was no trick involved. He then said, "Hold the shaker in your hand. I will wish for the shaker to be empty." He added, thinking out loud, "I really want this to happen so I can prove to you I'm not crazy or back on the powder." As he finished saying this, the shaker turned empty, startling Elizabeth so much she dropped it. She was visibly shaken when she picked it up and examined it.

"Imagine how I felt when my tire blew and repaired itself," he said, slowly. They stared at each other for several long moments. She finally asked him, "What do you intend to do with this power?"

"What do you mean, what am I going to do with it?"

"What are you going to wish for?"

"I don't know," he answered, slowly, "I haven't given that much thought."

"Maybe you had better give it some thought," she said, hesitantly. Elizabeth was the more practical of the two, and she could already see problems ahead.

"Yeah, you know, you're right," he said, shakily, "I can wish for anything I want, as long as I really want it."

"You'd better be careful," she warned. She got up to mix herself another bourbon and water, this one much stronger than her first. "Remember the old saying, watch what you ask for; you may get it."

"Yeah, I know," he replied, but he didn't know.

But soon he would know.

Charles and Elizabeth finished Saturday night on a good note. Three bourbon and waters for her and a rare, for these days, second beer for him put them in a relaxed and mellow mood. The conversation shifted from Charles' new power to more intimate lover's talk, and Elizabeth slept over; something she was doing with increasing frequency. Neither of them attended church and Elizabeth left for her apartment soon after a mid–morning breakfast. Normally, Charles hated to see her go, but today, he was glad she did. He needed time to think alone.

What a fool I've been! he thought, as he sat at his familiar place in his small dining room. I can have anything I want just by wishing for it! This idea, like a fast growing cancer, had been working on him since last night. He had not been able to think of anything else, even when making love to the amorous Elizabeth. He slept fitfully, tossing and turning all night.

Charles was excited, but was not so carried away as to not be able to think rationally at all. This is quite a sobering thing, I've got to use it properly, he thought. He frowned and sickened a little when he realized that he had better not harbor any negative emotions for anything or anybody. I can't hate or wish ill will toward anyone. Who knows what would happen? I better not lose my temper or get drunk. He sat and smoked, drank his after breakfast coffee, and the full realization of his 'gift ' fell upon him.

But, he reasoned, used wisely, I can have what I want. Like Dr. Jekyll, Charles had a darker side to his better nature, the side that got him in trouble with cocaine last year. He asked himself, what do I want?

Arriving back at her apartment, Elizabeth was worrying about the man she was falling in love with. Distracted and tense during lovemaking last night, he had slept little. Frowning, she knew what was on his mind, had seen it in his eyes last night. He's going to wish for something, probably something today, and he's going to get it. She was both worried and relieved that she was not with him now.

Later that morning, Charles made his first purposeful wish. He was proud of himself for thinking of it and not being selfish.

Betty Kingham had been a widower for almost seven years. A woman of the older generation, she had no marketable skills when Bill Kingham fell dead of a massive heart attack while shopping in the mall one Tuesday night in June of 1982. She lived on a very modest fixed income and money was, to say the least, very tight for her. She still lived in the house where Charles grew up in Lawton, Oklahoma. It was in bad need of painting and repair. Charles had long wanted to get her into a better one. Now, he saw his chance to do so.

So, he wished for a new house for his mother. It occurred to him that wishing like this was very similar to praying. After quietly stating his wish for the new house, he ate a bite of lunch and lay down for a nap, feeling very pleased with himself. He wondered how soon and by what means this wish would be answered. He remembered not being able to change his TV channel and was afraid this wish may not be answered.

He had eaten late and was still napping at 4:00 when the phone rang. He wasn't sleeping soundly and he answered it on the first ring. "Hello."

"Mr. Kingham?"

"Yes?"

"Mr. Charles Kingham?"

"Yes. What do you want?" He was wide–awake now.

"Mr. Kingham, this is Dr. James Benjamin at Memorial Hospital in Lawton, OK. Your mother has been admitted for minor cuts and abrasions, and also smoke inhalation."

Charles felt himself going numb. "What happened?" he asked, barely able to speak.

Her house and the house next to hers' caught fire and burned. Your mother is fine, but she's staying with us until tomorrow. She's quite shaken up."

"What happened? May I talk to her?"

"You may speak with her, but only briefly. I don't want her getting excited again."

"Thank you." Charles waited until his mother was on the phone.

"Chuck?"

"Hi Mom." She sounded good.

"Got some bad news, son. Heard the doctor tell you about the fires. I'm okay, but Gretchen's grandson, Tommy, was killed. The fire started in her kitchen and quickly burned her place down. You know how these old wood frame houses are. Wind carried it to our place. Ours is burned to the ground, too." Her voice had grown weaker.

"But you're okay?"

"Shook up and weak, but I'll make it.

Charles was too stunned to say much. "Tell Mrs. Mangum how sorry I am." The Mangums had been their neighbors for over 35 years, or for as long as he could remember.

"Oh, I will. Doc says I better go. One more thing, she added, weakly, "you're going to get your wish. Insurance man has already told Gretchen and me they'll rebuild our houses. Sure didn't want a new one this way."

Charles swallowed a bitter nausea. "I know you didn't, Mom. I didn't want it this way, either." After a pause, he added, "You get some rest, I'll call tomorrow. Do I need to come and take care of you?"

"No, neighbors and the church circle will help with that. You just keep in touch. Gotta go, Doc's orders."

"Bye, Mom."

"Bye, Chuck."

An ashen Charles arrived at Elizabeth's apartment early Sunday evening. He told her on the phone what he had wished for, and what happened.

"I had no idea that would happen," he said, as she handed him a beer.

"I kind of worried about this." she said, "But I admit, I would have thought wishing for a house for your mother would have been a safe enough bet."

"You would have thought so," he answered, wearily. He slumped in the big easy chair in Elizabeth's living room. She was concerned about him.

"Are you going to wish for anything else?"

"No. At least, not until I can make some sense of all this. Where did this come from? Is being able to wish for things a blessing or a curse?" The pain in his voice touched Elizabeth. She wished there was more she could do to ease his anguish. She sat on the arm of the big chair, almost in his lap. "Well, I don't know," she answered, "But it does seem to be a dangerous toy to play with. I was scared of it right away. I wonder if you really can get rid of it?"

"Maybe I can wish for it to be gone, but do I want to do that?" he asked, thinking aloud, and enjoying the smell of her perfume. Elizabeth was so feminine. "Maybe not all wishes have a dark side. There was no problem the day I wished for the tire to repair itself."

"But, there sure was a problem today, wasn't there?"

"Yes, there was."

She leaned in to him, their noses almost touching. "And you have no idea what will happen the next time you wish for something."

Her dark blue eyes bored right into him. He knew she was right, but he was not yet ready to banish the gift. "No, I don't. But, before I give up something this powerful, I'm going to have to think it over. I know that I CAN stop this power, but, right now, I don't know if I WANT to give it up. It's too valuable a thing to give up on so easily." Although he was arguing with her, there was a plea for help in his voice.

Elizabeth knew him well enough not to argue or try to get him to change his mind. She asked, quietly, "What will you wish for next?"

"I don't know. Like I said, I'm going to give this some serious thought.

"You'd better. Better give it a LOT of thought. Don't forget Tommy Mangum."

"How the hell can I forget him!" he snapped. Charles wished, for a split second that she would go sit down on the sofa and shut up. It horrified him when she did just that. Collecting himself, he said, "Sorry about that, Elizabeth."

"Sorry about what?"

"I just wished for you to sit down and shut up," he told her, sheepishly.

She turned pale and thought for a long moment before speaking. Evenly, but forcefully, she said, "I think you had better do whatever you have to get rid of this. It's a curse, not a blessing. It scares me, Chuck."

That made an impression on him. She rarely called him Chuck. Charles looked at her and nodded slowly.

Charles left it alone for the next couple of weeks. He forced himself not to wish for anything. He walked through each day numb with fear and regret over the Mangum incident. At least, his mother was okay. She was going to have her new house.

He was careful also not to let any of the other human emotions get the better of him while he was trying to figure all of this out. Being able to will Elizabeth to do his bidding frightened him as much as the death of Tommy Mangum. He fled from any situation that caused him the slightest irritation, and he refused to make love with Elizabeth. He knew that soon, this must end. He could not live like this indefinitely.

But, he could not bring himself to attempt to reject the power. The possibility of having anything he wanted intrigued him still. He spent all of his spare time pondering this problem and asking himself what he wanted to wish for. He thought long and hard, hoping to outsmart the unknown powers. He wanted to wish for something substantial; something that would be of benefit to himself and possibly those close to him, but he did not want any negative results. He didn't know if he could live with another Mangum incident.

As Charles spent his evenings alone, Elizabeth worried about him. He had not so much as kissed her goodnight in the time since he forced his will on her. Indeed, she had only seen him twice for brief visits, since that time, and he shared little of what he was thinking about. She knew he must see this to its ultimate conclusion by himself, alone. She hoped, for many reasons now, that he handled it wisely and well. Elizabeth knew now that she loved him.

Charles retired early this Monday evening, immediately after the 10:00 news, 15 days now since his traumatic Sunday. He felt good and relaxed, secure in the knowledge that his big decision could be delayed another day. He did call Elizabeth and tell her goodnight. He missed her and realized he was in love with her. They told each other this on the phone one night last week. He was anxious to get this great and terrible time behind him and get on with his life. If he could get one big, important wish to come to pass, he would take steps to leave this so–called 'gift' behind. He would soon ask Elizabeth to marry him.

Charles fell into a deep, restful sleep thinking of these things. That night, he slept the best sleep he had in several weeks, since before his tire blew. He dreamed the sweet dreams that only those of good intentions and clear conscience can..

However, sometimes unconscious impulses and emotions are far different than the wishes and desires of our conscious selves. While Charles enjoyed his best night's sleep in several weeks, sometime in the night he dreamed that Richard Harvey, Nora's 35–year–old former boss and current lover, died of a heart attack while making love to her. He vividly saw his well–muscled shoulders and arms go limp while in the heat of passion. Charles saw the terror in his ex–wife's eyes and heard the sound of her scream as he collapsed on top of her and stopped breathing, a thin line of drool running slowly from the corner of his mouth. A decent man when awake, Charles dreamily delighted in her panic when she could not get out from underneath him.

Charles Kingham, the jilted ex–husband who harbored (so he thought) no ill will toward Nora or the handsome Richard Harvey, slept soundly through the night and would never know that the actual event took place simultaneously with his wicked dream wish.

Charles was back in his favorite chair at Elizabeth's apartment. His hands shook and the paleness of his face was in sharp contrast to his bloodshot, terror stricken eyes. "Thanks for staying home today. I couldn't have made it this morning without you." His voice cracked and he was making a valiant effort to stay coherent. Elizabeth was deeply worried about him but was trying not to show it.

"I'm glad to be here when you need me. I love you, you know."

Charles brightened just a little and managed a weak smile. "I know. When this is over, I want you to marry me."

"Is that a proposal?"

"Yes."

"Then the answer is yes, but we've got to get this settled."

"I know." Charles coughed when a sip of Elizabeth's excellent flavored coffee went down wrong, and he grimaced in pain.

"Everything OK?" she asked, with more than a little concern in her voice.

"Yeah," he answered, unhappily. "After Nora called, I spent the rest of the morning in the bathroom throwing up. Couldn't stop dry heaving until just before coming over here. That's why I got here so late."

"I was worried something had happened to you."

"It did." he replied dryly, "a four hour upset stomach."

"It's time to put a stop to this."

"I know."

"You mentioned once that you can wish for this … power you have to go away? How do you know this?"

"I just do. I don't know how or why I know this." Slowly, he continued, "I'm just aware that I can reject this anytime I want. I just haven't done it yet." His voice rose and his hands, which never really stopped shaking, trembled even more. He was getting panicky again.

Quickly, she asked, "Why haven't you done it yet?"

"I wanted to be with you when I do."

"Then let's do it now. This is going to kill you, too, Chuck."

"I know." It seemed to Elizabeth that "I know" was the only reply Charles was capable of just now.

"Then calm yourself down and do it! Let's do it now!"

The urgency in her voice brought him back to himself and he gathered strength from her. Elizabeth was a good woman, good for him, and would be a fine wife. Charles was a lucky man. He would, in the next few minutes, deal himself a new hand in life and a second chance at happiness. "Well, all right." At that moment, he formalized the wish in his thoughts, and wished mightily for this strange power, which had come upon him so unexpectedly and without warning, to simply be no more. A moment later, a strange look appeared on his face; a look of relief and release. "It's gone. Can't explain it, but it's gone."

She sat on the arm of the big easy chair, as she always did when he sat in it and she was not in his lap. He pulled her to him and kissed her.

It was over.

Epilogue

Indeed it was over, but there were some problems to work through. Charles and Elizabeth quickly married and bought a house. The memories of Charles' terrible experience were too alive in their respective apartments and the change in scenery did them both good. Within two years, Elizabeth gave birth to Charles, Jr. Charles finally got the child that Nora denied him.

Charles had been through so much in a small space of time, and he would have had a lot to deal with even without the strange events in the spring of 1989. But, he did have the added terrible curse of wishful thinking and it took him a long time to deal with the guilt of being responsible for the deaths of two people. For those deaths he was responsible, of that he had no doubt.

Today, a normal man with normal human abilities and frailties, Charles is very careful not to harbor ill will towards anyone or anything, and he questions himself constantly about his motivations and actions towards others. A happy person now, with a solid home and family life, his reference point for everything is either before or after the 'wishes.' A deep measure of guilt over the deaths of Tommy Mangum and Robert Harvey will always remain, but I'm happy to say the future for Charles, Elizabeth, and three–year old Charles, Jr. looks bright.

END

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