Written for Friday Frights. My tribut to The Monkey's Paw
by Lisa McCourt Hollar
Jane stared at the object in the mysterious shop. It was a monkey’s paw, preserved for whatever morbid reason the creator of the object had in mind. She’d read the story, The Monkey’s Paw, and knew this was something she shouldn’t even touch, let alone consider buying, but then again, she was in a shop that just the day before hadn’t existed.
Ye Old Curiosity Shop is what the sign said. She was on her daily walk when she saw it, sitting in the abandoned lot at the end of her block. She’d looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the store that was sitting where there should only be weeds and broken bottles, but it was early and most people were still in bed.
Even so, early as it was, the shop window was lit with a blinking neon sign that promised it was OPEN. Jane only looked around once more before making up her mind. She opened the door and stepped into a different world.
Jane had always been a cautious child. When she was five, her mother had taken her to the park to play. Her mother, a nervous soul, was always warning Jane of the dangers that surrounded them. She had only taken Jane to the park at the insistence of her husband, who said she was coddling Jane too much.
“She needs friends,” he insisted.
Jane was excited when her mother relented and led her the few blocks to the park. All the children stopped to stare when they saw Jane. She recognized some of them. The little boy on the slide lived across the street from her. She often watched him from her window, wishing her mother would let her go out and play with him and the other kids. A few times he had waved to her, but eventually he began to ignore the small, blond girl in the window.
He waved at her this time, a grin stretching across his face. She started to run towards the slide, but her mother pulled her back.
“Not the slide, Jane. It’s too high. What if you fall?”
“Let the kid slide.”
Jane’s mother jumped, startled to discover her husband had followed them.
“I just wanted to make sure you kept to your promise. Let her be a child Doris.”
Her mother let go of her hand and let Jane run for the slide. The boy was waiting at the bottom and she stopped just in front of him, smiling shyly.
“I’m Brent,” the boy said.
“Jane,” she whispered back.
“Are you a fairy?”
Jane laughed, “No silly, fairies aren’t real.”
“My mom says they are.”
He sounded angry when he said that. Jane didn’t want him to be mad at her, so she thought of what she should say, but nothing came to mind. Her eyes filled up with tears and she turned to run, but Brent stopped her, reaching out his hand and snagging her arm.
“You just haven’t seen one is all. Come on, let’s go down the slide.”
Jane followed him up the ladder, her knees knocking together, she was so scared. When she got to the top, she looked down and nearly fell. Brent was behind her and caught her, steadying her against the rail. Below she heard her mother yelling. She could see her mom standing, ready to come pull her off the slide. Jane’s father held her by the arm and was telling her to calm down.
“It’s easy,” Brent said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Jane climbed onto the top of the slide and sat down. Slowly she scooted forward, making room for her new friend. Her heart was hammering in her chest as he sat behind her, his legs bumping up against hers.
Nervously, Jane nodded. Before she knew what was happening, Jane was flying down the tunnel, taking every twist and turn while Brent hung onto her. When they reached the bottom, she jumped off, clapping her hands.
“That was fun!”
“Want to go again?”
She did. She and Brent went down the slide together two more times and then Jane did it on her own. Other kids came and played with them. One of them was named Betty Sue and Jane thought that was a pretty name and told her so.
“Of course it is,” Betty Sue said. “My mother didn’t give me a Plain Jane name like yours.”
Tears filled up Jane’s eyes again. She didn’t know why the girl wanted to be mean to her.
“Come on Brent,” the girl said, pulling on his arm, “let’s go swing.”
“Ok,” Brent said. “Come on Jane, the swing is the funnest.”
Betty Sue stared daggers at Jane. Jane hesitated, not sure if she should, but Brent tugged at her arm, insisting she try the swings.
There were only two empty when they got there. Brent climbed onto one and told Jane to sit on the other. “We’ll just have to take turns,” he said looking at Betty Sue. Betty stared more daggers into Jane.
Brent pumped his legs, going higher and higher. Jane had never swung before and tried to get herself moving, but failed. She just sat there, the swing swaying a little, but not going anywhere.
“What’s the matter,” Betty Sue asked, “don’t you know how to swing?”
Embarrassed to admit the truth, Jane looked down at the ground and shrugged her shoulders.
Betty Sue smiled, her teeth looking strangely sharp to Jane. She reminded her of the dog next door. It was always growling and barking at people when they went by. Her mother called it feral and often threatened to call the dog warden. Betty’s expression reminded Jane of that dog now and she felt a slight tremor of fear in her stomach.
“Here, I’ll push you.”
“Tha… that’s okay,” Jane stammered, sliding out of the seat.
“I insist,” Betty Sue said, blocking the girl. Reluctantly Jane sat again, her fingers holding tightly to the chains. Betty went around behind her and took hold, pulling the swing back. Then she let go, sending Jane soaring into the air. When Jane came back, she felt Betty’s hands give a sharp push into her back and she found herself flying forward again. Over and over Betty pushed her, sending her higher and higher. At first it was fun, but then each push became rougher than the last. Jane hung tightly to the chains.
“Please stop,” she begged.
“Betty Sue,” Brent yelled, “you’re pushing her too high.”
Betty Sue kept going. Suddenly her hands shoved so hard into Jane’s back, that she lurched forward. She hung onto the chain, but Jane slid off of the seat. Her legs landed with a thud into the dirt. She didn’t stop moving though. She continued to fall backwards, her arms tangling with the chain. Pain seared through her arm as the chain tightened against the skin. Around her she heard screaming and then arms around her; her father’s.
The chains had cut through her arm, almost to the bone. She’d required surgery and the doctors told her she was lucky. She’d lost the right arm, but he’d managed to save her left. After that her mother wouldn’t let her go to the park anymore. A year later, Jane’s parents were divorced; her mother blamed her husband for what had happened.
Jane stood at the window every day, watching Brent play. He never looked her way. When she started school, he and Betty Sue would play on the playground while Jane sat on the steps, reading a book. It was that way through Junior High and High School too. Brent and Betty Jane. They became a couple and everyone knew they would eventually marry.
Jane would cry herself to sleep thinking about it. She hated Betty with a passion, but she loved Brent. He had been her first friend and she’d learned to believe in magic because of him. After her accident, she wished on a shooting star that she and Brent would always be friends. So far it hadn’t happened, but she knew one day it would. Sometimes magic took a while to work.
When the old woman came to her in her dreams last night, she knew she was a fairy in disguise.
“You can only buy one thing,” the woman cautioned. “Be careful what it is. Choose the right one and all your dreams will come true. Choose the wrong one and you’ll only find sorrow and death.”
Opening the door to the strange shop, Jane knew this is what the woman was talking about. There were all kinds of goodies to choose from in there. A wedding veil caught her eyes briefly, snow globes that looked like the figures inside were moving, spices, a love potion. It was the monkey’s paw though that she picked up.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
The woman behind the counter was the same that had come to her in her dreams.
“Be careful, sometimes the wishes don’t come out the way you want.”
“Life hasn’t come out the way I want,” Jane said, handing the woman the money.
“You get three wishes.”
“I know the story,” Jane said, picking up the package and leaving. She heard the bell tinkle as she walked out the door. Then, as she crossed the road, heading back to her house, she felt a strange whooshing flow across her back. Turning, she saw that Ye Old Curiosity Shop was gone.
To be continued in The Twisted Paw.