Bright colours, flashing lights, loud music, the blended aroma of hot-dogs and onions threading the air. For Billy, these things created that wondrous fairground magic so unfaltering in its appeal. He also loved the hustle and bustle of the thronging crowd, happily bumping and jostling among the attractions. The whole entrancing scene becoming a heady mixture causing a thrilling sensation; commonly known as excitement, to wash over his gangling thirteen-year old frame.
He had one pound coin remaining and he wished to spend it on something special, and here is that something, he thought, spying a striped tent beyond the gaily-decorated posts of the hoopla stall.
Wardiz The Magician, read the painted sign above the tent flap. Billy stepped forward and gasped as a sharp spike of nagging doubt pierced his mind, making his heart skip. He turned away, grateful for a narrow escape, but a warm friendly voice captured his attention.
"Come Billy," it said soothingly. "All believers are welcome."
Billy turned back. His expansive brown eyes peering at the tent, and although aware it was impossible, he found himself staring straight through the striped canvas and into the unwavering eyes of a very old man. An ancient man, skin creased with wrinkles and a mop of white hair almost as long as his drooping moustache.
Billy drifted through the flap and listened attentively as the man talked. The softly spoken words, silky sounds, slipping easily off the tongue, were English, but remained beyond Billy's understanding. He felt confused, as if his thoughts had somehow been removed, rearranged, then carelessly replaced in a jumbled order.
Eventually, after a seemingly long silence, and the exchange of coin, Billy asked. "Wardiz, what does all this mean?"
Wardiz's features rippled as something resembling a smile insinuated itself upon his face. "It means, Billy, that you have bought three wishes; but be careful for what you wish, you might just receive your heart's desires, as these wishes will come true, Billy. It is most important that you remember this, Billy."
Yeah right, thought Billy, what a waste of money! "So," he said, "I can wish for anything?"
"Oh yes, Billy. Anything you desire," replied Wardiz, with seemingly firm assurance. "Although, some wishes may take awhile. Especially requests beyond the extraordinary."
Billy remained with Wardiz for what seemed like ages, then, unaware of how he arrived there, he found himself sauntering along the midway, three wishes fluttering in his heart and not a care in the world. His mouth watered as the scent of hot-dogs and onions wafted freely up his nose, tickling his appetite and he could not help himself. The wish, if that's what it was, popped into his head.
"Mum!" cried a small boy, wandering from the hot-dog van. "You got me onions! You know I hate onions on my hotdog!"
Billy stood transfixed as the child approached. He knew what was happening, and he knew he was powerless to stop it.
"Here," said the boy, thrusting the unwanted hot-dog into Billy's hands. "You look hungry, you have it."
"But . . . ."
Wardiz's words echoed back to him. 'Be careful for what you wish, you might just receive your heart's desires'.
The boy's mother dragged him away, leaving Billy staring at the hotdog. "Coincidence," he assured himself, biting into the delicious food. Ketchup would be nice, he thought, but not using the magic word, just in case.
His cash depleted, Billy headed home. His mother had warned him to avoid the fairground, but he'd been attracted there, as if by magic.
With the distant rumble of the rides, and the lingering trill of girlish screams floating on the light summer breeze, he entered his front door.
"You're late," his mother snapped. "Suzy needs taking to her dance class. Where on earth have you been, Billy?"
Billy considered lying, but as his mum appeared to be a natural lie detector these days, he quickly changed his mind. "I'm sorry mum. I called at the fair, just to see-"
"Oh did you! And after I specifically told you to avoid the fairground too!"
"I'm sorry mum. Only when-"
"Never mind sorry. I'll deal with you later."
"Billy!" Shouted his sister, Suzy. "I'll be late because of you. My class starts at eight."
Suzy, Billy's younger sister, was a constant thorn in his side, without even trying.
Billy checked his watch. "It's nowhere near eight. We've plenty of time," he protested.
Suzy snatched up her jacket and flounced through the door with Billy following in her wake.
"And Billy," shouted his mother. "Be sure you wait for your sister. She's not to walk home alone and for the last time, keep away from that fairground! All kinds of shifty characters hang about there, and it's not safe for a boy like you to be at the fair alone."
"Yes mother," replied Billy, while thinking 'a boy like me: alone. I'm almost an adult!' He scowled at Suzy who was pulling faces and sticking out her tongue. "If the wind changes you'll look like that forever," he told her, almost wishing the wind would change, then checking himself.
"You're to watch me dancing, then, bring me home," said Suzy, her heels clipping the path as she skipped along.
"I don't," retorted Billy. "I'll wait outside."
"If you sneak to the fair, I'll tell," said Suzy, in her favourite spoilt brat voice.
"Suzy, if you think I'm sitting and watching you and your girlie friends prance around while imagining you're mermaids or unicorns, then you can think again!"
"Billy!" Wailed Suzy, her startled eyes reflecting the hurt inside. "I think you're the most horrible brother in the whole world and I wish a monster would swoop down from the sky and snatch you away, forever and ever."
"So do I!" Snapped Billy. "Then I wouldn't . . . ." He halted, glanced at the sky, and saw nothing but glorious brilliant blue. "No," he murmured. "I didn't wish for that. It was you Suzy. You wished for the monster."
"You wished it too Billy," said Suzy, her petulance causing her voice to tremble. "You said-"
Billy grabbed her shoulders. "Don't say it," he warned. "I didn't wish for anything, at least . . . I didn't mean to."
"Billy, you're hurting me," whined Suzy, trying to wriggle free.
Billy released her. "I'm sorry," he said, a distant look glazing his eyes. "He stared at the sky; and wondered.
"Billy, are you okay?" asked Suzy, with genuine concern.
Billy didn't immediately reply. He had spotted something. Something dreadful and threatening. Suzy followed his gaze.
"Look," he said, pointing through the rook filled trees surrounding the nearby vicarage. "Clouds, lots of dark clouds."
"So what," sneered Suzy. "Is Billy afraid of-"
"There were none just now," interrupted Billy.
Again Wardiz's words tumbled through his mind. 'Some wishes take awhile'.
He watched the massing sun-crested thunderheads increase in volume: and he knew. "I have to go Suzy," he said, actually kissing his sister before running to the fairground.
"Billy," whispered Suzy, watching him flee, still shocked from the unexpected kiss. "I didn't mean it Billy."
Billy charged down the midway; ignoring the exciting mingling of sights and sounds that had previously thrilled him. The clouds were gathering; marching across the sky, a dark murky army unfurling their purple and black banners and Billy knew exactly what was hidden amongst the brewing storm. A monster. A monster preparing to snatch him away: forever!
He rounded the Octopus, sprinted past the helter-skelter and pulled up beside the closed down Hoopla stall and there, where the striped tent should be; he saw nothing.
"No!" screamed Billy, running around the empty space as if chasing the invisible man, his eyes wide with fear. "It was here," he shouted to the bewildered passing crowd.
Thunder rumbled through the air. Lightning zigzagged between rolling clouds and Billy saw, surfing along the perfect curve of a forming rainbow: the monster, its glistening skin bristling with spiky scales.
"I didn't wish for you," screamed Billy. "I didn't! I didn't!"
The monster drew near and Billy could see its glowing yellow eyes slit through the centre with slashes of deep crimson. I know what has to be done, he thought, retreating from the descending beast, its slavering fanged jaws dripping with eager anticipation.
"I wish you away," he yelled. "I wish you away forever."
A flash, and a crumping bang cracked through the air as lightning exploded the vacant Hoopla stall, showering Billy with splinters of wood. He lay on the ground, dazed and disoriented. The first person to his side was a wrinkled old man who looked vaguely familiar.
"You were lucky Billy," he said, his mouth splitting into a knowing grin. "Very lucky. Could I tempt you with three more wishes?"
"No," snapped Billy tersely, his mind clearing. "Wishes are for fools."
Wardiz helped him to his feet. "A hard learned lesson is a lesson learned well," he mused. "Now go collect your sister."
Billy pushed through the baffled onlookers and on glancing back, Wardiz had vanished and Billy wondered if he was ever there at all? His wishing days were now finished; but he knew, out there, somewhere: others still had to learn their lesson.