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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

When the most terrible thing that can happen, happens, what is left but to wish?

Submitted: May 06, 2018

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Submitted: May 06, 2018



Short story by Mads Aggerholm, author of the sci-fi novel 'DeathWorld' (2014)






-Look at that guy, Martin said.
-Hm-hm, Wendy answered absently, while she concentrated her look at the two kids in the sand box, arguing about a toy. Would they be fighting soon, or would they settle down? New drama coming soon to a sandbox near you.
-I mean it. Every morning he walks by, all the way, looking through the fence. Then he turns around, and goes the other way. And it repeats in the afternoon. I tell you, he’s a pedophile, looking for prey.

Martin had been hired to the kindergarten two weeks ago. He was 21, and came right from the school. He had had a couple of classes with pedagogy and other child-care stuff.
Wendy was 19, and had been in the kindergarten for almost a year. She had no education in pedagogy, she just loved kids.
Martin had a good eye for her from the beginning. She was pretty, and he tried to impress her. This usually included him exposing his knowledge about the work with the kids, and how it should be maintained.
In the beginning Wendy thought that he was nervous about being the new one, and tried to justify himself through talking about his positive attributes. When he became used to the kindergarten and his colleagues, this would pass.
It didn’t. It actually became worse, and what never had been charming, became annoying.

Wendy woke up by the word ‘pedophile’.
-Who? she asked.
-This guy! Martin answered pointing his finger at a middle aged man in a long coat outside the fence.
-Oh no, that is no pedophile. He once had a daughter here.
-But no more, I guess, since I have never seen him pick up anyone?
Wendy writhed by the question.
-No, not anymore, she just said.
-So, what is he doing here? Martin insisted. There is nothing for him to come for, and yet he’s out there walking back and forth. It’s damn suspicious.
-No it isn’t. Wendy was getting tired of this, but they had the playground duty for half an hour more.
-Look, I have been to a class about how to spot these characters. That dude out there fits so good, that it’s almost a caricature: Long coat, with good room for candy or toys in the pockets, hanging around at a place with children where he has absolutely nothing to do. I seriously think we should at least inform the police about this behavior.
Wendy turned around and looked angry at his face:
-Oh, you jackass! Sometimes you are just so stupid.
She turned around and started to walk fast back into the house. Playground duty or not, she had enough.
Martin looked confused after her. Did he actually see tears in her eyes?
Women, he thought by himself. You never know what’s going on inside them.
He turned to the fence again, looking for the man in the long coat. No pedophile trash bag would be able to do anything to the kids in his kindergarten when he had playground duty!

The principal, Margaret Parker, looked up from her papers when she heard the knock on the door.
-Come in, she said.
Wendy opened the door, and went cautiously into the office.
-Yes Wendy. What can I do for you? She took off her reading glasses, and laid them on the table. She always felt it was bad manners looking at people over a pair of glasses. And, it made her look like an aunt.
-Ms. Parker, I think…, I mean, I was thinking if you could tell the new guy, Martin, about – about…
-About what, Wendy?
-You know, the girl? Five months ago…
-Oh, Sarah Johnson?
-Yes. Martin keeps going on about things he doesn’t know about and sometimes he goes on in a complete wrong direction. It is terrible to listen to, and I can’t stand it.
-Well, why don’t you just tell him?
Wendy sobbed:
-It is such a terrible thing. I’d cry right in front of him, I would not be able to hold back. And to be honest, he seems a little arrogant, I would really not want him to think of me as a little, defenseless girl he can feel superior to. And that aside, I am trying not to think of it at all.
-We all do, dear. Look, I’ll talk to him later when playground duty is over. You just go into the kitchen and help preparing the two o’clock meal.
 –Thank you, Ms. Parker.
Wendy left the office, and joined the crew in the kitchen.

Martin sat in the playroom and waited for the last half an hour should pass, when Margaret Parker came into the room. All the children had been picked up, and now it was just the last cleaning and tidying. He had spent the last twenty minutes picking up toys and games from the floor and putting them in their places.
-Martin, can I have a word with you in my office please? she said.
-Of course, Ms. Parker. Martin stood up, and followed the principal.
When they arrived at the office, Margaret asked him to take a seat, and sat down behind her desk herself:
-I’d like to talk to you about the man in the coat you’re watching outside.
-Oh, the pedophile-acting guy?
-He is not a pedophile, and he is not a ‘guy’. His name is Robert Johnson, and we know him.
-But what is he doing here? I know he had a kid here once, but no more. I think it is suspicious, that…
Margaret interrupted him:
-Hold on. I promised Wendy I would tell you about this. You see, his daughter died.
-Yes, Died. It was a terrible accident. He came to pick her up, and she always waited for him with great anticipation.
He would park at the other side of the road, and then approach the gate. Sometimes she hid from him, waiting for him to take her things and pretending going home without her, and she would come running after him. But most of the times she would be at the gate, pressing her face against it. It was like she could not get back to him fast enough.
But this one day, someone had not closed the gate.
So, the girl instead of running to the gate, she ran through it. Right out in front of a van that was speeding down the road.
-Oh my… Martin said.
-She was killed instantly. In front of her father. And… Wendy witnessed it all. She almost broke down on it.
-Well, I’ll be damned.
-So, you see, he is not a pedophile, looking for prey. He’s a man in pain.
-But what is he doing here?
-I don’t know, but my theory is, that he is looking for his daughter.
-But… you said she is dead?
-Sometimes people do not act rationally. Maybe he thinks it could all be a dream, and one day he’ll wake up. People can make all kinds of fantasies up, when they are stressed enough.
-And by the way, Mr. Johnson has treated us very decent after that dreadful accident. Hospitals are swarming with lawyers, and I bet he have received the first ten offers to be a millionaire, if he sued us for slack regarding the security of the children.
-He didn’t?
-No. I’ve heard – it is just something I heard – that he asked how much money was needed to bring his daughter back to life. That shut some of them up.
-Very humorous, Martin said.
-He did not mean it in any humorous way. He accepted that errors happen, including terrible errors. He had a sense of reality, maybe he used it up on that disaster. However, we are all affected by that accident, and we are all trying to just move on.
-So, I want you to stop worrying about it. Okay?
Martin said:
-Well, there could be a risk anyway. Maybe he is thinking of taking another girl as some kind of a replacement? And that is why he…
Margaret put on her reading-glasses and deliberately looked at him over the lenses:
-Martin, right now you are wasting my time. It’s late and it is closing time. From tomorrow you stop watching Mr. Johnson. Your job is to watch the children. Do you understand?
-Yes ma’am, Martin said.
-Good. Go home. See you tomorrow.
Martin left crestfallen.

The days passed in the kindergarten. Wendy was cheering up a little, and Martin had stopped watching Mr. Johnson who walked by the fence morning and afternoon. Wendy was even beginning to like Martin a little better, actually he was not that bad, and he had turned down his lecturing-like behavior.

Ms. Sanders was trying to get her daughter, Lily, to put on her rain boots in the one end of the wardrobe. Ms. Ramirez had a similar disagreement with her son in the other end. Wendy tried to figure out which to help first, if any.
At last the early rush ended, and there were only a few kids left for the late parents. Wendy walked around in the wardrobe picking up forgotten socks and other objects left behind by tired children and stressed out parents.
When she got up from underneath the shoe rack, she looked into the eyes of Robert Johnson.
She clenched her teeth to avoid screaming and just looked at his calm face. He looked like any other parent that just popped in to get his child.
-Good afternoon, Wendy. I have come to pick up Sarah. Do you know where she is?
Wendy didn’t know how long time she just stood there. All kinds of explanations went through her head. But none seemed to be able to explain what happened right now.
Finally she pulled herself together, and said:
-Mr. Johnson, excuse me a second.
She didn’t know what else to say, and she went as fast as possible to the principal’s office, leaving Robert Johnson behind.

-Mr. Johnson, can you please explain what is going on?
Margaret Parker had come out to the wardrobe as fast as she could, when Wendy had entered the office with a face as pale as a ghost:
-Mr. Johnson, in the wardrobe…! She croaked.
Now he was sitting in her office, on the opposite side of the desk.
-Hope, I think, he answered.
He silently continued:
-Wishing. When you want something so bad, that you can almost taste it. If you’ll want it for long enough time, and want it strongly enough. Sometimes it’s like if you just want it enough, then it will happen. It just feels like it is the only thing that should be. It is the only natural outcome that this should have.
-Have you heard of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? Margaret asked without thinking about it.
-Yes. It was two of the German concentration camps that were used during World War II, killing six million Jews. Why?
Margaret had taken her glasses of long ago. Now she rubbed her eyes, and said:
-I’m sorry Mr. Johnson. I’m not at all trying to belittle your loss. It is terrible beyond description. What I meant is, that if there have ever been people who have wanted something badly enough, and it actually had worked, then those camps would have vanished from the face of the planet. And six million Jews had been returned to their homes.
-I don’t think so, Robert Johnson said.
-You don’t? Margaret answered surprised.
-People in trouble or in pain tend to lose focus. If someone is floating in the water because the ship sank, they wish for a lifebelt or anything floating they can cling to. If someone is trapped in a place with no food, they wish to find something they can eat to survive.
-That is reasonable enough, don’t you think?
-No. What they should wish for is that the ship didn’t sink. Or that they were not imprisoned in a place with no food in the first place. By wishing add-ins to their situation, they enforce it. They make it fit. They adapt to the situation, instead of denying it as a mistake.
Robert Johnson looked at her. Margaret cleared her throat:
-Well, um, it’s a good theory, but seriously I don’t think it works that way. Margaret didn’t know what more to say.
-Maybe, Robert Johnson answered. But one thing is certain. If I don’t try, nothing will ever happen.
Robert Johnson’s face was not peaceful anymore. It expressed a mountain of grief that no human should ever experience.
-I…, he whispered.
Margaret waited. Sometimes it was best just to wait.
Robert Johnson took some deep breaths. Then he said:
-These last weeks have been terrible. I don’t think I ever have experienced something as dreadful as this.
-I understand, Margaret said, and immediately thought:
Oh no, now he’ll respond to my empty phrase by asking how anybody could possibly understand this.
But Robert Johnson didn’t. He slowly shook his head while he silently said:
-This… This kind of thing should not happen. No living creature anywhere in the world should be forced to face something like this. The very nature of reality should prevent it. It defies the laws of physics and life itself. It just can’t be real.
Tears had starting to flow down his cheeks:
-I simply cannot imagine a system where this could be allowed. I don’t even think Hell itself can be a worse place to be, than in the position where you have lost a child.
The tears dropped from his face onto his jacket, making small stains.
-It is just so wrong! It is impossible. There has to be a way to make it go away, to reset the system. Otherwise, justice itself is just a word with no meaning, an empty, hollow, phrase, invented by man and enforced by nobody.
He took out a handkerchief, which obviously had been used a lot, and blew his nose after a half-hearted attempt to wipe his face.
-I see people in the streets. Some of them happy, some of them bored, small children whining about a toy or an ice-cream their parents won’t buy them. How can that happen? How come everybody in the country is not affected by this? It is not fair.

When Robert Johnson had got a hold on himself again, Margaret asked:
- What happened out there in the wardrobe? What was all that about?
Robert Johnson’s face cleared up a bit:
-Today, I got up and went to work. I said to myself, that my wife would bring Sarah to the kindergarten, and went off. All day I did a normal days work, thinking only of the fine weather, and that I should remember to pick Sarah up on the way home. I drove all the way to this place, not expecting anything, neither good nor bad. Just the daily routine to pick up my daughter, the same way as I have always done. Or, have done for the past two years.
Margaret said:
-But Robert, why? She used his first name without thinking about it.
-To give nature a chance to correct the error. Get back on the right track. If I did everything like I normally do, then maybe nature would continue the way it should, and not jump back into this… this land of terror.
-Is this what you tried? She asked carefully.
-Yes. It didn’t cost anything, and I’m willing to try everything. And as I said, when you wish hard enough and long enough, something must happen!
Margaret was tired, and she had to end this somehow. She just didn’t know how. She said:
-Robert, listen, I have to tell you…
-Maybe it got disturbed, he interrupted her.
-It? Disturbed? What do you mean?
-Wendy, that poor child, she was not prepared. If nature was somehow about to change the lane, she brought it back on the wrong course. She of course did not know how it should be. She only knew how it is now, Robert said.
Margaret looked at him. He actually believed this. She felt sorry for the poor man, but there was not much to do about it.
-Robert, we need to put an end to this, she said embarrassed by her sober-minded let-us-now-go-back-to-reality voice.
He interrupted her:
-I have a suggestion, he said.
-Okay, let me hear it, Robert.
-It might sound like if I’ve lost it, but if you’ll allow me to do this, I’d be very grateful.
-What is it, Robert?
-Tomorrow, I’ll come in like today. I’d like to see Wendy, she’s a sweet girl, and I trust her. I’ll ask if she have seen Sarah, and all she have to do is go looking for her, and then come back and tell me she cannot find her. Then I’ll find something to say, and I’ll leave. What do you say?
-You still think… Margaret began to say.
-Let’s, say I wish, Margaret.
Margaret took a deep breath. She had been talking to religious people before; Parents who had a firm belief that their prayers made vaccinations unnecessary. People who said their children were not allowed to eat anything with pork. Vegetarians, vegans, tree-huggers. The list was long.
She was well-trained into pushing her own lack of belief to the back of her head. Religious and other believing people were usually serious about their faith, and this was no different, she reminded herself.
-Okay. Robert, we own you a lot here, and my personally thoughts on this subject is irrelevant. I’ll do this on one condition.
-Thank you. What is the condition?
-If this does not provide the – the desired result, I have to kindly ask you not to come here anymore. Not even at the outside. I do understand your situation, but I will recommend you to get professional help. This…
Margaret interrupted herself before she started outlining the lack of reason in this whole setup:
-…this is the deal, Robert. Will you comply on this?
-Yes Margaret, I will. And thank you.

After Robert Johnson had left, Margaret rubbed her eyes again, took some deep breaths and went out to find Wendy.

The next day was a day of tension. Every time she had finished helping a parent with a pickup, Wendy went back to the window in the playroom, where she had a good look over the entrance.  She had this mixture of fear for the upcoming roleplay, however small her part was, and the urge of getting over with it. She froze and sweated at the same time.
There were not many kids left, when she saw Robert Johnson vigorously entering the gate and continue up the path.
Wendy’s heart started beating, and she had to concentrate about that this would be the only and last time this would be happening.
She returned to the wardrobe to play her part.

Robert had been concentrating about doing everything as normal as he could all day. It was easy at work, there were colleagues and tasks that needed his attention, and only the two drives in the car to and from work required some extra effort.
Now he had come to the last part.
Now, all I need to do is pick up Sarah at the kindergarten, and then we’ll get home to dinner, he thought while approaching the gate.
He went into the garden, and continued walking up to the main door.

Wendy waited for him inside:
-Hello, Wendy, he cheerfully said.
-Good afternoon, Mr. Johnson.
-I’ve come to pick up Sarah. Do you know where she is?
-No, Mr. Johnson. Her face was set in stone.
Whatever you do, don’t aim for an actress career, he thought, immediately interrupting his thought: Sarah is out in the garden, playing, Wendy will go and get her.
He said:
-Oh. She must be out back still playing. Will you please go look for her?
-Yes Mr. Johnson she replied.
Wendy turned around and left him in the wardrobe.
She’s going to find her, or maybe she’s hiding? It would be just like her to play with her old man.
Wendy came back:
-I’m sorry Mr. Johnson, but I really can’t see her anywhere.
-Okay Wendy, I know her, she’s a little mischief. I bet she’s just hiding to tease us. She’ll come running after me if I just leave.
-I’m sure she will, Mr. Johnson.
-Well then, good afternoon, Wendy. And thank you for your help.
-You’re welcome Mr. Johnson.

Robert went slowly down the path, loud saying:
-Well, I’ll just return home. Then she can stay the night, for all I care.
He continued to the gate.
She’s watching me; she is trying to figure out if I’m serious. I’ll just continue, and then she will come running.
The gate came closer and closer. Robert felt sweat running down the neck, but ignored it.
Now, it can be any minute, she’ll not let me just go away without her.
The gate was alarmingly close.
Now, any time, she’ll not let me go.
Now he could touch the gate if he just reached out for it.
It’s not going to wor… (SHUT UP!) Now, when she sees me open the gate, then she will come running.
Robert put his hand on the handle. He had to use all his powers to press it down.
The gate swung up. Robert stepped outside, and grabbed the handle to shut it behind him.
He strained his ears for the slightest sound that could be made.
He was just about to pull the gate’s handle to shut it, when he heard it:


© Copyright 2019 Mads Aggerholm. All rights reserved.

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