Here’s a short story I wrote that just won first place in the Annual Texas Short Story contest. It will be published soon with a dozen other award-winning stories as an anthology (currently in pre-sales). https://books.txauthors.com/product-p/tass4.htm.
I don’t know how much time I have left. Doctors say they can’t stop it and my skin is already stretched to the bursting point. I resemble a hydroponic tomato overfilled with enough water to reach giant pumpkin status. Last time they weighed me, the truck scale read 1200 pounds.
The bomb squad used a crane when they placed me in the middle of our town’s little league baseball field and taped off an area large enough to keep people at a safe distance. Squinting my eyes, I can make out my crying mother surrounded by the curious and several fellow students from Monahans Senior High School. The number of people who have shown up is impressive; a bigger turnout than the Jaycee’s July 4th fireworks celebration. Maybe I should hold a flare in each hand to make my impending demise more entertaining?
I know I am to blame for my current situation, but I just couldn’t stand it any longer. The kids at my school picked on me constantly. Teasing me online, as well as to my face, with comments like, “Hey runt, stand up when you speak to me,” or “When did they start letting second graders attend high school.” With my tiny frame, bullies had no problem stuffing me into wall lockers or tossing me through the basketball hoop in the gym. I grew tired of always being the last one picked for sports and having girls laugh out loud when I asked for a date.
Jimmy, the bomb squad leader, who helped bring me to my final resting spot, assuming there won’t be enough of me left to scrape up and bury, shouted out, “Tom, how much longer? I’m due at my bowling league in twenty minutes.”
My stomach gurgled and my circumference increased four more inches. A button popped off my tent-sized shirt, flew toward the crowd, and almost put out a spectator’s eye.
I assured him. “Any minute now, Jimmy.”
But, before I leave this life…let me tell you how I got into this predicament. Just outside of my Texas town is the Monahans Sandhills State Park, featuring nearly 4,000 acres of sand dunes. When I am feeling particularly depressed, I go there with my one friend, Harry, to “surf” the dunes. Some students use a real board, but being poor, Harry and I share a cut-up cardboard box we swiped from behind the grocery store.
The dunes average seventy feet high so it takes a while to wade through the deep sand to the top, but coming down only lasts a few minutes. Sliding is a lot of fun…unless you go on a windy day when the fine sand blows hard, stinging your face and body.
Anyway, we had made several runs and were getting tired, when I slipped off my cardboard sled, and plowed into the sand, banging my knee into something hard. Lamenting my injury, I figured finding the only rock in all this sand was exactly the kind of luck one should expect when residing at the bottom of the food chain. But as I sat there, the sun reflected off something metal, revealing the object that had caused my pain. I used my hands to dig out an ancient-looking brass teapot, similar to the kind vendors sell to tourists at the roadside stands near the Tex-Mex border.
Harry joined me to see why I was still sitting in the middle of the dune. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Look what I found.” I held up the teapot.
“What a piece of junk. The lid is rusted shut and the whole thing is tarnished. Throw it away and let’s do another run.”
“We might be able to get a few bucks for it. Let’s see if I can shine it up a bit.”
I used a corner of my t-shirt and began polishing the sides of the teapot. It started shaking as if it was alive, while smoke poured out of the spout, billowing upward like a miniature tornado. Next came a flash of lightning, accompanied by the rotten egg smell of sulfur, and then poof, out of nowhere, right in front of Harry and me, appeared a swarthy-looking man of Mexican descent, sporting a chipped tooth, a three-day growth, and wearing baggy pants topped off with a traditional red serape. “Gracias, Tom, for setting me free.”
Harry and I stared at the apparition in front of us as he pulled off his boots and poured out the sand.
“I hate sand. Two hundred years crammed into that teapot; it gets in your hair, your ears, up your el trasero, and worst of all between your toes…very difficult to scratch.”
I managed to stammer. “Who the hell are you and where did you come from?”
“From the teapot, mi amigo…and you can call me Pepe.”
I turned to Harry to confirm what I was seeing and hearing, but Harry had passed out on his back and had a dung beetle crawling across his face.
Pepe brushed the sand off his clothes. “Let’s get down to business. What are your three wishes?”
“Didn’t your mother ever read the classics to you? Here’s how it works…you rub the magic lamp, the genie appears, and you get three wishes.”
“This is a teapot and you don’t look like a genie.”
“You want the wishes or not? I can always give them to Harry when he wakes up, although technically he wasn’t the one who rubbed the teapot.”
My imagination kicked into overdrive. Three wishes! I pictured all the usual dreams…big house, fancy car, hot girlfriend, millions of dollars, rock god…but then I thought about my miserable school life.
“For my first wish, I want to be big.”
“You mean famous like a movie star, captain of industry, or president?”
“No, physically big. I’m tired of being the smallest kid in high school.”
Pepe lit up like a migrant worker on a Saturday night; producing a multi-page contract and a pen from thin air. “Just sign your name at the bottom of page five.”
“A standard genie agreement that defines rights, warrants, representations, indemnifications, fornications, and so forth. Don’t worry about it, just sign.”
I didn’t hesitate. Harry, who had regained consciousness, watched me write my name with a flourish. As soon as I did, Pepe, the contract, and the teapot disappeared in another puff of lightning and smoke. We looked at where Pepe had stood, and then back to each other.
Harry said, “What about your other two wishes?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s coming back.”
Harry looked around. “If he was ever here at all.”
As we walked back into town, we decided not to discuss what had happened, since we had no proof and knew our story would only result in more teasing. We wrote off our strange encounter as a result of too much sun and bad cafeteria food.
I went to bed early that night…right after supper. I tossed and turned, dreaming of a crazy Latino in baggy pants, with a chipped tooth, offering me three wishes and a large plate of rice and beans.
When I woke the next morning, I felt the same. Did I get my wish or not? I jumped out of bed and raced over to my height measurement chart. I had been marking my growth progress on my wall ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Standing as tall as possible, I drew another line, looked at the new mark and hung my head in disappointment…sixteen years old and I remained only four-foot-ten inches tall.
I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Nothing prepared me for the person who stared back at me in the mirror…a teenager in jockey shorts looking like an elf-sized Santa Claus without a beard. I had grown all right…only out instead of up.
As I watched in amazement, my outline split, flesh blurred, shimmered like a spirit and shook like Jello in an earthquake. The two vibrating versions of me went in and out of focus, until they came rushing back together, like two randy cells under a microscope, merging to create an entity twice as big.
This pattern repeated itself several times during the next two weeks and despite hardly eating any food, boot camp style exercises, visits to the doctor, and trying all the fad diets…grapefruit, low-carbs, jellybeans…I kept gaining weight. Sometimes the shifts were violent, like David Banner turning into the Hulk, splitting out my clothes, and leaving me naked…one time much to the amusement of my coed gym class.
Freak got added to the name calling, along with balloon boy, hippo, tons-of-fun, and so forth. When I outgrew my Dad’s clothes, my parents began buying stuff from the big and tall shop. After I outgrew those, Mother would make my outfits from scratch, buying material in large rolls, because I could change up to two sizes in a single day. Mom practically lived at the sewing machine trying to keep up.
I quit going to school because I couldn’t fit through the front double doors. It got to the point I couldn’t walk, sleep in a bed, or live in our garage. The fire department kindly decided to let me stay in one of their large bays, reclining on a flatbed tractor-trailer covered with several mattresses. I don’t even want to talk about the problems that occurred when I had to go the bathroom, but a fire hose and a dump truck was involved.
Finally, fearing the end was near, they towed me to the baseball field and lowered me gently down… covering the entire infield, including all the bases. Right after arriving, my stomach flip-flopped, my body shimmered, and I expanded another two inches. I could hear the ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd that had gathered to witness my latest transition. I held my breath and closed my eyes because I did not want to see myself pop like a balloon, scattering pieces of me in all directions.
A minute went by, then two. Nothing happened. I cautiously opened one eye and looked around. The onlookers had covered their ears and were slowly backing further away. The TV crews and paparazzi had their cameras raised in anticipation of capturing the precise moment I exploded…damn piranhas. I just wanted it to be over.
“Hola, Tom,” a familiar voice whispered in my ear. A man stood beside me…clean shaven, a perfect sparkling smile, dressed in Armani and looking like a movie star.
My stomach gurgled. “What happened to Pepe?”
He laughed. “Pepe is only one of my characters. You probably know me better as Diablo.”
“I’m in trouble here. Where have you been?”
“Rooting for the bulls in Mexico City.”
“You don’t want to be big anymore?”
“What do you think?”
“Is that your second wish?”
“For goodness sakes, yes.”
He crossed his arms across his chest, blinked and nodded. “I always wanted to do that…every since I saw an episode of “I Dream of Jeannie.”
The crowd gasped, as I instantaneously shrank from blimp-size to ant-size and disappeared somewhere near the pitcher’s mound. Diablo knelt down. “You okay there, Tom?”
I push aside a dandelion stem and addressed the giant face above me. “You tricked me.”
“One more wish to go. Make it a good one.”
“Just put me back to the way I was when we first met.”
Diablo smiled, snapped his fingers, and I returned to normal, spitting out some grass that I had almost swallowed during the transition. The crowd once again shouted and clapped their approval.
“No more wishes, Tom.”
I sighed. “So, I’m right back where I started.”
“Not exactly. You signed a contract.”
“What does that mean?” I yelled at him as he disappeared in a flash of lightning and a puff of smoke, leaving behind only the smell of sulfur and a trail of wicked laughter.
* * *
The unusually short old man came out of the confessional at the same time as the priest.
“That’s quite a story, Tom.”
“I swear it’s true.”
“I worry about you. Are you eating properly? You look so skinny.”
Tom glanced around the church. “No matter what I eat, I can’t gain weight and everything taste like rice & beans.”
“Are you hitting the sauce again?”
Both Tom’s hands were shaking. He grasped the end of a pew to steady himself. “No more than I need. I keep catching glimpses of him…on the street, at the store…and hearing his creepy laugh.”
“Say three Hail Mary’s and two Our Fathers and you will be fine.”
“Will that give me absolution?”
“You didn’t sign a deal with the devil. You just had a bad dream.”
“For forty years?”
“Go home, Tom, get some rest. And for goodness sakes, eat something.”
Tom, unable to stop the cancer-induced series of hacking coughs, broke out in a sweat as he shuffled out of the church. He hurried down the street, his coat collar turned up against the wind and the cold. Pulling a key from his pocket, he entered the small apartment; ceiling and walls papered in pictures of Jesus and complemented with several large crucifixes. He locked the door behind him, turned the three deadbolts into place and fastened the double chains.
He sat down in his easy chair, turned on a small lamp, and began reading the Bible, as he did every night. Was it a dream? Harry died years ago in a car accident and his Mother insisted she never saw anyone standing near him on the baseball field. The doctors explained his weight “condition” had been caused by a rare gland problem that miraculously cured itself.
Tom put down the Bible and took a swig from the nearby flask. Another round of coughs racked his body, as he used a handkerchief to wipe the blood from his mouth. It wouldn’t be long now, ten days at most, and then he would know for sure…
Copyright Richard Allan Jones 2018
Rich Allan spent 18 years living in Dallas as a member of the DFW Writers Workshop, traveling around the state enjoying the bluebonnets, Cowboys, and BBQ. “Pepe” is a combination of classic children’s stories mixed with equal parts of Rod Sterling and Stephen King. In addition, Rich is the author of two five-star rated novels, “Drafted,” — the comic adventures of a teenager drafted illegally into the U.S. Army, and an award-winning political thriller, “Identity Check” – After his mother is murdered, college student Scott and his zany girlfriend Jessie, embark on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and Lily the beagle. http://www.richallan.net/author.html.