The Day Before (Short Story)

He glances at his digital watch. It’s one of the higher-end digital watches available on the market these days. Aside from telling the time and the perfunctory stopwatch, it also lets you know the date, even a very brief air temperature reading. His watch tells him it is May 11, 2013. Tomorrow, he remembers is Mother’s Day.

He remembers he needs to buy something for his mom, and quick. He isn’t sure he can pull himself together. But then he hits himself on the head and tells himself that no good is going to come from moping around. Only doing will let him accomplish his goals.

He looks at himself in the bathroom mirror. He has dark circles under his eyes. He hasn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. His father insisted he get some sleep, and he tried, but now he’s still awake. The scene from yesterday is too terrible to get out of his head.

He splashes some cold water on his face. It stings, but it’s a jolt he needs. He takes off his day-old clothes and changes into a fresh t-shirt and jeans. He walks down the stairs and pours himself a drink of water, which he thirstily gulps down. Then he grabs a bag, throws on his shoes and gets in his car. He drives to the nearby mall.

The mall is the biggest one in his area, and when he arrives the parking lot is probably at least three-quarters full. There’s obviously a lot of last-minute shoppers. But the mall is always very busy.

He parks his car and glances at the enormous pairs of doors that beckon him inside. Sighing, he takes a deep breath and pulls open the doors. The mall floor is just packed with people. Many, unsurprisingly, are men and their wives or girlfriends trying to find that perfect, but probably elusive, gift. There are many fathers alone with their children.

He wonders if these fathers always spend time with their children or if they’re together solely because the father can’t come up with any ideas for Mother’s Day gifts. He ponders for a moment, but then has to start moving lest he block the insane flow of human traffic.

He figures the first thing he should get is a card. He doesn’t know where the nearest card store is, so he checks the directory. When he looks, he realizes the mall has four different card stores. He knows what malls always want to offer choice but this is kind of ridiculous. Sighing, he goes to the nearest one, as he intended. He notices the employees are looking especially haggard today, as they’re probably ringing through more cards than they can count.

He takes a few minutes strolling the aisles before he finds one he thinks will be good. He thinks getting a funny card won’t really be appropriate right now. He settles on something a little more serious, but also more filled with emotion.

He has to wait in line for a good ten minutes or so. The line has to be coordinated by a staff member to that it doesn’t block aisles or anything like that. Eventually he gets to a cashier. She says “Hi” but then gets right to scanning the card.

“Busy day. huh?” He says.

“Oh yeah,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“Well, I hope this doesn’t wear you out too much. Just remember something better is coming soon.”

She smiles. “Thanks,” she says with a genuinely pleasant look on her face. He pays for the card and leaves. Finding the gift won’t be as easy, but he thinks he knows where to go.

He finds the store that sells fine candles. The store naturally smells like a million different things: vanilla, rhubarb, coffee… the list goes on. He wonders if the store just sells any basic candles. After asking an employee of the store, he discovers that the scented candles are all placed at the front of the store to bring customers in.

He buys exactly six of the same candle, pays for them and leaves. His work here is done.

He drives back home.

It’s dark outside now. He lost all track of time in that mall but also in his worrying. Well, he won’t have to worry much anymore. He looks at the card he bought and writes down a long and thoughtful message for his mother when she opens her card. The doctors said she would probably be in a coma for some time, possibly forever. But he knows that he alone can fix this.

Card written and sealed, he gets out his six candles and places them in a hexagonal shape around him. He’s careful to make the shape as symmetrical as he possibly can. Everything needs to be perfect. Then he takes a lighter out of his pocket, steps back into the hexagon and then begins to light each candle. As he was instructed, he sits cross-legged in the middle of the hexagon and calls out for help with his mind.

At first, he thinks nothing is working. He is about to give up when he hears a sound that resembles someone slicing through something. He looks around in bewilderment and then finally sees the thing take form. It isn’t how he expected the thing to look. He wasn’t exactly expecting the horns and trident, but he certainly wasn’t expecting the tall, slim, human-looking entity that stands before him.

This newly-conjured thing wears a gray suit that is tailored so closely it’s though the suit is actually the creature’s skin. A wide gray hat covers the thing’s eyes. The creature has a grin on its face.

“Well, this is new,” the creature says with a voice smooth as an ocean wave rolling over a rock. “I don’t usually get calls like this.”

“I know a guy,” he says in response to the creature. “He knows about you.”

“Oh? Who’s that? Ah, why bother. I’m getting too sloppy with keeping my secrets close to the vest,” the creature says.

“Anyway, can you help me?” he asks.

“Perhaps,” the creature says. “I’ll need to review the footage.” With a sweep of his hands, the creature manages to make the whole room look like a giant movie screen. He isn’t ready to see what’s about to come next, but he knows he must.

The creature watches intently the scene from last night. There in the film is his mom and dad. The creature looks on. Mom is crossing the street at a proper green light, as she’s supposed to, when a red truck comes speeding through the intersection. The truck collides with his mom, she goes flying through the air and hits the pavement with a large thud. A loud cry goes up from all around.

“Ooh,” the creature says, wincing with what is probably mock pain. “And it wasn’t her fault at all. Well, I can heal her condition completely. Of course, there’s the method of payment…”

“Whatever it takes,” he says with an air of finality.

“Your life.” The creature says.

“Fine,” he replies. The creature’s eyes widen.

“What? You aren’t even going to consider changing your mind?”

“Nope,” he says. The creature sighs.

“Too bad, emotional turmoil is so much fun to watch.” The creature pauses. “Well, let’s get this over with. Any last words?”

“Yes. Happy Mother’s Day, mom.” The creature snaps his fingers, and then he slumps over. The candles go out, and the creature disappears.

Over at the hospital, a woman suddenly wakes up as though from a nightmare.

Nurse!” The man looking over her screams. “SHE’S AWAKE!”

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