Sand, white as paper, soft as feathers, encumbered my feet. An ocean, luminated by the moon above, rocked gently against the shores in slow, calm tides. A north wind blew, lifting my hair from my back. All was peaceful. I was safe.
“Are you all right?”
The voice was deep, calm like the ocean, and concerned. I turned and found the man, who stood by me wearing his usual blue robe and a frown.
“I’m dreaming, aren’t I?” I said quietly.
He nodded. “Do you want to go back?”
I looked again at my surroundings. The moon, the ocean, the pearly-white sand…
I shook my head. “No. Not yet.”
“Are you all right?” he asked again.
“Yeah. Just a panic attack.”
“Panic attack?” he repeated. “That sounds awful…”
“So, how did I get here?” I asked. “I know I’m dreaming, but…”
“Magic,” he replied. “I thought you would want a calming place.”
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s beautiful.”
A few moments of silence passed as we walked down the beach.
“I have been thinking of a name for myself,” the man whispered. “If you are still willing to allow it.”
I felt a jab of annoyance as I thought, why wouldn’t I allow it? But instead, I found myself saying,
“Of course. I’d love to hear it.”
“Kaius. I would like to be called Kaius.”
“Pleased to meet you, Kaius,” I said warmly.
Reader, he smiled. And this time it was real. No smirk or look of disdain. Just a smile, whole and true, stretched his lips and crinkled his eyes.
“My name,” he said, and I detected pride in his voice. “All mine.”
I spent a long time on that beach thinking things through. Free of the panic, I was able to rationalize. I found my conscience was clear regarding Piper, and her freak-out had been as aggressive as it was irrational. It was clear she owed me an apology. Would I get one? I wasn’t sure. Did I care? Not right now.
Finally, I turned to Kaius, who followed me a few paces away.
“I want to go back,” I called.
I immediately woke on the couch of my house. Kaius knelt before me, and I caught a glimpse of his hand pulling away from my forehead.
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Thanks again, Kaius.”
We settled down in front of the TV that night, in the basement of Paula’s house. Just a sci-fi with a typical alien invasion plotline. As we watched the struggle for humanity’s survival against a more advanced race, I confess I wasn’t as enthralled as Kaius was.
There’s something about boring movies, though. It served the purpose of occupying my restless mind and allowed me to fall asleep on the recliner. But that was a mistake. The scene changed, going back to a time I had tried so hard to forget. A hospital room, north of Fargo, four years ago.
A woman sat beside me with a rosary clutched in her hand, tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked at me hauntingly, as if I were a corpse. Beside her stood a man of fifty, who looked at my bandaged form lying there on the bed. His face betrayed no emotion, but there was fire in his eyes.
“Are you comfortable, Rose?” the woman asked for the tenth time.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m sorry.”
“Why did you get into that car?” the man demanded suddenly, his eyes still blazing. “That man was obviously trying to—”
“Sam, please!” the woman said earnestly. “Don’t—”
“Mr. and Mrs. Robinson?” a man coughed uncomfortably behind us. “The sheriff is here. He wants to speak to you.”
“No!” I cried, panicked as I reached for the woman’s hand. “Don’t leave me!”
The woman evaded my grasp, turning her back and walking with Sam out the door.
My safety, my home! Where would I find it now?
I jerked awake, only to find myself back in the basement with Kaius kneeling before me, looking stricken.
“I’m fine,” I said quickly, straightening in my chair.
Kaius wasn’t convinced. “Are you sure? You were screaming.”
I cursed under my breath. Why did I even bother? Now he would pester me until I blew up at him, and I’d lose another friend!
Wait, what did I just call him?
“Just a nightmare,” I said darkly. “They happen.”
“That is unfortunate,” he murmured, his eyes on my face. “If you’d like, I can make sure you have pleasant dreams from now on.”
“Thank you,” I said awkwardly, standing to my feet. “That’s really sweet of you.”
“Your well-being is part of the job I am bound to,” he said, dismissing my gratitude with a wave of his hand. “Make a wish and find out for yourself.”
Make a wish. Easy, right?
Nope. Not even with limitless wishes. The obvious wishes normal people would wish for, like wealth and happiness, I had already more or less achieved.
Or had I?
“Kaius,” I said as we sat at the breakfast table the next morning, “I think I’m ready for a wish.”
He looked up from his plate of biscuits and gravy.
“Well?” he prompted. “I’m listening.”
“Can you send me back in time?” I said quietly. “There’s something I want to fix…”
He considered me for a moment before shaking his head. “No. That would be a violation of the Celestial Regulations.”
“C-Celestial Regulations?” I stammered. “What?”
“Also known as the Laws of Magic,” he said, and once again I heard boredom in his voice. “Long ago, magic was not regulated at all, and those with magical powers manipulated their own fate. As a result, the time-space continuum was on the verge of collapsing. Determined to save the universe, Divine Pyra cast a spell on magic itself. All who practice magic are affected, and we must follow her laws or…”
“Or what?” I asked as he took another bite.
“Or be obliterated to dust on the spot,” he finished thickly. “So, no. I cannot change the past or skip to the future. I cannot bring people back from the dead, either. That bit was a messy business for Pyra to fix, or so the story goes.”
“What can you do, then?”
He laughed. “Are you doubting my abilities based on those trivial restrictions?”
“No,” I said. “I just don’t know what to wish for now.”
“Think about it,” he encouraged. “I’m curious how this will turn out.”
Paula called me shortly after breakfast, just as Kaius and I were getting ready for another day in front of the TV.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Just another day in North Dakota paradise,” I replied. “How’s work going?”
“Long, but painless,” she replied. “Did that young man pick a name yet?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s Kaius now.”
“Kaius?” Paula murmured. “He’ll have to spell it for me. I don’t want to get it wrong on his transfer papers.”
“Papers?” I said sharply. “What do you mean, Paula?”
“You’re still going to finish your education, Rose,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m going to enroll Kaius in your school as a transfer student.”
“WHAT? Paula, I can’t go back to—”
“This isn’t open for debate,” Paula interrupted coldly. “I’m not happy either, but—”
“Just how are you going to enroll him, huh?” I demanded. “I don’t think he has anything on paper that says he can transfer!”
“Rose,” Paula said patiently, though I was sure she rolled her eyes. “Kaius conjured animal pelts from thin air. I don’t think a few papers will be difficult.”
“I have to go, I’m being paged,” Paula said suddenly. “Have a good day, sweetheart!”
She hung up.
“This is bullshit!” I shouted, glaring at my cellphone.
“Do I want to know?” Kaius asked wearily.
“Paula wants you to go to high school with me.”
He made a face. “High school? You mean an academy?”
“That is bullshit,” he muttered, rubbing his temples. “Why would she want that?”
“She’s got this thing about people finishing their education,” I explained.
“I can understand that, given other circumstances,” he said. “But I am your granter, bound to you for your entire life! Your every want and comfort will be provided, so education isn’t—”
What education was, I didn’t know. I tuned him out at that point. There he sat on the couch in all his blue-robed glory. One word, and I could have billions in my bank account. One command, I could probably own everything, even the world. Maybe more than the world, if I got creative.
“You’re going to school with me,” I interrupted his monologue with a heavy sigh.
He blinked. “What? Why?”
“Because I want to finish high school,” I explained. “I want to go to college. I want…”
“To learn,” he acknowledged. “You’re going to insist, aren’t you?”
He sighed, too. “Very well, Rose. Let the bullshit begin.”