Penn and Ed are an unlikely pair who encounter and ancient evil from the deserts of the middle east, how can they stop something with the limitless power to grant any wish?!
Careful What You Wish by David O'Hanlon
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Penn reached for the doorbell. His finger hovered over the button as it had the last two times he tried to bring himself to ring. He sighed and jabbed the button. Ed’s face pressed against the glass of the nearest window. Penn chuckled at the sight of the freckled, buck-tooth face smiling excitedly at him. The door opened and Penn was greeted by a far-less enthusiastic individual. Penn shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t look like an ex-con in his new jeans and custom polo shirt, but he felt the same way he did every time he was pulled in for a police lineup. Ed’s mother, Janet, held an obese chocolate-point Siamese cat against her chest and stroked it like a movie villain while she eyed the man on her doorstep. Janet slipped her robe up over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “You’re Ed’s friend?” Penn shifted the brown paper bag into his left hand and extended the right. “Yes, ma’am. I’m Penn.” “Been in a few too would be my guess.” She waved him inside. “You’re going to let the other cats out.” Penn stepped inside and glanced around the restored Brownstone. Three tabbies lounged on the furniture. A Maine Coon lifted its head from the arm of the recliner to survey the new arrival to its domain. The cat was seemingly unimpressed by Penn and went back to sleep. Penn turned to Janet. Ed had told him his mom used to be a famous model, but the horrible marriage and subsequent vodka-and-valium-based diet hid the fact now. Janet looked like she should be bumming smokes outside a 7-Eleven. Penn felt a tinge of guilt. He knew better than anyone not to judge a person by their circumstances. She dumped the Siamese onto the loveseat and straightened her pajamas before pulling her robe closed and tying the belt tightly around her slender waist. “Don’t you think it’s weird hanging out with a ten-year-old boy?” Janet snapped the elastic from her bun and let her brown hair fall as she walked past him and into the kitchen. She grabbed a glass from the dish strainer and banged it onto the countertop. “You’re like thirty, after all.” Penn shrugged. “So are you.” “Thanks for rubbing salt in that wound.” Janet poured orange juice into a glass and reached for the Popov bottle atop the fridge. “You can have something to drink if you like. Lactose-free milk, sugar-free Kool-Aid, caffeine-free tea. We even have the shitty soda that lacks all of the above.” “I’ve got a water bottle in the truck, but thanks.” “Cut the shit, Penn.” Janet sipped from the bottle before pouring a splash into the juice. “The boy’s allergic to everything. No one hangs out with him because they want to. The last date I had was four years ago and Ed broke out in hives because of the guy’s cologne. He has to wear a dust mask to walk through the living room because of the cat hair. The inhaler, the EpiPen, anxiety meds, and Allegra for sinuses. Seizures at the movies, motion sickness at the fair, panic attacks at the mall. There’s nothing you can do with him. Ed shouldn’t even go to the park, or wherever it is that he spends his time. What do you really want with him?” Ed sneezed around a corner. Penn wasn’t sure where the boy was, but knew he was within earshot. Janet’s eyes flicked toward the noise and back to Penn. Calling her son a loser clearly wasn’t outside the norm. Penn’s fist tightened, crumpling the paper sack noisily. “Healthwise, there’s a lot of things wrong with Ed. Everyone else sees those conditions as things that make him weak. I see them as the reasons he’s got such a big goddamn heart.” Penn stepped closer to Janet and took the glass from counter before she could drink it. “They’re Ed’s conditions, but you’re right, they do interfere with your life. You have to take the extra precautions and I bet that’s exhausting.” “Don’t you patronize me!” “I’m not. Honestly. I can’t imagine what you’ve had to sacrifice to protect him, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ed doesn’t get to be a kid.” Penn chugged the screwdriver and scowled at the aftertaste. He cleared his throat. “What I want is take him for the weekend so he can experience a sleepover, watch cheesy horror flicks, play too many video games, and eat a fuck-ton of red-and-green gummi worms with his friend the way regular kids get to. And you can go to the spa, or the mall, or a date, or at least to a liquor store with better vodka.” “You are one ballsy sonofabitch.” Janet huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Thank you for noticing, but let’s keep this professional.” Janet’s face slipped into a smile for a brief moment, then the serious, judgmental glare returned. “You want to know what’s in it for me?” Penn shrugged. “Ed’s the only person that’s ever seen anything good in me. I want to return the favor. I want to give him the experiences he should be having and as an extra bonus, I’m giving you the weekend off.” “He’s got school Monday.” Janet took the glass from Penn and jabbed the rim into his chest. “You have him home by seven Sunday night or you’ll be the one with medical conditions.” “Whoo-hoo!” Ed shouted from around the corner.
Ed climbed into the unmarked moving truck and clicked his seatbelt. Penn handed him the brown paper bag. “I don’t think your mom likes me,” he said. “To be fair, mom doesn’t get enough guests to know how to like people.” Ed uncurled the lip of the bag. “What’s this?” “A present, obviously.” “Presents don’t usually come in brown grocery bags, Penn.” Ed giggled and pulled out a black polo shirt. “Hey! It’s like yours.” “Exactly like mine,” Penn said as he tapped his own embroidered pocket. Ed found the chest pocket was identical and featured a stitched moving truck in green thread and gold letters surrounded it—Ed and Penn Moving Services. Ed reached into the bag once more and pulled out a lunchbox. He opened it and found a bag of gummi worms, a sandwich, two juice boxes, and a protein bar. Ed smiled sadly. “What’s wrong?” “I’m too weak to help you move things.” “People have little things to move.” Penn tussled Ed’s shaggy hair. “Besides, you don’t get stronger by not trying. I used to be scrawny.” “Really?” “Really. And look at me now.” Penn flexed, straining the sleeve of his shirt. “How do you think I got this strong?” “Because you had nothing to do but workout when you were in prison?” Ed answered chipperly. “That’s entirely true, and also not my point.” Penn pursed his lips. “Even if you can’t help with the physical part all the time, I’m going to need someone to help with all the business stuff. They don’t teach book keeping in the joint. And you have to help me paint the truck.” Ed sat up quickly. “Any color?” “Of course. Ready for our first job?” Penn held out his fist. Ed bumped his knuckles against Penn’s hand. “Absolutely, partner.”
Crumbs rolled down Ed’s shirt and joined the others in his lap while Penn lugged the mattress up the loading ramp and into the back of the truck. Penn was right and the couple had lots of little things for Ed to load. Still, he felt bad leaving the heaviest stuff to his friend. He shoved the rest of the sandwich into his mouth. “Is there more?” he asked between bites. “Yeah, but not much.” Penn pointed to one wall of the truck. “Think you can move those boxes over in front of the dresser? There’s a big curio cabinet and two footlockers that I think would be more stable there.” “Sure thing!” Dahlia patted Penn’s shoulder as he hopped out of the truck and rested her hands on the bumper. “You’re a good helper.” “Thanks,” Ed said. “You have a lot of cool old stuff.” Dahlia laughed. “Oh love, this isn’t ours. My grandfather was a bit of an adventurer once upon a time.” “That’s so cool!” Ed scooped up a box and set it on top of the dresser. “So, this is all his treasures?” “Some of it. After my grandmother passed away, Poppa Harp became a hermit and most of it just stayed here collecting dust. My daddy used to tell me all his stories. I’m sad to say I never got to meet the man, myself.” “That does kind of suck.” “Kind of.” Dahlia tugged at a violet braid and twisted it around her fingers. “Not knowing him means I get to hold onto the hope that some of the magic in those stories might actually be real.” “Oh, magic is very real.” Ed smiled knowingly. “Where is all of this going?” “I’m sending it all over to a colleague. They’re going to sort it and sell it for me.” “Why not keep it?” Dahlia laughed sweetly. “Oh, I’d love to, but there’s just too much of it. The hubby and I are moving to New York. We found us a cute little townhouse… the operative word, being little.” “That’s too bad.” Ed lifted an ornate bottle from one of the boxes. “This stuff is really nifty. I’d love to hear the stories about each one.” “Maybe you will, love. I’ve got a book deal with a big publisher up North. I’m going to write all about Poppa Harp and his adventures.” “I can’t wait to read them.” “I’ll send a signed copy to you and your dad,” Dahlia said with a smile. “Oh, Penn’s not my dad. He’s just my best friend.” Ed’s face soured. “By default.” Dahlia cocked her head. “How’s that?” “He’s my only friend, so I guess he has to be the best one.” Ed stared at the bottle in his tiny hands. “Well, now you got two, Ed.” Dahlia smiled at him. “I got to pack up a couple more boxes that I think would fit perfectly right where you’re working. I’ll be back in a tick.” Ed leaned on the dresser and turned the bottle in his hands carefully. Raised figures around the vessel were carved from the green glass itself. Ed stepped toward the back of the truck and viewed it in the sun. “Nifty,” he gasped as the glass changed to brilliant red in the direct light. Figures bound to one another formed an unending chain near the base of the bottle above a silver cap cut to resemble flames that engulfed them. A cutout figure towered over them with a staff in his hand and the neck of the bottle was shrouded in a silver sleeve with intricate engravings of stars over the man. On the opposite side of the bottle was another figure bound by a giant snake with a hood over his head. He turned the bottle upside and felt the weight shift. Then held it up to light to discover it was empty. He shook it again, feeling the invisible contents bouncing about. “No freakin’ way.” He rubbed his thumb over the constricting body of the serpent and tucked the bottle away in its box as he heard the dolly bounce off the front porch. “This is so cool.” It took another forty minutes to load the rest of the things and say goodbye to Dahlia and her husband. She got Penn’s mailing address to send the book like she said and tipped both of them in cash for their hard work. They were cruising down the backroads to avoid the rush hour traffic. Ed turned up the radio and bobbed in his seat to Iggy Pop’s ‘Butt Town.’ Penn laughed at the boy and threw up his horns before headbanging along with the music. Ed exploded with laughter. Neither of them was aware of the happenings in the back of the truck. They couldn’t hear the glass snake’s body fissuring or the tiny pieces falling away from the hooded figure now free of its reptilian restraints. They couldn’t smell the acrid, semi-sweet fumes spilling over the lip of the bottle as the building smoke forced the cork up. Penn checked the time on the dashboard clock and grunted. “What’s wrong?” Ed asked. “I was hoping we’d have this all dropped off before dark so we could go to the park and get those hotdogs you like so much for dinner.” “If I had helped more, we might have been done faster.” “Don’t do that. It’s not your fault. It’s our first gig, we’ll get faster.” He shrugged. “Besides, there’s a place nearby that has huge coneys with every topping imaginable.” “Like?” “They’ve got one call the Gut Buster where the dog is inside onion rings in a cheese toasted bun and drowned in chili.” “Sweet! I think I’ll have two of those.” They both laughed. “Can we go to the mall?” Ed rubbed Dahlia’s twenty-dollar tip between his fingers. “Sure, we can do whatever you want, kid.” He squeezed Ed’s shoulder reassuringly. “But I thought you didn’t like the mall.” “I’ll take an extra anxiety pill.” Ed hung his head. “I want to find mom a perfume I’m not allergic to.” Something thumped in the back of the truck. “Shit.” Penn slapped the steering wheel. “I forgot to strap the mattress down.” Penn pulled over and unbuckled. Ed’s eyes grew wide as he realized the source. “Don’t go, Penn. It’s not much further.” “It’ll only take a second, kid.” Penn winked and stepped out, skirting the side of the truck in case of passing cars. Ed clamored out of the truck and watched as Penn rolled the door up. Penn sniffed the air and fanned his hand in front of his face. “Why’s it smell like a fucking opium den?” he asked no one in particular. The ornate bottle clattered along the metal floor of the truck and rolled off the end. Penn caught it before he could hit the ground. He sighed and held it up for Ed to see. “The mattress must have knocked over a box. Probably some old timey cologne that stinks,” he said. “How many years have I been captive?” A set of glowing eyes shined in the darkness. Penn knelt next to Ed. “I thought magic had to have a battery.” “What do you think you’re holding?” Ed whispered. “What is the price of my emancipation, master?” The thing in the back of the truck’s voice was a rumbling hiss, like steam through rusted pipes. “What is owed of Babak?” “Master?” Penn looked at the bottle quizzically and snickered. “Is that what I think it is?” “Yes and no,” Ed gulped. The speaker came forward. His body adorned in a silk cloak with strands of gold that shimmered in the setting sun. Wrinkled hands curled at the ends of the flowing sleeves before reaching up and pulling the hood away from his face. A sweeping, gray mustache covered his entire lip and swept out in grandiose curls. “Do you free me without obligation?” Babak asked. “You’re a fucking genie!” Penn exclaimed. “An ifrit,” Ed corrected. “The master is learned,” Babak said. “Speak quickly. I have been gone too long.” “Not until you grant us three wishes, though,” Penn said. “The Law of Suleiman binds me to one.” Babak held up a single finger. “I am free of my glass prison and now bound only by the hesitation of the master’s words.” “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know how this turns out. I wish you were back in the bottle,” Penn said. “It was the boy who set me free. He must make the wish.” “Wish him back in the bottle, kid. It’s not worth the risk.” “I wish I wasn’t a burden,” Ed blurted. “Fuck!” Penn waved his hands in the air. “Nope. That doesn’t count. He’s just a kid. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” Babak twisted one side of his mustache and grin menacingly. “It is done.” Ed doubled over with a screech and collapsed to the gravel shoulder. Penn dropped to his knees and hugged him close. Ed’s fever was growing fast enough that Penn could feel the heat rising off him. “What the fuck did you do to him?” “He will be a burden no longer.” Babak shrugged. The ifrit burst into flames and flashed overhead, streaking upward and flying above the city like a comet. Penn lifted Ed and hurriedly put him in the cab of the truck, shut the back, and climbed behind the wheel. “Don’t worry, Ed.” Penn pulled onto the road in a wide u-turn across traffic. “I’m going to get you to the hospital and then I’m going to go beat the shit out of that genie.” “Ifrit,” Ed said weakly. “The hospital can’t help me.” “Hospitals can fix anything,” Penn lied. “The ifrit were created from the first flame in the universe.” “How do you know this shit?” “I read a lot.” “You should be reading Dr Seuss or something. Not… I don’t know.” Penn waved his hands. “Not whatever the hell you’re reading.” “Dad didn’t leave me any of those. He left me books on magic.” “I thought you said your dad was some scumbag talent agent.” “He left because he wasn’t my real dad. Mom had too much to drink and told me. It was my fault too.” “No, that doesn’t make it your fault. Your real dad is probably much cooler and that guy was just a chickenshit. Not the point right now.” Penn shook his head. “If not the hospital, then what do I do to save you?” “Get Babak to go into the bottle.” “Easy enough.” Penn grabbed his phone out of the console and pulled up the internet app. He steered with his wrists so he could type faster in the search bar. “Where are we going?” Ed wheezed. “He called the bottle a prison. Getting out of prison is something I know a lot about. When someone gets released, they want one thing.” “A woman?” “No!” Penn looked at Ed incredulously. “That’s the second thing. First comes real food. There’s only one place that serves Middle Eastern cuisine in this part of Oklahoma.” “Get him back in the bottle.” Ed broke into a coughing fit, spattering blood across the glovebox. He laid over and put his head on Penn’s leg. “It’s not your fault if you don’t save me, Penn.” Penn stroked Ed’s hair—strands came loose and clung to his fingers. He pressed the accelerator down to the floor.
The truck crashed through the front of Saffron Palace, sending patrons of the restaurant fleeing in all directions. Penn stepped out of the cab and slammed the door, pointing the bottle at Babak, who sat at his table completely unbothered by the destructive entrance. “You can get back in the bottle or I’m going to jam it up your ass,” Penn warned him. “You’ve worked so hard, please,” Babak gestured to the seat across from him, “join me for my first meal.” “I’m not asking.” Penn sat the vessel down. “You in the bottle, or the bottle in you.” Babak combed back his white hair and shook his head. “You cannot threaten me any more than a louse threatens a camel.” Penn slugged Babak square in the nose, shattering it and tipping him over in his chair. “I figure that magic lamp is like solitary confinement. The guys in solitary get soft. They can’t take a punch.” Penn kicked the ifrit in the ribs. “Now get in the fucking bong!” Babak’s mustache smoldered. The bittersweet smell of opium trailed from the glowing ends as he rose to his feet. Penn backed away slowly. The threads of Babak’s robes ignited and the garment fell away from his naked body as ash. Penn lifted a chair over his shoulder. Babak’s mouth stretched open until his jaw unhinged and continued to stretch wider still. His voice emanated from deep within him. “I am that which was created before all else. From the first flame, I took my life. You, child of the mud, are born in my shadow,” he said. “You suck at talking shit.” Penn lunged forward, swinging the chair at Babak’s face. A fiery cloud launched from Babak’s maw and engulfed the furniture. Penn let go and jumped back, gasping at the remains already scorched to a cinder between him and the ifrit. The creature laughed. Smoke oozed from his pores. Yellow-brown perspiration dripped from the wiry hairs of his broad chest. The glow returned to his eyes and his skin combusted. Babak clutched Penn’s arms, searing his flesh and tossing him effortlessly across the restaurant. The fiery figure stalked the room, leaving burning footprints in his wake. The ceiling tiles darkened overhead. Penn crawled under a table, only for a fireball to set it ablaze. He shot from beneath it and ran to the kitchen as more flaming orbs streaked past him and ignited the furnishings. Penn pulled his shirt over his head to examine his wounds. The creature’s handprints were black spots of charred flesh. “Jesus, I look like a fucking Whooper.” The plastic swinging doors melted into a puddle as the ifrit pushed through them. Babak turned slowly to face Penn. “Where is your bravado now, little louse?” he growled. “You know what the hardest thing about getting out of prison is?” Penn asked, looking around the kitchen for a weapon. He grabbed a large, curved knife and pointed it at Babak. “Enlighten me.” The ifrit touched the point of the knife. The blade glowed intensely until the tang cooked through the handle and Penn tossed it aside with a shriek. He continued moving away from the walking inferno. “The hardest part is knowing the whole fucking world went on without you. Everyone lived their lives, moved on and did their own thing.” The creature paused and cocked its head. “This is true.” “Everything changes when you’re locked up. No one gives a shit that you’re gone and the world isn’t the same when you come back. So much shit has been invented that you can’t keep up. Bet you never even heard of ANSUL.” Penn grabbed a pot and slung the boiling oil at the ifrit. The liquid flared to life, burning everything in its path. Secondary fires flashed around the kitchen. Babak’s laughter boomed. He stepped toward Penn and raised an accusatory finger. A gout of flame speared outward and contorted into a flaming sword that stopped inches from Penn’s face. Then the ANSUL fire suppression system engaged. First came the high-pressure blast of chemicals that extinguished everything, followed by the blanket of heavy foam that knocked both combatants to the floor. Penn pushed himself up and slipped about until he got his footing. He spat the non-toxic, but non-tasty, foam from his mouth. Babak sobbed on the floor in a quivering mass beneath the white, sudsy blanket. His flesh was charred from the fire-suppressing agents. “Let’s get you back in the bottle.” Penn grabbed Babak’s arms and the burnt flesh stripped away in his hands. “Eww!” The ifrit curled into a fetal position as his cooling skin crumbled and broke away leaving a human-shaped briquette on the floor. “Fuck!” Penn kicked the corpse and it shattered into soggy ash. “You weren’t supposed to die. I need you to fix Ed!” Something stirred among the debris that used to be Babak’s ribcage. “What the shit?” Penn knelt to inspect the movement. He dug his fingers through the slog, revealing a green, fist-sized, orb stretching open within the ifrit’s body. The red poppy petals pushed through and twisted open. The petals shuddered and the oversized flower moved shakily across the ravaged organs beneath it. Penn touched the petals. The flower twisted violently and the four, vice-like fangs buried deep into Penn’s hand. He jumped back, howling in pain. The fake flower lost petals as Penn shook his arm violently, revealing the creature whose back it grew on. Its spindly legs fought for purchase as it was slung back and forth. Penn banged it against a counter top, freeing himself from its bite—at a cost. He grimaced at the exposed bone before reaching for towel to wrap around the wound. A cowering cook ran past Penn and into the wrecked dining room. Penn ignored him and followed the monster’s tracks through the foam and out the service entrance to the alley beyond. He groaned. The overhead lights left pools of piss-yellow light between the restaurant and the neighboring building. “Come out, Babak,” he called. The ifrit did not oblige. Thin digits caressed Penn’s bare shoulder and squeezed the tense muscles sending a ripple of goosebumps up his spine as he whirled around. The creature wasn’t there. Just the cook. The diminutive Iranian man glared at Penn from behind thick lenses that occupied entirely too much of his dark face. The man held up the magic bottle. “You forgot this,” he said softly. “It seems to be missing the cork.” “Shit. I hadn’t thought of that.” Penn took the bottle. The man reached into his white smock and produced a cork of his own. He held it up, showing Penn the burned in hexagram on its wide top. “I think you’ll find this one fits perfectly.” The man scampered away. “The fuck am I supposed to do with the bottle?” The cook stopped at the door. “Put the ifrit back inside. Do you know nothing?” “As a matter of fact, I don’t.” The cook rolled his eyes and sighed. “Ifrits don’t like light. Flush it out, nail it to the earth, invoke the name of Suleiman and return it to its vessel at once to undo any wish it has granted. It is not that difficult.” The man disappeared inside and slammed the door. Penn’s shoulders sagged. He put the cork between his teeth and pulled out his phone, flipping on the flashlight. “Okay. I got light and a bottle. Where do I get nails? I don’t see a hardware sto—ooh! Motherfucker!” Penn cast the light down and found the source of the sudden pain. He lifted his foot and, with it, the broken slat of a pallet. He slid down the brick wall and pried the board loose. The rusted nails squeaked as they passed through the rubber sole of his boot. “Oh good, now I have nails.” He panned the light around. Nothing moved. He tilted the phone under the dumpster beside him. The monster screeched and lunged from its cover, attacking the phone, and knocking it to the ground. It scurried away and Penn crawled after it until he could get his feet under him and run. The thing’s ten legs carried it much faster than Penn could hobble. It cleared the alley and found itself in the glare of a streetlight. The ifrit screamed again and bolted around the building. Penn rounded the corner and searched for the thing. Then he saw the back of his truck sticking out of the side of the building. Ed was slumped against the tires—his clothes saturated with sweat and his face void of color except for the explosion of freckles. A clump of hair blew away from his head on the breeze. Bloody spittle dripped down his chin as his body spasmed with weak hacks. Penn slid to the ground beside him. He hugged the boy and stroked his cheek. The fever was gone, but Ed’s skin was deathly cold in its wake. “Come on, kid. You saved me. Stay alive long enough to let me pay you back.” “It’s okay,” Ed moaned. “At least I’m with my friend.” Penn wept as the boy fell limp against him. The ifrit shimmied out from under the truck and stared at the two humans with its beady, red eyes. Its fangs spread in a clicking-hiss that sounded like perverse laughter. The monster moved forward slowly, crawling across Ed’s wilted form. It watched Penn cry, but the man didn’t move. Babak took tentative steps onto his thigh and then stood tall and repeated the evil cackling. “What’d you call me, Kazaam?” Penn sniffled. He wiped his nose on the back of his hand, still clutching the broken board. “A ‘child of the mud,’ wasn’t that it?” Babak blinked each of his six eyes. “Guess that makes me part of the earth.” The board met Penn’s thigh with a sharp, wet smack. Babak squealed beneath the wood, with the nails pinning him in place. Penn pressed the board down harder and spat the cork into his free hand. He placed the hexagram against Babak’s face. Smoke roiled at the contact of the divine symbol and infernal flesh. “In Suleiman’s name, get the fuck in the bottle.” The creature’s flesh vibrated, shifted, and burst into a cloud of brackish smoke that swirled down the neck of the ornate glass vessel. Penn stuffed the cork into the top, sealing the ifrit within. His head thumped against the tire and he hugged Ed close. “I’m sorry I was late, kid.”
Janet adjusted the flowers in their vases. Her hands shook as much from stress and heartache as from the lack of a drink. She hadn’t had a drop since Penn returned without her son. She wouldn’t touch it ever again. Ed only ever had one friend, but the flowers seemed to come from everywhere. Even some lady in New York sent some. It seemed all the time Janet spent in a bottle, her son spent touching the lives of others. None of them were his friends. Just Penn. The rest sent cards explaining how Ed helped them. How the words and smile he shared touched them. She reread the cards and broke down in tears again. Penn placed a hand on her shoulder. She slapped it away. “I never knew what he was doing when I’d send him away,” she said, holding up the cards. Penn took them and flipped through the stack. He’d read all of them several times. “Ed told me magic is just a toy without a battery.” He set the cards next to the flowers and took a bag of gummi worms from his pocket. He’d picked all the other colors out to leave only Ed’s favorite red-and-green ones. He put one between his teeth and slurped it up before offering them to Janet. She smiled softly and plucked one from the bag. “What’s that even mean?” she asked. “Ed shared his magic with people that needed it. He got that from somewhere. Maybe you fucked up in how you showed it, but you still loved him or you wouldn’t be crying in a bag of gummi worms with me. That was the battery to his magic… love.” “They still don’t know what happened,” Janet said. “Severe allergic reaction,” a small, Middle Eastern man said from behind oversized glasses. He stepped into the room and slapped the iPad against his palm. “Possibly something found in the secondhand moving blankets inside Mister Pennington’s truck.” “Pennington?” Janet glanced up at Penn. Penn pointed at the man. “You’re the cook.” “Obviously not, since I am clearly the doctor.” He nodded happily. “And you are Casper Marion Pennington, are you not?” “Wow. Your parents hated you,” Janet said. “Yeah.” Penn pinched the bridge of his nose. “I am.” “You should be more careful of the things you allow a boy to play with,” the doctor scolded him. Ed turned away from the harsh glare of the overhead fluorescents with a groan. “Mom? Penn?” “About damn time you woke up, kid.” Penn rubbed Ed’s shaved head. “How are you feeling?” “Like I was in a car crash.” The doctor cleared his throat. Penn squinted at him then turned his attention back to Ed. Janet shoved him out of the way and snuggled her son. Penn sat on the corner of the bed and dug in his pocket with a groan. The skin grafts were tight and pinched. Ed pushed his mother’s hair out of his face. “Mom, you’re smothering me.” “I’m sorry, baby.” She kissed his cheek. “For so much.” Penn put his hand on her shoulder again and this time she let it stay. “Good thing you woke up when you did,” Penn said. “Why’s that?” Ed asked as excitedly as the recently resuscitated could. “Because you almost missed the coolest, most fun holiday there is.” He handed Ed a narrow box with a ribbon around it. Ed opened the box and smiled, holding up the prize inside. “I can’t believe I forgot.” “That’s right kid, it’s National Kazoo Day.” The End
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