After the cartoon, they walked to the school. He watched as his sister gazed into the trees. It took a few moments before she got excited and began jumping with joy. She could see the bird men and everything they were doing. Alex looked but saw nothing.
“Absolutely!” his sister said.
“Absolutely what?” Alex asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” she said.
“Why can’t I see them?” Alex asked.
“Because, you made a wish, stupid.”
“Well, tell me. What are they doing? —What are they saying? Can they bring dad back?”
“Dad? He’s been gone for years. He would be like a zombie or something undead now. Gross. I won’t—do that!”
“Dad was alive a few months ago. Before I made the wish.”
“Ha,” she said. “Don’t joke about Dad.”
“I’m not,” he said as he watched his sister shake her head from left to right.
“No! —It’s not true!” she screamed.
Before Alex could even ask her another question, the bird men seemed to tell her something. She nodded in agreement, just as a fist connected with his chin.
Liz had hit him harder than he ever imagined. She was a small girl compared to him. But she was a small girl who could pack a punch. The connection brought Alex to the ground. His chin was throbbing from the impact.
“Dad?” she said.
“I told you,” Alex cried.
“They told me the only way to have a wish is to have a feather fall on you. You had a feather fall on you! You asked for money at any expense? You knew there would be consequences.”
“Yes,” Alex said, as he rubbed his chin.
Liz continued to nod.
“They say there is one way to reverse the wish.”
“I’ll do anything, Liz.”
“You better. You need to sit down, right here,” she said as she pointed at the base of a tree.
“Ok,” Alex said as he sat down.
“We need to give this a shot. Just you and him. I must step away while you make this right. Make it right!”
Alex waited at the base of the tree. It got dark soon, and he could no longer see the light through the trees.
“It’s pretty dark, isn’t it?” the familiar voice said.
“Yes, it’s me, Leroy. Let’s see if we can fix this mess. Your father died because of your wish.”
“Ok, so how do we fix this?”
Leroy’s voice carried loudly in the wind.
“You wished your own father out of existence because you wanted money. That— is a fact. You can bring your father back, but you have to do exactly as I say.”
“I did not wish my dad harm. I only wished for money.”
“You wished for money at any expense. And I warned you,” Leroy said.
“Close your eyes for a moment. You will still be able to hear me, but I doubt I can get you to see me again. You lost that ability when you made the wish.”
“What do I do next?” Alex asked.
“Open your eyes. You may see me now. Probably not as well as before,” Leroy said.
Alex opened his eyes and saw the outline of the surrounding trees.
“I don’t see you, Leroy.”
“Don’t worry about that.—I need you to climb the tree in front of you. Somewhere close to the top, there will be a small berry. That berry contains your wish, and if you eat it, your wish will be reversed. But, just like when you wished for the first time, there can be consequences. Your father will be home, and your family will be unharmed. What could be worse than what happened the first time?”
“Nothing. I cannot lose my dad this way.”
“You are a brave young man, Alex.” Leroy said.
“Ok, do I climb now?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” Leroy said.
Alex climbed the tree. He thought it was going to be harder, but he kept moving one foot higher than the other, finding whatever footholds and grips he could feel in the grooves and on the sturdier branches. He pulled himself to the top of the tree for his father. The top of the tree bent a little under his weight. He felt like the top could snap at any minute. But he had made it. He was at the top.
At the top, there was a bright red berry that glowed like a little light bulb. Without even thinking, he popped it into his mouth and began chewing it.
It’s sweet and kind of tangy. Not too bad, he thought to himself.
He scurried down the tree, faster than he had come up. Leroy was waiting for him at the bottom. Alex could finally see him.
“You did it, I’m so proud of you,” Leroy said.
“So, my dad will be back?”
“Of course, he will. Why don’t you go tell your sister what you’ve done? She’s waiting over by the school steps.”
Alex walked out of the forest and saw his sister waiting exactly where Leroy said she would be.
“I did it,” he said. “I brought dad back from the dead.”
“My gosh, I didn’t know where you went. You left me and went into the trees. And dad? He is fine.”
“I fixed it!” Alex screamed in excitement.
“You fixed what, Alex?”
“Of course, he is alive, Alex. We really need to get home. It’s getting really late.”
“Ok,” Alex said as he held his sister’s hand and walked to their new home.
When he arrived, he saw his dad and mom waiting on the front porch.
“Liz, where have you been?” Dad asked.
“Alex, I went to find Alex.”
“Liz, quit doing this,” Mom said.
“What? Alex is here with me now,” Liz said.
“Alex disappeared years ago. He vanished into the forest by our old house. We haven’t seen him since—well, forever. The sooner you accept it…” Mom said.
“But he is right here. I’m holding his hand,” she said.
“I’m right here Mom, Dad!” Alex cried.
But there was no response.
“He just said it, Mom. You didn’t hear him?” Liz said.
“We know it’s tough on you, Liz, but he is missing. We don’t have to give up hope, but he is not here,” Dad said.
Scared and confused, Alex went into the house with Liz. She was the only one who could see him.
“Don’t talk about me out loud, Liz. They will think you are crazy, but you’re not. I’m really here.”
“I know,” she said.
“Maybe I should talk to Leroy?” Alex said.
“Who’s Leroy, Alex?”
“You have met Leroy. The man with the beak, like a bird.”
“Alex, you are going crazy,” Liz said.
“Well, no one can see me. According to Mom and Dad, you are the crazy one.”
“What’s going on Alex?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
Alex opened doors, looking for his room. His mom and dad were getting scared. Hearing all the doors slam was not something they were used to.
“Don’t worry, Mom, it’s just Alex,” Liz smiled.
His room was nowhere. His parents did not keep any of his things, even his baseball glove. So, he walked out the front door and went back to the school. He had to find Leroy.
When he arrived, he saw all the bird men pecking away in the trees.
“You’re back, Alex. We missed you so much,” Leroy said.
“What did you learn? Is your family back together?”
“Yes, they are. But they can’t see me. I mean my sister can, but no one else.”
“But your family is back together?”
“Yeah,” Alex said as he had a strange craving for berries.
“Why don’t you join us, Alex. Plenty of food for everyone!” Leroy said.
“I could sure eat a berry or two—or three,” Alex said.
“Hey guys!” Leroy shouted. “He’s hungry. Alex will feast with us tonight.”
“Thank you,” Alex said. “But later I have to go back to my family. Maybe my mom and dad will see me the next time.”
Leroy nodded and pointed at a bowl full of berries and nuts at the bottom of a tree.
“Enjoy,” he said.
Alex ate the whole bowl of berries and nuts. They weren’t his favorite, but they were growing on him. And better yet, his dad was alive. He smiled, thinking about bringing his dad back to the family.
After he ate, he walked back to the house. He focused and wanted so badly for his mom and dad to recognize him. When he arrived, the doors were all locked. This forced him to climb in through a bedroom window. The window with all the princess stuff. It had to be his sister’s room.
And he was right.
“Alex?” she said.
“Liz. Do you think Mom and Dad can see me now?”
“I don’t know Alex. I can see you. Why don’t you sleep on the floor in here? In the morning, we will go downstairs and see if Mom and Dad can see you?”
“I guess,” Alex said.
“Let’s not talk. It’s probably not a good thing if Mom and Dad hear me speaking to myself again,” she said.
Alex nodded and curled up into a ball on the bedroom floor.
He barely slept. It seemed like moments until the sun was shining through Liz’s window. She was snoring, and Alex didn’t want to wake her.
He walked a few steps across the room to Liz’s bathroom. Alex sat down to use her toilet and even flushed it. He stood up and went to her sink to wash his hands, splashed some water on his face, and looked down at his hands. He felt the cool water run over his fingers.
“Alex?” Liz said.
Alex looked up to see Liz staring at him in the mirror. His eyes fixated on a big yellow beak where his nose and mouth should be.
“What? Liz?” Alex cried.
“You can’t see Mom and Dad like that, Alex,” Liz said.
“I don’t think they can see me anyway, Liz! I’m—hideous. I have a beak like Leroy.”
“I don’t know who you are talking about, Alex.”
“You talked to Leroy seconds before I brought Dad back. I need you to go with me to the forest by the school.”
“No need for that,” a familiar voice said from behind him.
“Leroy!” Alex yelled as he went over to hug him.
“How do I reverse this?”
“Reverse this?” Leroy laughed. “You already reversed your wish. Your family is together. Now you have to pay your dues.”
“Yes, Alex. You are one of us now. Soon your sister won’t even be able to see you.”
“Alex? Who’s this guy with a beak?”
“We’ve met before, Liz,” Leroy said. “It doesn’t matter who I am. None of us remember who we were before, Alex. It fades away. We get houses, jobs, families of our own. Just a big, happy, bird family. Why don’t you say one last goodbye to your sister?”
“Liz,” Alex said.
“Who are you? What are you? Get out of my room!” Liz screamed in horror.
Mom and Dad came in.
“What are you yelling about, Liz?” Mom asked.
“Bird men!” she screamed and pointed at Alex and Leroy.
“Lizzie, you have a really overactive imagination. Why don’t we all sit down, and you take your medicine? Honey, go get her medicine,” her mom said to her dad.
Her dad exited for a moment and came back with a glass of water and a little cup with two pills in it.
Alex could not understand why he and his friend Leroy were standing in a little girl’s bedroom. These people were strangers who couldn’t even see him, and they thought the little girl was crazy because she could. His only memory was of Leroy and the bird men now. He looked at Leroy and followed him out the window and to the edge of a lawn. There, Alex found a bowl of berries and nuts. He picked up the bowl and started eating. The berries were so sweet, and that’s all that mattered in the entire world.
Copyright © 2021 by Ryan Barnard-Stoker