Here’s a short story I wrote based on a prompt from a free story site. Prompt 151: Everyone is always saying that if they could change just one thing, everything in their life would be perfect. The opportunity came, only instead of better, your life became so much worse. What did you try to change and why?
A voice called softly to me, “Richard.”
I ignored the voice. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to sleep and forget.
“Richard,” the voice called again, and again I ignored it.
I turned over on my side, putting my back to the voice. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, trying not to let the images back in. The images only brought pain and tears.
“Richard, look at me. I can make your pain go away.”
Anger poured over me, through me, and I sat up. I turned to face the voice, fully intending to rip him a new asshole, because nothing, nothing would make the pain go away.
My angry retort died in my throat as I looked up into the most beautiful face I had ever seen. The face was a little angular with a strong jaw, full lips, and deep brown eyes. It was a face I thought I would never see again outside of my nightmares.
“Perrin! Is it really you?” My voice was soft, awestruck.
Perrin smiled, and my heart flipped. Oh God, I’ve missed that smile. “Yes, Richard, it’s me.”
“Oh Perrin! I’ve missed you so much!” I said. I threw myself at him, and he caught me in his big, strong arms, just as he used to do before he—“But how–you’re dead!” I blurted, pulling away slightly.
“Yes, I am dead, my sweet Richard.”
He leaned in and kissed my lips softly. My eyes fluttered closed, but before I could respond to the kiss, he was nudging me to sit back down. I sat.
“Richard, I’ve come to offer you a gift.”
My heart skipped a beat. Was he going to offer to come back to me, to the land of the living? That’s impossible though, isn’t it? Okay, if I were to be honest, the very fact that my dead husband was standing before me was impossible, or so I thought. My heart in my throat, I finally asked, “What gift?”
“It is a rare gift, one that should be used with great caution and a lot of thought.”
“Perrin, what is it?”
He hesitated, and I saw the struggle in his eyes. He didn’t like this gift, and he didn’t like being the one to give it. This realization made me leery.
“Your gift is a do-over. You get to go back in time and change one thing from your past. However–“
“But that’s great!” I said, my heart suddenly racing at the implications. I could have my husband back, alive and well! I could go back and choose to take a different route home, or stay a little longer at the restaurant, or something. I could totally avoid the accident that killed Perrin three months ago, but left me without a scratch.
“However,” Perrin said, breaking into my musings, “once you have changed your destiny, it cannot be changed again, and it cannot be undone. You will have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life, whatever they may be. And Richard? The consequences are very rarely good.”
“I don’t care,” I said. I would not be talked out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I accept the gift. I want to go back and change that night. I want to take a different route home.”
Perrin smiled sadly at me. “I knew you would want to do this. I am forbidden to encourage you either way, so if this is what you really want, close your eyes and think back to that night.”
I closed my eyes and allowed myself to remember that night for the first time. Perrin and I had dropped Will and Sam off at my brother’s house so we could have a much needed night alone. We loved our sons to death, but at ages two and four respectfully, Will and Sam were a handful.
I heard my brother laughing as Perrin said something to him. The laughter sounded close, much closer and much more real than a memory. I felt the cold against my skin, and the scent of cinnamon rolls wafted out into the night.
I opened my eyes, and I was both delighted and amazed to see not the inside of my bedroom; instead, I saw Perrin talking to my brother, Will snuggled up into his chest. I smiled, my heart aching at the beautiful sight of my husband and our child.
I was really back to that fateful night.
“Come on, Per,” I said. As much as I loved looking at him, I wanted to hurry up and leave so I could be with him again, alone. I’d missed him so much.
Perrin turned to look at me, flashing me his mega-watt smile. He handed Will off to my brother, and then we were off. Perrin drove us to the restaurant, navigating the icy streets with ease. I watched him the entire way there, hardly able to turn away, so afraid was I of him disappearing.
Dinner passed quickly, with lots of laughs and flirting. It was fun, and I was finally able to relax, at least until it was time to leave.
I drove us home carefully, taking different streets than I had the first go-round. I was tense and silent until I finally pulled into the drive. Letting out a sigh of relief, I cut the engine and got out.
We had a wonderful night in which I convinced myself that everything was finally okay. We had avoided the accident, so I could relax.
We picked the boys up the next day and took them to the park. Everything was fine at first. The boys were having a snowball fight while Perrin and I sat on a frozen bench and talked. We talked for a good half an hour, glancing up at the boys every few minutes, when we finally decided it was time to get them inside. It was getting colder, and the wind was picking up.
We went to a fast food restaurant for lunch, and then headed home. Will and Sam settled in front of the television with a pillow and blanket for some cartoons and a nap. Perrin sat on the couch with a word search book, and I sat at the other end of the couch, rubbing his feet. It was a nice, stress-free day.
Dinner was full of laughter, and bedtime came too soon.
“Daddy, I don’t wanna go to bed,” Sam said petulantly. “I’m a big boy now. I don’t need a bedtime.”
I grinned down at him. “Does that mean you don’t want Papa to read Harry Potter to you anymore?”
His big brown eyes, so like his father’s, widened. “I’ll go to bed!” he said.
I tucked him into bed, and then sat next to him, Perrin doing the same with Will, and then Perrin began to read, his deep voice changing for each character.
“Daddy,” Sam said as he entered the kitchen. “Will don’t feel good.”
“Okay, buddy. Come eat your cereal with Papa while I go check on him.” I kissed his forehead and left the kitchen.
I made a quick stop at the bathroom for the thermometer, and then headed for the boys’ room. Will was still in bed, and even though he was under a warm comforter, he was shivering. That didn’t bode well.
“Hey, little man,” I said softly as I sat down on the edge of the bed next to him. “I hear you don’t feel good.”
He opened his eyes, and my heart melted. Will looked just like me with his blond hair and blue eyes. I gently brushed a strand of his hair off his face. His skin felt warm, too warm.
“Will, I’m going to take your temperature now, so I need you to give me your ear be very still, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” Will said, his voice soft and groggy.
He turned onto his side so I could get to his ear and held still. I placed the ear thermometer, and soon I had his temperature. I frowned and took it again, my heart beating faster. When the reading turned out to be the same as the first time, my frown deepened.
“My thwoat hurts, and I hurt all over.” Will’s voice was so quiet; I had to lean in to hear him.
I leaned down and kissed his forehead, my heart aching at how hot his skin was. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to call the doctor.”
Out in the hall, I took out my cell phone and called the pediatrician. The receptionist connected me to the doctor.
“Dr. Pierce,” he said.
“Dr. Pierce, this is Richard Gilman. I’m calling because…”
Fifteen minutes later, we were all in the car on our way to the hospital. As Perrin turned onto High Street, I glanced back behind him. Will was strapped in his car seat with a blanket wrapped around him. He was asleep.
“He’ll be okay,” Perrin said quietly.
I flashed him a grateful smile. “I know he will be. I just can’t help worrying.”
“You know, we should—“
“Perrin, look out!” I yelled right before an SUV slammed into us, the sound of metal on metal grating on my ears. Just before everything went black, I heard a scream.
Numb. That’s how I felt as I stood near the graves, surrounded by friends and family as they laid my husband and our son to rest. The preacher’s words were lost on me, and I barely felt Sam clinging to me.
Some of the numbness began wearing off as the coffins were lowered into the cold ground, and I couldn't stop the wave of guilt from washing over me. I had been warned that there would be consequences to this “gift”, consequences that were so rarely ever good, but I wanted my husband back; I didn't care about the consequences.
Now, as I picked up Sam and clung to him, I cared. My selfish decision had taken my husband away from me again, only this time, one of my sons was also taken from me.
I fell to my knees and, still clinging to Sam, I cried. I cried, and I hoped to God that nobody else would be foolish enough to accept such a “gift”.