It had been yet another in a seemingly endless series of monotonous days, a day just like every other boring day of late, and Stephen had become frustrated beyond his ability to reason. He had had enough of walking about aimlessly with no destination, plan, rhyme, or reason. Was this truly to be how he would spend the rest of his natural life? He felt as if he might lose his mind and scream with insanity just thinking about how miserable his life had become. It consisted of the same old tiring routines day after day, week after week, for low these many years.
This was all the more frustrating because Stephen knew he had enough money to completely control every aspect of his life, much more so than most people. Nonetheless, he continued to trudge along with the same mundane daily routine without deviation. Although Stephen hated his life, he did nothing to try to change it because he knew it was of his own making, and emotionally, he could no longer change anything. An outside observer might say he had everything, but Stephen knew, in reality, he had nothing, at least nothing that mattered to him any longer.
Stephen had fallen into an exceptionally deep pit of depression, having no idea how he might dig himself out and no longer caring if he ever did. He had been depressed several times over the years, but it seemed much worse this time. The creeping bouts of malaise had slowly begun several years earlier, shortly after it had all happened after his pitifully bad luck had done an abrupt about-face, that is to say, at least from an economic standpoint.
Now Stephen had the kind of financial good fortune most people only dreamed of. He had never even imagined having such vast amounts of money. However, he knew if he could be granted just one wish, that is to say, one more wish, it would be for everything to return to the way it had once been, and all of what he now possessed would simply go away. But Stephen knew there would be no more wishes for him; those days were long gone. If he were going to find a way out of this miserable pit of despair, he would have to do so of his own volition.
However, Stephen understood that he had to come up with some means to put some sort of distraction or excitement into his life; something new; something to stimulate him; even if that was out of his control and potentially dangerous. He needed to find some activity that might alter his normal mind-numbing practices, any sort of change whatsoever.
Stephen no longer worried about death or injury; his luck was much too good to allow something as trivial as physical injury to occur. He had tried all of the most hazardous activities he could think of, from mountain climbing to sky diving, to bungee jumping to walking down a dark alley with one-hundred-dollar bills hanging out of his pockets, but he realized his good luck would not allow him to be hurt.
During one of his past bouts of depression, he had considered trying to commit suicide, but he instinctively knew no matter how hard he tried, he would never succeed; his good fortune simply would not permit it. He was destined to live a long and healthy life of great wealth, a life he no longer wanted.
As he stepped onto his enormous mansion’s elaborate brick and stone porch, Stephen thought about all he had acquired and lost and how foolish and naïve he had been. God, he missed his wife and daughter so much, and no matter how much money or good fortune came his way, it would never even begin to make up for their loss.
He inserted his key into the lock on the finely hand-crafted front door and, with a click, walked into the darkened hallway. He switched on the overhead hall light, which simultaneously turned on a small lamp on the oak hall table. He knew he should have put the table lamp on a timer, but Stephen had no interest in bothering with such things. The dense mist of apathy that had taken over his psyche like a creeping fog of malcontent was most likely responsible. It could also have been that he simply found technology to be more of an annoyance than a benefit. This was also why he could enter the home without hearing the blaring of an alarm system in desperate need of resetting. He didn’t feel like dealing with the hassles of owning such devices. Besides, he knew he had nothing to worry about from any living being, including himself.
Stephen casually approached the hall table and placed the large grocery bag he was carrying on top of the table, then reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a wrinkled lottery ticket, and laid it next to the bag. He took off his coat and hung it in the hall closet, deciding to walk down the hall, past the living room, and out to his kitchen. Perhaps he could make himself something exciting for dinner. Stephen was not much of a cook, but maybe the distraction might be good. He knew he could simply select any one of hundreds of phone numbers in his smartphone, and he would be able to order whatever he wanted from wherever he chose anytime, day or night. If he so desired, Stephen could hop on a plane and fly to France, Italy, or even China simply to have an interesting meal. His vast stores of money no longer meant anything to him, as neither did life itself.
“I think that’s about far enough.” Stephen heard a gruff voice say from inside the living room as he attempted to pass by the wide-arched opening. He looked up and saw a trace of shadowed movement from deep within the darkness. A few seconds later, he caught a glimpse of two dark eyes reflected in the light from the hall, along with a flash of something metallic located approximately waist high.
“A gun.” Stephen thought. “There’s an intruder in my home, and he has a gun.” Yet he remained surprisingly calm as if the sight of a weapon pointed in his direction was a daily occurrence, which of course, it was not.
It was just that Stephen had realized the intruder, who, although intent on something nefarious, might prove to be exactly what he was looking for; the answer to his unending plight. He tried to see back in the gloom to determine what the prowler might look like but could only see the man’s pale extended hand, the one holding a very menacing-looking pistol.
“You know.” The mysterious stranger said. “Owning a house like this and not bothering to install a security system is pretty damn stupid, in my opinion.”
Stephen didn’t reply but stood staring into the darkness. The intruder continued. “I could have simply come up behind you and slit your fool throat if I was so inclined. You are either extremely naïve or very stupid. If you hadn’t come home just now, I had every intention of robbing you blind. Oh, and for the record, I still plan to do just that.” Then the robber was suddenly caught off guard when, instead of appearing terrified, Stephen shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t care one way or the other. Stephen stood quietly for a few more moments before shaking his head as if disbelieving the strange situation he now found himself in. And then, to make matters worse, Stephen chuckled aloud, apparently unable to control himself.
“I don’t see what you find so funny.” The stranger said with rising indignation and a significant amount of confusion. “In case you haven’t noticed, I have a gun here, Einstein, and that means I hold your life in my hands and can end it at any time I choose with the simple pull of this trigger.” Stephen was perfectly aware of the severity of his situation, but the intruder didn’t realize that this entire situation was exactly what Stephen had found so oddly amusing.
After a few more moments of silence, Stephen finally decided to speak up and said with surprising calm, “Yes, I see your gun. And yes, I can also see it’s pointed directly at me. But I think I need to let you in on a little secret. If you truly believe you hold my life in your hands, then you are sadly mistaken, my friend, because you do not. However, if it makes you happy to believe in such fairy tales, then go right ahead and shoot.” Then Stephen waited for a beat expecting to hear the crack of gunfire, feigning nonchalance while hoping against hope that his amazing luck would suddenly fail him, he would be shot, and finally, he could once again be reunited with his family. But there was no gunshot.
Although Stephen couldn’t see the man’s face, he was certain he must have worn an expression of utter astonishment at this last audacious statement. After all, what sort of madman would boldly suggest to someone pointing a gun at him that the attacker should pull the trigger? But Stephen knew things, many things which the intruder did not. And even without that knowledge, Stephen was fairly certain the man was not even an experience burglar and certain by the man’s actions so far, he was not a murderer by nature. Had the intruder been so inclined, he would have already knocked Stephen unconscious or killed him rather than stopping him and issuing what Stephen was certain was an idle threat.
“No, I didn’t think so. I don’t believe you’re a killer, my new mysterious friend.” Stephen said, now standing in a surprisingly relaxed pose as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
“Look, buddy. The man replied nervously, growing more nervous, “I’m not your friggin’ friend. And maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m not a killer; at least I may not have been a killer when I walked in here, but that don’t mean I can’t become one.” Although the man was still hidden in the shadows, Stephen could see by the way the gun was fidgeting in the reflective light that the man was getting anxious and uncomfortable. “Look… I’m a very desperate man… and desperate men have been known to do things they might not normally consider… especially if they are pushed too far. And for your information, you are beginning to push me too far.”
Stephen said, “Although you may not believe it, I honestly do know where you’re coming from, and I understand your situation completely.”
The man menacingly waved his gun and replied with frustration, “Understand? Understand? How in the hell could you possibly understand what I’m going through? Look at this place. It’s a mansion, a friggin’ palace. You’re obviously filthy rich, and you want for nothing, while every day for me is a struggle just to try to survive.”
Stephen insisted, “Look, despite outward appearances, I understand more than you realize. And I can empathize with you. Please, allow me to help you. Just tell me what happened to you to drive you to this. And considering that you plan on robbing me anyway and have already threatened my life once, I think you owe me that much. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“What? Agree? Are you insane? I don’t owe you a damned thing.” The man shouted, “I’m here to take your money, and that’s all you need to know. That, and the fact that if you don’t tell me where you have hidden your cash, I’m gonna splatter your guts all over the wall.” He lifted the gun shakily and shouted, “And don’t think for one second that I won’t do it either!”
Stephen tried again to reason with the man using a calm voice, “Easy now, my friend. I intend to give you everything you want, possibly even more than you anticipated. All right? For starters, why don’t you come over here and look in this grocery bag? You can have everything inside if you want it. Go ahead. Take a look. It’s all yours.”
“What? Groceries?” The man screamed. “I’m not here to beg for food, you idiot, and I’m not looking for your charity either. I am here to rob you… R. O. B. Rob! So, give me your money. NOW!”
“Well then,” Stephen replied, still sounding strangely calm. “Then take a look inside the bag, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Furiously, the man waved his gun, ordering Stephen to step aside. Then forgetting himself, the robber stepped out from the shadows, and Stephen got a good look at him for the first time. He was a tall, thin, relatively good-looking man with dark hair and surprisingly intelligent eyes. Stephen had expected a thug or, at the very least, some sort of street-smart tough guy. But what he saw before him was someone who was very much like he had once been. The man was inexperienced in his newly chosen profession. Stephen was suddenly excited at the potential the man offered him. This man really could be the answer to all of his prayers.
Keeping the gun trained on Stephen, the robber slowly approached the large paper sack and quickly peeked inside, immediately turning his attention to Stephen. Then he did a double-take, looked back into the bag, and for a moment froze with amazement, his eyes growing wide with disbelief. The hand holding the gun began to tremble slightly, and for a moment, Stephen worried it might accidentally go off. Then realizing the absurdity of his worry, he brushed the thought aside.
“What the hell!” The man shouted. “What is all this? Some kind of joke? The bag is full of money. There must be several thousand bucks in cash in here.”
“Yeah. I know.” Stephen replied. “Based on experience, I would say maybe twenty or thirty grand give or take a few.”
The burglar, whose real name was Thomas Stewart, stared at Stephen for a moment with perplexity, then recognition appeared on his face. He thought to himself, “Oh… Yeah… Now I think I get what’s going on here. This guy isn’t just some rich a-hole who inherited a ton of money. He’s a thief, a crook just like me.” Then just as quickly, Thomas realized that if his would-be victim was a robber, he was much more successful at the trade than Thomas had been so far. The house was incredible, so there must be more to the man than he had originally assumed.
Keeping his gun trained on Stephen, Thomas asked, “So what did you do, rob a bank or what?”
Stephen realized the intruder had misunderstood and mistaken him for a fellow criminal. He laughed, “I didn’t rob anyone. I found the bag along the highway, just as you see it there.”
Thomas would not fall for such a preposterous lie, “Yeah. Right. Do you mean to try to tell me that you were walking down the street and found a grocery bag full of cash? Just like that!” Thomas snapped his fingers to accentuate his statement. “What do you take me for, some kind of idiot? Nobody has that kind of good luck.”
“I do,” Stephen replied matter-of-factly. “I have that sort of amazing financial luck all the time. Do you see that lottery ticket I found?”
Thomas looked down at the crumpled ticket. “Yeah, I see it. What about it?”
Stephen replied, “Well, I also found that while I was out walking. And although you interrupted me before I had time to check the website, I’d be willing to bet it is a winner, not just a winner but a really big one.”
“Uh-huh!” Thomas replied with disbelief, “You must take me for a real chump, expecting me to believe this load of crap you’re shoveling. Do you know the odds of anyone winning big on the lottery, let alone winning with some wrinkled-up old discarded ticket you found along the road?”
“The odds are probably astronomical.” Stephen admitted, “Nonetheless, I guarantee the ticket will be a major winner. That’s just the way things work for me.”
“Look. I don’t know exactly what your story is, my friend, but you said you were a desperate man,” Stephen continued. “Once, I, too, was an equally desperate man. Now I have all of this. But I’m going to venture a guess at your current situation. I suspect you once were a fairly successful upper-middle-class professional earning a good living. Then the economy went bad, you lost your job, and you either lost your home or are about to lose it. How am I doing so far?”
Thomas looked at Stephen with shocked surprise, wondering how this stranger could have possibly gotten his story so correct. He had never met the man before, but somehow, he knew about his job loss and the fact that the bank was about to foreclose on his home. Thomas could not reply, so he just stood staring slack-jawed at Stephen and slowly nodded in agreement.
“I would also speculate that you have a wife and family, and although your wife has stood by you so far, things are getting rough on the home front,” Stephen said. “And you’re afraid if you lose your home, your wife will leave you and most likely take the kids with her.”
This was all so bizarre. Thomas had no idea how this man, with his oddly confident manner, could know so much about his life.
Stephen continued. “Yep. I think I nailed your situation down perfectly. And although I know you may find this hard to believe, just a few years ago, I was in the same boat as you were, or perhaps sinking ship might be a better description, then everything changed for me overnight.”
Finally, Thomas found his voice and asked, “Overnight? Not possible! What do you expect me to believe? That you found a magic lamp with a Genie who granted you three wishes? What sort of fool do you take me for?”
“Well. It was not exactly like that but something along those lines.” Stephen said. “I was like you. I had a wife and daughter, but I had lost my job and could not find another. The bill collectors were banging on my door and ringing my phone off the hook. The bank was about to take my home.”
“Alright.” Thomas said, “Suppose I buy into your cockamamie story. Where did all of this come from?” Thomas waved his arm to indicate the opulent surroundings of Stephen’s home.
Stephen replied, “Someone offered me the opportunity to change my financial luck, and I took it. This was the result. And if you think you’d like to have what I have and more, I can arrange that for you as well.”
“And why in the hell would you want to do that for someone like me who came here to rob you?” Thomas asked suspiciously. “What is this, some kind of con? Is it some ridiculous get-rich pyramid scheme? Look, buddy, I’ve been approached by all these types before, and I’m not about to fall for such crap and head down that particular road to ruin.”
“I assure you,” Stephen said. “It’s not a scheme or business. And although it may seem like I’m doing you a favor, I guarantee my reasons are purely selfish; I am doing this only for myself. You probably won’t believe me, but the truth is that I am tired of all of this. When I was in trouble like you were, I thought money would bring me happiness, but it has not. All it has brought me is sorrow.” Stephen said. “You and everyone else might think I should be the happiest man alive, but I’m far from it. So, the only way for me to truly change my life is to get someone like yourself to voluntarily take my place.”
Thomas asked, “Take your place? What is that supposed to mean?”
Stephen explained, “All this amazing good fortune can only belong to one person at a time. Before me, it belonged to another man, and before him, someone else. I have no idea how far back in time it goes, but I suspect centuries. The important thing is that I have it now and am offering it to you.”
Thomas once again looked perplexed and said, “This is insane. But just assume for a minute that I’m desperate enough to be willing to play along with you. How in the hell do you propose making this supposed good luck transfer happen?”
“It’s quite simple, really.” Stephen said, “All you have to do is ask me. If you just tell me you wish you could have all the luck I currently possess and all the money you could ever need, and I agree, then it will be yours. What will happen is that good fortune will leave my body and go into yours. And from that moment on, you will never want money again. But you have to be sure this is really what you want. And I must warn you to be very careful what you wish for because you just might get it, as I did.”
Thomas was sure this stranger was out of his mind, some kind of rich eccentric wacko. And what was that last cryptic statement supposed to mean? “Be careful what you wish for?” What was that all about? The guy was some kind of nut job, Thomas was certain. But as he said earlier, he was a desperate man, and desperate men tend to do things they normally would never previously have considered. So, he decided to play along with the lunatic. The worst-case scenario was he might get some cash out of the deal. “Not that it matters to me, but what is supposed to happen to you if I make this wish and take away all of your good fortunes? What will become of you?”
Stephen said, “That’s a good question. Here’s how it works. When you make your wish, all of my luck will become yours. When the transfer is complete, this house and everything in it will be yours. I’ll simply leave, and you will never see me again.”
“Wait a minute! Hold your horses! I get this now.” Thomas said distrustfully. “You’re trying to con me into letting you go. Then as soon as you walk out that door, you’ll go around the corner and call the cops. They’ll bust in here a few minutes later and haul my sorry butt off the jail. Well, fat chance, buddy! If you honestly think I’m going to let you walk out the front door like that, then you’re crazier than I thought.” Thomas raised the gun and pointed it straight at Stephen’s chest.
Stephen never flinched or showed the slightest sign of fear. Instead, he said, “Then I suppose I have to prove it to you. I have to convince you that what I am saying is true. What do you suppose the odds are of a bullet missing me from your current distance?”
“What?” Thomas again asked, caught off guard, “What the hell are you saying? From this distance, a blind man wouldn’t miss. Are you telling me you want me to shoot you from this point-blank range? Are you suicidal or what?”
“No, not really,” Stephen said. “I have to admit, at one time, I was but no longer. I also believe even at this proximity, if you shot at me, you wouldn’t hit me. You have no idea how powerful all of this is. Look, I realize you don’t consider yourself the murdering kind, but I assure you that you won’t harm me if you pull that trigger.”
Thomas said, “Ok. Wait a minute here. Maybe you’re just out of your friggin’ mind or something. I don’t know. But I have no intention of killing you unless I have no other choice. So I’m not about to pull this trigger just because you say so, ok? How’s about this… why don’t I just take this bag of money and leave?” Things were getting way too weird for Thomas, and his gut told him to get out of Dodge and pronto.
Stephen retorted, “If you think that will satisfy you, then please just take the bag and go. And feel free to take the lottery ticket as well. But I don’t think that will be enough for you; I suspect you want more. And if you do want more, so much more, then I have a better idea. All you have to do is tell me that you wish you had all my luck, and I was left with none. If you do, all the riches you ever imagined will be yours. But the key is, you can’t just say the words; you have to mean them.”
For a moment, Thomas stood silently, staring at Stephen as if studying his expression for signs of deception. There were none. Thomas thought, “This guy believes everything he is saying. In his mind, he thinks he’s telling me the truth.” Then Thomas suddenly realized that it didn’t matter whether he believed in wishes or good luck himself because the man standing in front of him most certainly did. And what that meant to Thomas was that if he could convince this strange man that he believed what Stephen was saying and that he would accept Steven’s proposition, then the madman really might be crazy enough to sign over his house and all of his money to him. Thomas decided to do his best to gain the man’s confidence.
“What is your name?” Thomas asked Stephen, figuring that was as good of a place as any to start.
“Stephen.” The man replied, “Stephen Albright is my name. And yours? If I may ask.”
Thomas hesitated for a moment, then decided to be honest with Stephen. If he was going to pull this off, he had to be truthful. He said, “My name is Thomas Stewart.”
Stephen said, “Very well, Thomas Stewart. May I assume you are considering taking me up on my offer? Are you ready to assume my place and claim your financial fortune?”
“I am,” Thomas replied, but still somewhat warily. He was playing all of this interaction by ear, and since he had never dealt with a crazy person before, he had no idea what might happen next. There was also something so very odd about how this Stephen character was in such a hurry to give away his fortune that, for the first time, Thomas began to feel apprehensive about everything. Although he was not prone to superstition, something felt not quite right about all of this. He thought of something his father had once told him, “Tommy, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
But Thomas needed to believe Stephen was nothing more than an eccentric crackpot. And since Thomas still held the gun and had it pointed directly at Stephen, there was little the man could do to harm him. Yet he felt something was still a bit wrong with the entire situation. All sorts of internal alarms seemed to go off at once, warning Thomas to grab the bag of money and flee. But Thomas was certain these feelings were unfounded, and he decided, why should he settle for a bag of money when he could have it all? This crazy man was offering him a whole new lease on life.
“Ok.” Thomas acknowledged, then asked, “What should I do? I mean… how do I make all of this happen?” He didn’t want to screw up what could be a very sweet deal.
“Stephen explained, “Just say aloud that you wish you had all of the luck I currently have and that I would no longer have any of it. It’s as simple as that. But once again, I have to warn you to make sure you really mean what you are saying and that deep down in the very pit of your soul, this is really what you want.”
Thomas realized such a declaration would not be a problem for him because he and his family had been struggling just to stay afloat for so many years. Things had gotten about as bad as he felt they could ever get, so bad that he had stooped so low as to try to rob Stephen’s home. He even realized that if it had become necessary, he could have murdered the man; shot him in cold blood. That was exactly how bad things had become. Thomas loved his wife and family and would do anything in his power to help them. He would have sold his soul to the devil if it meant helping his family. So unbelievable as it might be, what Stephen offered could be the last chance he had to save his family.
“Yes,” Thomas said. “I’ll do it.” He braced himself for what he was certain would prove to be a major letdown, took a deep breath, and said, “I want what you have. I want all the luck you possess to leave your body and come into mine. I want your riches. I want your good fortune. And I want you to have none of it any longer.”
For a second or so, nothing seemed to happen. Then slowly, Thomas noticed a sparkling white vapor seeping from Stephen’s body as if every pore of his flesh was emitting the haze. Soon a cloud-like fog hovered above Stephen’s head, and he seemed to swoon a bit on his feet as if the strength had been sucked out of him, and he looked as if he might pass out.
Then the sparkling mist slowly traveled between the men and surrounded Thomas’s body. He felt his skin tingle and the hair on his arms seemed to stand on end as if he were in the middle of an atmosphere charged with electromagnetic energy. Next, the vapors entered his own body through his pores and he became filled with a strange, satisfying warmth.
Thomas could see Stephen standing across the room watching him, watching the spectacle with calm reservation and what appeared to be a look of relief as if he had been somehow freed from some horrible curse rather than having just given away a fortune. Once again, Thomas began to sense a deep discomfort in the pit of his stomach, as if all of this perceived good luck might suddenly go very bad.
After a few moments, the tingling of his flesh stopped, as did the deep heat he felt inside. Those sensations were replaced with a sudden euphoria, the likes of which Thomas had never experienced before. His previous thoughts of concern vanished amid all of his happiness. Thomas realized he had never felt so strong, positive, and self-assured in his entire life. He believed he could do no wrong as if anything he ever attempted would be successful and every thought he would ever have would be deemed a pure genius. Thomas could not comprehend why Stephen would have ever become tired of such feelings or why he would have willingly given up the incredible sensations. He felt as if he was on top of the world.
“Open the top drawer of the hall table,” Stephen said, still sounding a bit weak from the ordeal. “There are some documents in there for you.”
Still, under the positive influence of his newfound euphoria, Thomas didn’t even question why there might be anything in this house specifically meant for him. Instead, he opened the drawer and withdrew what appeared to be a large legal document and several smaller documents.
Stephen said, “That top document is a deed to this house and the surrounding land. There are also copies of all of my active financial accounts and investments, or should I say, your investments now.”
Still stunned, Thomas opened the top document and was astonished to see the name on the cover sheet begin to change right before his eyes. Stephen Albright began to fade and was simultaneously overwritten with his name, Thomas Stewart. As he leafed through the remaining documents, the same thing happened to each of them. His name was now on every single financial certificate. He had seen numbers totaling in the millions flashing by as he skimmed the papers.
“You mean to say it’s true? All of this? Everything? It’s all mine?” Thomas asked with utter disbelief.
“Yes,” Stephen replied. “Everything, all of the wealth and riches you could ever imagine, will be yours for the rest of your life. That is unless you choose to offer it to someone else, as I have done with you.”
Thomas looked aghast. “And why would I ever want to do that? Just because you were stupid enough to give it all away doesn’t mean I am equally as crazy. This is everything I’ve ever dreamed about all of my life. It’s more wealth than I could spend in several lifetimes. What amazing luck! I’d never give away such an incredible gift. All of my troubles are officially over. My wife, kids, and I will have everything we ever dreamed of. She won’t believe me when I tell her. Speaking of which, I have to call her right now and tell her the good news.”
Stephen said nothing. He just looked knowingly with pity as Thomas tucked his gun behind his back and pulled out a cell phone. Thomas’s face filled with joy at the thought of telling his family of his newfound fortune. But Stephen stood silently, knowing what was about to happen next.
Some laws governed the universe; some were known by man, others unknown. There were physical laws as well as spiritual and economic laws. One such law, which Stephen knew far too well, stated that there was only so much of everything available, and for everything you chose to get, you must give up something else. If you, for example, had two hours of spare time available and had to decide between going to dinner or a movie, to choose the one, you must sacrifice the other. This rule was one Thomas was sadly about to learn.
“Jenny? It’s me.” Thomas said into the phone. Then after a bit of hesitation, he said. “Excuse me? Who is this? Where’s my wife, and what are you doing with her cell phone?” Then a dark shadow seemed to pass across Thomas’s face, and he replied to the voice on the other end of the line. “Oh my God! Which hospital? Saint Luke’s, you say? I’ll be right there.”
Stephen didn’t ask what the problem was because it didn’t matter what the particular circumstances might be; he understood the result would be the same. He already knew Thomas’s wife and family were dead and that the policeman simply hadn’t wanted to break the news to Thomas over the phone. It was a similar scenario to that which he had been through several years ago when his wife and daughter had been killed within a few seconds of his taking ownership of the very same gift.
“That … that … was … he said … he was … a … police officer.” Thomas stammered. “He said there was … was … an accident. My wife and kids were injured …” His voice caught in his throat. “… and they are on their way to the hospital by ambulance. I had better get right over there.”
“If you feel you must,” Stephen said.
“Of course, I must!” Thomas shouted. “It’s my family, for Christ’s sake. They’ve been injured. They need me.”
Stephen said, “You mean they needed you. And you weren’t there because you were here claiming the most important thing in your life; money.”
Thomas said, “How dare you! Screw you, Stephen. You know that’s not true. I was only here trying to secure my family’s future.”
“And it appears you did just that. Now your family has no future.” Stephen said. “I might as well tell you there’s no need to hurry to the hospital. It won’t do any good. By the time you get there, they will all be dead if they aren’t dead already.”
Thomas looked confused, “What? How … how can you pretend to know that? What the hell are you talking about?”
Stephen said, “Remember I warned you to be careful what you wished for. But apparently, you were so busy thinking about all the money you’d have that you didn’t think things through. I understand completely because, as I said, I, too, was once as desperate as you are.”
“But this … this thing … was supposed to bring me good fortune.” Thomas pleaded, “And now you tell me my family is dead. What kind of good luck is that?”
Stephen said, “A simple law of the universe is that you can’t have everything. For each thing you choose to have, you either voluntarily or involuntarily choose to give up something else. And you have made your choice.”
Thomas asked tearfully, “Are you trying to tell me I caused this to happen to my family by choosing to make one stupid wish?”
Stephen said, “I promised you that you would have more money than you could ever spend, and you would never have to worry about being injured and killed for all of your natural life. I said you would live a long, healthy life and someday die of natural causes as a very old, wealthy man. That is what this particular good fortune is about. And now you have all of those things.”
“But my wife and my children! How can they be dead?” Thomas shouted as best as his sobbing voice would permit. “What good is all the money in the world if everyone I love is dead?”
“That might have been a good question to ask earlier. I tried to warn you to be careful.” Stephen repeated, “But you didn’t. And now what was mine is yours.” Then Stephen slowly turned to leave.
Thomas shouted, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” He reached around his back and brought out the pistol, pointing it menacingly at Stephen.
Stephen replied, “I told you before I was going to leave, and so now, I’m going to do just that. You have what you came here for, and now I’m going to try and start a new life, and maybe if I am truly lucky, I will find some semblance of true happiness before I die.”
“You bastard! You knew this would happen!” Thomas said accusingly, “you said you had a family once. They probably also died because of this horrible wish, this curse. You tricked me into this devil’s bargain, and now I’m all alone in the world.” He began to sob uncontrollably. “It’s all your fault! Don’t you dare move another step closer to that door or so help me, God, I will shoot you!”
“I’m truly sorry about your family.” Stephen said, “As I was sorry about my own. I’ve hated myself every day since I made the same bargain you just made, and I’m quite certain you will be wallowing in misery for many years to come. But that’s no longer my problem. It’s yours. So if you will excuse me, I will be leaving. So, unless you are truly prepared to shoot me, I suggest you just accept your good fortune and make the best of it.”
Thomas shouted with insane rage, “Die, you bastard!” Then he pulled the trigger, and the room echoed with the deafening blast from his handgun. Stephen was slammed against the wall as the bullet entered his stomach. He involuntarily reached down to where he had been shot, and his hands came away covered with the blood pouring from his wound.
To Thomas’s shock, Stephen didn’t cry out or look like he was in any pain whatsoever. It looked to Thomas as if the man was happy; he had just been mortally wounded, evident by the expression of satisfaction Stephen had on his dying face.
“You … you … wanted me to shoot you,” Thomas said. “That was your plan all along. Oh my God, you wanted to die and got me to kill you. You played me the whole time.”
Stephen seemed to be staring out into space as if seeing and smiling at something or someone invisible to Thomas. Then he slid down the wall landing on his backside on the floor, still sitting and staring joyfully at the same seemingly empty space.
Thomas dropped the gun to the floor, then fell to his knees and buried his face in his hands, allowing the tears to flow freely. He had been desperate and greedy and had not listened to the warnings his subconscious had been giving him. He had been a fool. He now had all the money he could ever imagine, yet like Stephen, he had nothing. He stared at the bloody corpse of Stephen Albright and mumbled, “Be careful what you wish for… you just might get it.”