Giveth and Taketh
By S P Mount
Mary cupped the silver thistle with both hands as if she captured a mouse. Breathless, she realized the professor she cleaned for had spoken the truth, and not through a hole in his demented head. Loosening her grasp, she cast her eye down the length of the stalk.
Its thorns were steely, sharp as Lilliputian swords. She scowled. Folklore dictated they stab into her palms. Draw blood. The opportunity of a century would be lost if she did not. The ‘Steely Scot’ would revert to any other purple weed dominating the postcard scenery of the glen.
She winced at the prospect. Inhaling deeply through her nostrils, she exhaled through tightened lips. Despite resolve, she tentatively wrapped her fingers around the precarious stalk but its pinheads merely scratched the surface. She wished she’d downed some Dutch courage, but, if the legend proved true, she could not afford to mess up the wording of her wish or she could end up as a real-life troll like the Lithuanian man/woman she used to share a prison cell with.
Even if she had donned a wig and sunglasses and used a stolen credit card for the rental car, she could not risk driving drunk again. Most roads around Loch Ness could be tightened with a shoelace while others twisted like tinsel around a Christmas tree. She could kill herself this time.
“Just do it, Mary!” she screeched.
Her shrillness surprised her. It bounced around the valley like a wayward ping-pong ball. Her ex always did say her voice could guide ships into the harbour. Hardened by the streets she grew up in, as well prison, she knew no fear, but there, in the serenity of the Highlands, even the chirp of a songbird unsettled her.
She gritted what teeth were left so hard the really rotten ones crumbled a little more. But that would not matter in a few minutes. She’d wish for youth, beauty and riches. Compressing her palms into the thistle’s spikes, her scream pierced the glen so the petals of bluebells closed in fear.
She lay flat on her belly and hung to the stalk, as her mind involuntarily flashed back to the incident in her teens when she nearly died.
A deep-rooted weed protruding from the overhang of an industrial waste ‘bing’ people joked made children impervious to disease for having played upon, together with a six-inch stiletto heel anchored into its chalky, sheer cliff face, helped to save her life until a faceless someone with a strong hand pulled her up. If her existence did not otherwise suck since, she’d be convinced she’d had a guardian angel.
Euphoria rushed through her bloodstream like a high-speed Internet connection. Suddenly, she felt no pain. No warm breeze on her bare limbs. No aroma of the subtle potpourri of floral and heather that vied with thistles to carpet the hillside. Her physical being had, apparently, returned to the ‘womb of the cosmos’–something she’d snorted at when the professor shared his secret about the ancient legend. It was exactly as he foretold.
“The writings cannot possibly do justice to the perception of all existence, though,” he said as Mary struggled to compose her choke-filled laughter. “The human impediment interferes, you see.
“No matter the sense of etherealness, the vision, painted in all its eloquent prose, is true beauty beyond the sentiment of even Plato himself.
“According to a script discovered under a broken floorboard at the University of Edinburgh while practising the ‘Highland Fling’ in his youth, a magical thistle was said to materialise once a year in the Highlands.
“A gift from the Banshee that once ruled the moors, it will grant whomever discovers it a single wish. It has taken my entire lifetime, but, finally, I know when and exactly where it will appear.
“But the venom, for make no mistake, that’s exactly what it might be, when injected into the palm of the hand, reveals the wonders of countless planes.”
Mary quipped because she lived under the Glasgow Airport flight path she was well used to countless planes.
“Alas, though, the fates are against me. They riddled me this.” He said and patted his lung cancer. “I wither before salvation comes. Pity, for I might choose immortality if only my body would endure as sturdily as my mind.”
Alone in the world, the nutcase might, Mary hoped, just leave her money in his will. And, when that day came, she was delighted to be summoned to a law office. But the professor only left the ancient script. An envelope signed, sealed and delivered together with a sarcastic smile.
“The SPCA gets the rest.”
There is no reward without sacrifice, the accompanying letter read. You must word your wish judiciously, Mary.
After looking up ‘judiciously’, and the Internet confirming the Steely Scot was actually a ‘thing’, Mary took it seriously. Could the old nutter have spoken the truth?
Her wish contained every possible proviso. She memorized it verbatim. The double-edged sword those who discovered the thistle of centuries past said the magic was, would not take Mary Smith’s carefully considered words and cleverly misinterpret them to turn an opportunity of a lifetime into a curse instead.
“State your desire.” A disembodied voice boomed.
“I wish. . .” Mary said and coughed nervously. “No! No wish. Not for you. The hand of fate was already extended to save your life. A life since wasted. I grant only my other hand; the opportunity to change one thing about how you came to live that life.”
“Well, if I knew that, I would never have bothered coming.” Mary sniffed.
As her physical being dissipated to where she might have been had indeed she not bothered, she heard the voice of the professor.
“Of course, Mary, the one thing to be changed, was for you to never have slipped over that cliff, you silly moo.”
And her scream turned the air blue throughout countless planes.
A prolific author of numerous short stories, novellas and novels, a love of travel and people-watching serve to widen the abyss of creativity and strange imagination S P Mount comes home to to put ‘pen to paper’–as well his beloved Mini-Schnauzer, MacGregor.