Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes

By: Denise Grover Swank

Chapter One





It all started when I saw myself dead.

Rain hung heavy in the air that Friday afternoon. The air conditioning of the old municipal building didn’t know how to handle it, making the office especially chilly. I’d just returned from lunch and grabbed my worn red sweater out of my drawer as I sat down at my workstation. The fluorescent lights flickered overhead, casting a sick gray pallor over the room.

I sucked in a breath to prepare myself for the next few hours. All that rain was bound to ruin a lot of Memorial Day Weekend plans, making the DMV customers even crabbier than their usual.

“Number fifty-three,” I called out over the counter as I turned on my computer screen.

A scruffy man in his mid-thirties approached and plopped his paperwork on the chest-high counter in a huff.

“I need to renew my plates,” he said. Irritation made his voice scratchy.

I looked him over as I tugged the paperwork down. Gray-tinged stubble covered his face, a sharp contrast to his shaggy dark brown hair. His light brown eyes held a menacing glare. I chided myself for my foolishness. Everyone has menacing eyes at the DMV on a Friday afternoon, even the sweetest of grandmas.

“Let’s have a look at your paperwork,” I said as I glanced at the neatly stacked forms. “Mr. Crocker.”

I pulled the clip off the stack and examined the documents. He had all his required papers: the license renewal form and his personal property tax receipt, but his proof of insurance was expired. I glanced up with great reluctance. Mr. Crocker had to have been in the reception area at least thirty minutes and he had the look of a man tired of waiting. He gripped his keys in his hand, like he could squeeze a glass of juice right out of them. His eyes jumped around the room as he studied all the DMV employees behind the counter, landing on one person and moving onto the next.

Just as I was about to explain the situation, I felt the all-too-familiar tingle of a vision coming on.

Oh, crappy doodles.

Like a photograph in my mind, I saw me. Deader than a doornail.

I stared at Mr. Crocker and gasped, my eyes so big I felt them drying out. My jaw dropped so far I was amazed it didn’t hit the counter. Just as the words “You’re going to kill me” began tumbling out, a black fuzziness flooded my brain.

The next thing I knew, a buzz swept through the DMV and it wasn’t from a swarm of bees. The DMV staff and customers had crowded around me.

I opened my eyes. My forehead throbbed where it must have smacked the Formica.

“Rose Gardner, what in heaven’s name happened to you?” The voice of Betty, my boss, boomed in my ear. I knew I must have fainted because one minute I sat gawking at the man who was planning to murder me and the next I was practically making out with my workspace. Not that I ever made out. I was a good girl, after all—twenty-four years old and I’d never even been kissed.

Sitting up, I raised my hand to my head and lightly probed the growing knot with my fingertips. “I don’t know…” I mumbled, squinting from the light. Fear slithered in my gut as I peered over the counter to see if Mr. Crocker was still there. He stood to the side, pushed out of the way by a couple of elderly women eager for what had to be the best gossip in Henryetta all week. He eyed me warily, and my heart raced as I wondered how much I said before I passed out.

Now, I’d had a multitude of visions all my life. I was gifted, or cursed—depending on who you asked—with the sight. My grandma on my father’s side had it. People respected her and considered her the Oracle of Lafayette County, Arkansas.

But me? I was just a freak.

Most of the time I paid it no mind. I kept to myself and everyone in my town of Henryetta liked it that way. While my grandma saw helpful information such as droughts and locust infestations, I was cursed with seeing useless and mundane things like Mrs. White’s toilet overflow or the ear infection in Jenny Baxter’s baby. None of that would be so bad if I kept what I saw to myself, but my visions didn't work that way. Without any volition of my own, whatever I saw just blurted right out of my mouth. Most of the people who knew me thought I was a snoop or a gossip, the only rational explanation to reason away my knowledge. But Momma had another opinion. She declared me demon-possessed.

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