Flash Friday 22/07/2016: Well Aware
Nobody had seen the moment a crooked man with a long nose and top hat and a shorter but well-built man pitched the tent in an alley. They stood in the streets of London and shouting over the sound of horse-drawn carriages: “Wishing well!” the taller one would say. “One shilling a wish!”
Most people ignored them. Some didn’t. Such was the case of the middle-aged balding man with a brown bushy moustache, who approached the curious two with a sparkle in his eye.
“I say,” the moustached man said. “Is what you fellows claiming true? That you have access to a real wishing well?”
The lanky man bowed. “Of course! For the great Andrew and Pete would not be here in the heart London if we did not have a decent service to sell. I’m Andrew, by the way.”
“Excellent. It’s because, well, you see…” the moustached man took a shy glance down at his own shoes. “I’m afraid these poor things have been worn to an inch of their life, but no cobbler within this city will dare touch the planks of wood that I call feet.”
“Well then, you’ve come to the right place! Step right into the tent, throw your shiniest shilling into the well within, and make your wish well-known to it. Then, should the well find you worthy, you shall receive your new pair of stompers right-away. Well, what are you waiting for? Go on!”
The man eagerly entered the tent.
“So then,” Pete said with a smirk. “What’s the secret trick with this one?”
“That’s the best part; there is none.”
“We’ve sold snake oils, phoney artefacts, promises that nobody made and amulets as spiritually powerful as your kitchenware. But then I thought; why bother going through making all that nonsense when you can sell someone a wish that never existed in the first place? They come out empty-handed, we mumble something about unwilling spirits and unlucky star alignments, wait ’til no-ones looking, and scoop the lot. Easiest money we’ve ever made. Now hurry up and put a sombre face on, he’s about to leave.”
Both of them cleared their throats and put on a face as if they were attending a funeral. The flap on the tent shifted to the side.
“Listen, I know your pain, truly,” Andrew said with exaggerated lament. “But wishes are fickle things. No matter how good a person you are, sometimes your wishes just–”
The moustached man was giving Andrew a happy look. In the man’s hands, as if he had just bought them, were a pair of shoes.
Andrew and Pete exchanged a look.
“Uh, sorry,” Andrew said. “Where did those come from?”
“What, these?” The man said. “Went and wished for them just like you charitable folks said I could. Popped right out of the well, dry as bone. For your kindness, I’ll make sure all of London knows the good you did to me this day.”
The man hadn’t gotten even halfway down the street before replacing his shoes and throwing the old ones over a fence. He didn’t even realise the two ‘charitable’ men were watching him as a walking miracle.
“This is bad,” Andrew said.
“Why?” Pete said. “We helped, didn’t we?”
“Yes, and we didn’t get paid squat for it. Soon there’ll be hundreds of people throwing their shillings into the well and having their dreams come true, and we won’t be taking advantage of them.”
A shrug. “Charge entry?”
“No, he’s going to go around saying he got in for free. Better idea; how many shillings do you have?”
Pete dug into a pocket, holding coins out in a hand. “Got five. Why?”
In a swift motion, Andrew scooped the coins out of Pete’s hand, entered the tent, threw them into the dingy-looking well, and said, “make us rich for once in our god-forsaken lives!”
“Like you said,” Pete said, peering into the tent. “Wishes are fickle things.”
“I don’t get it. How come other people get better fortunes than we do? Why are they more fortunate than we are? You hear that, you stupid well?” Andrew said, yelling down it. “If you’re not going to give me my wish, at least give me my money back!”
A single shilling shot out of the water, striking Andrew in the forehead.
“Yeah?” Andrew yelled, his face red. “You think that’s funny? Well, you’ll be pleased to know you just made mortal enemies with Andrew and Pete, master scammers and swindlers extraordinaire! You may think you’re smart, but we’ll find a way to drip every sucker in this wretched city dry, and we’ll use you to do it! How do you feel about–”
Andrew, until now, hadn’t noticed the small crowd of people who had turned up outside the tent, each of them holding a shilling in their hand. The one-eager crowd were now looking quite sour.
In total silence, one of the crowd members calmly walked up to the tent, past the horrified Andrew and Pete, threw a coin in, pointed at the pair and said ‘I wish they were somewhere else’.
Hey!” came Pete’s voice. “Look at this!”
Andrew turned from sitting under the palm tree near an oasis, the only cool patch of sand he could find. Pete was approaching, dressed in full desert clothes and a turban, accompanied by three others. They were all riding weird animals.
“They’re called camels,” Pete said enthusiastically, noting Andrew’s stare. “I love them. Like horses but with bumps on ’em. The folks at a nearby town let me ride one. Lovely people. Don’t know a word they say, but they seem nice. Come on, let’s go. I think they promised us food and some money to help us get going.”
Andrew smirked to himself as he climbed to his feet. It didn’t matter what side of the world he was on; as long as there was money, there were suckers ready to be swindled out of it.