Eric supposed he was the only one who had noticed the one loose end in David's story. Everyone else had seemed satisfied with it, but to Eric, it was as unfinished-or at least as unpolished-as his own. Kevin and Dougie still had one more wish between them.
Yes, Dougie had wished that they had never played the prank on Miss Clove, which reversed all the other wishes that had been made and changed everything back . . . but the boys still had their memories . . . and black magic doesn't give up that easily.
That night, after Eric had sneaked back into his bedroom and hidden the dummy he had left in his bed, he stayed awake for another hour to write-
"The Tale of the Forgotten Wish"
It took Kevin a week to work up the courage to return to Miss Clove's house. He was on his own; Dougie had wanted no more to do with the old woman and her magic, and perhaps he had the right idea. But Kevin needed more closure . . . and some real answers . . . or so he told himself.
His plan was to ask Miss Clove if she wanted her yard raked of leaves. It was something he had been offering to do for his neighbours for the past two years, so it was a plausible story. And nobody thought twice about him walking up to Miss Clove's door with his family's rake against his shoulder.
Nor did Miss Clove seem to think anything was amiss when she answered the door and he offered her his services.
"Oh, how sweet of you!" she gushed. "I've never had any child from the neighbourhood offer to help rake the leaves before. But before you start, why don't you come in for a cup of tea? You look a little pale, dear."
And although this was what he had hoped for, Miss Clove still had to put her hand on his shoulder to steer him inside before he moved.
Once over the threshold, he saw that the entrance hall looked exactly the way it did last Halloween-with one difference. The big vase that had been near the door, and that he and Dougie had caused to break with their prank, was no longer there. Kevin looked away from the spot where it had been to see Miss Clove looking at him curiously.
"Did you expect to see something, dear?" she asked.
He shook his head quickly-maybe too quickly-and her smile widened.
"Wait here," she said, "while I go and get something upstairs."
The stairs were on the opposite side of the hall and Kevin was able to watch her back as she climbed. As soon as she had crossed the landing, he silently sidled into the room on his right. It was where she had gone to bring out the box with the twisted claw, he remembered; and now he saw that it was the dining room.
It was also so cluttered with other ornaments that for a moment he worried he wouldn't be able to find the claw before she returned. But as if luck-or something else-was on his side, he felt his eyes drawn to it like a magnet. Straight across the room from him, on a table by the window, was the blue box from Halloween.
He crossed the room quickly, then eased open the lid. From inside its cushioned space, the claw seemed to beckon at him, asking him to pick it up, daring him to make his last wish.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Kevin spun around to see Miss Clove standing in the doorway, looking absolutely delighted.
"Were you stealing?" she continued. "Little boys shouldn't steal from their elders. It's not very nice."
Out of the corner of his eye, Kevin could see a door to his right-a swinging door that presumably led to the kitchen, where there would probably be a back door, which now that Miss Clove was between him and the front door, was his best chance of escape. And he was just about to run for it when Miss Clove ran for him.
Faster than he had seen any old lady move, she crossed the room, her arms outstretched to grab him-and he realised too late that he had sidestepped in the wrong direction, away from the other door.
At least he now had a clear path to the front door, he told himself-and he went for it, cutting a sharp corner at the doorway and crashing into the vase. The same vase that had been broken the week before and that had not been there the minute before. It toppled off its stand and he nearly lost his balance with it.
"You naughty boy!" Miss Clove cackled, making another grab at his flailing arm.
Panicking now, Kevin spun away from the shattered vase and ran for the stairs. As he bounded up the steps, he heard Miss Clove start after him, wheezing a little now, but still making good time.
The second floor, he saw at once, was a mistake. The narrow hallway was dark, all its doors shut fast. He tried the one to his right. It was locked. He spun to try the next one. It was locked, too.
"They all are!" Miss Clove called out from the landing. From that angle, all Kevin could see was her head, which was grinning crazily at him. As she climbed the last few steps, he looked around frantically for something he could use as a weapon.
That was when he saw the dumbwaiter gaping at him from one wall.
Kevin did not hesitate. Now keeping his eyes on Miss Clove, he braced his hand against the lift's frame, squeezed himself into the small box, and started yanking the door shut. It resisted, raining rust flakes on his hands-and Miss Clove had reached the top of the stairs, before it slid shut at last, its angry shriek mingling with hers.
With sweaty hands, Kevin worked the mouldy ropes as fast as he could, and yet it seemed like ages before he finally reached the kitchen. To his right was the swinging door into the dining room; to his left, the back door. He made his choice instantly. Climbing out of the dumbwaiter, he skirted the small island in the middle of the room and was at the back exit when the other door flew open, seemingly with the force of Miss Clove's scream.
"I said they were all locked!"
Sure enough, the knob under his hand refused to turn-and by then, Miss Clove was nearly skipping with glee as she made her way around the island, blocking the path back to the dumbwaiter . . . but giving Kevin a clear path to the swinging door. And it was for this that he lunged to get back to the dining room . . . where the blue box and the twisted claw remained exactly as he had left them.
There was only one thing left to do. So he snatched at the claw and Miss Clove snatched at him, and with it grasped as tightly in his hand as his shirt was in hers, he yelled:
"I wish you had never moved to this town!"
Again, the terrible writhing in his hand-but this time, also sweet relief as the grip on his shirt loosened and he fell forward on his face, the claw popping from his grip.
"Who are you?" Miss Clove gasped then. "Mommy! Daddy! There's a boy in the dining room!"
Disoriented, Kevin flipped over and saw a little girl staring at him from the doorway into the kitchen.
Later he shook his head in shame as he recalled how he had run from her, too-this time, out the front door, where the rake had waited for him, only to be ignored as he sprinted home as fast as his legs could carry him. He had returned for it several hours later, with an incredulous Dougie who swore that the MacHale family had always lived in Miss Clove's house-and that there had never been anyone named Miss Clove in their neighborhood. But it was too late for him to see little Katie MacHale find the twisted claw where it had skittered under the dining table, hold it up to the light, and wish she knew what it was.
At last, the tale completed to his satisfaction, Eric finally flicked off the torch he had been using under the covers, stuffed his notebook and pen under his pillow, and rolled over to fall asleep.
As always, he had only pleasant dreams.