The Wish Stealers
Griffin Penshine had three freckles under her left eye that sometimes looked like stars. This was a good thing, as Griffin was always wishing. She wished when a ladybug landed on a windowsill, she wished on dandelion dust, and she even wished on tumbling eyelashes. In fact, she often rescued the eyelash of a friend and reminded her to wish. But then again, Griffin always noticed the smallest of details. She could track her way out of a forest, spotted everything from worms to woodbeetles, and giggled at absurd words on menus like “jumbo shrimp.” Griffin also liked certain things a certain way. She loved peanut butter on brownies, hated wearing turtlenecks,
and insisted her mom buy cool mint toothpaste.
On the last Sunday of a hot Kansas summer, a ladybug flew in through Griffin’s bedroom window and landed on her arm. Griffin smiled and opened her new blue-lined notebook and scribbled her next few wishes.
I wish all vegetables had cool names like bok choy, alfalfa, and parsnip.
I wish to become an amazing bass guitarist.
Griffin thought for a moment and then crossed off her first wish. She didn’t want to waste a wish on vegetables. As for being a great bass guitarist, she wished for that every chance she got. Too bad she hadn’t wished for protection. But how could she know that within one hour the most horrible curse would fling itself at her and coil through her long, beautiful shiny red hair?
“Griffin!” called her mom from downstairs. “We’re going to be late.” Griffin’s mother, an astronomer, loved to calculate the time it would take to reach Saturn, Neptune, the Andromeda galaxy, and even the center of town. She knew if they didn’t leave in five minutes they would not make their afternoon appointments. Dr. Penshine hated being late,
and she loved to wear her huge collection of inspirational T-shirts that said things like SAVE THE EARTH. Only now that Dr. Penshine was pregnant, the words stretched over her huge bump and read save the ear.
Griffin giggled from the top of the stairs. “I like your shirt, Mom.”
Dr. Penshine looked down at her bulging tummy. “Ears need saving too!” she said, laughing.
Griffin grabbed her bass guitar, ran down the stairs, and slid into the car.
“Before I drop you off at your music lesson, I need to make a fifteen-minute stop at Mr. Schmidt’s shop,” said her mom. “He received a shipment of artifacts from Egypt—ancient clay scarab beetles—and an antique model of the solar system from an English castle. He’s saving them for me.”
“Okay,” said Griffin. She didn’t mind stopping. Mr. Schmidt, their neighbor, had the strangest objects at his store. Maybe she would find something for her pet turtle, Charlemagne’s, terrarium or a good luck charm for tomorrow—the first day of sixth grade at her new middle school—or some cool object for her Mysterium Collection Box that she hid under her bed.
Although it was only a shoe box with a rectangle of midnight blue felt lining the bottom, inside the box were two
eagle feathers passed down by her great-grandfather before they became illegal to keep, half of a heart from her best-friend-forever necklace she shared with Libby Barrett, an old lace valentine her grandma Penshine had made as a girl, and three smooth stones.
Her grandma had given her the three lucky stones: a moonstone thought to have the power to grant wishes, a tigereye for courage, and a piece of purple amethyst. Her grandma said Leonardo da Vinci believed amethyst could protect people from evil and make them smarter.
Too bad she didn’t take her purple stone in her pocket that morning. But she wouldn’t think of that until it was too late.
A COLLECTIBLES, ANTIQUES, AND WONDERS sign hung above the door to Mr. Schmidt’s tiny shop.
Griffin pushed open the door. Rusted bells jingled, and smells of dust, must, and exotic spices twisted up her nose. Long rows of glass shelves with faded lace fans, heavy silver hand mirrors, ladies’ hair combs made of bone and shell, and stained decks of old maid cards glowed under the dim cabinet light.
At the back of the store, from behind a velvet curtain, Mr. Schmidt poked his head out. “Good morning, Dr. Penshine
and Griffin,” he said. “Let me get that prized antique I was telling you about.” He shuffled away.
Griffin bent her head over a glass case, looking at the lapis eye of a peacock feather and a mirror made of pitch-black polished stone. A handwritten card attached to the exotic feather read: From India 1913. Believed to make wishes come true. Under the circular black stone the card read: Obsidian mirror—used by the ancient Alchemists, passed down from Aztec priests. See your future!
A chill blasted through the room, and Griffin looked up. Behind the counter appeared the oldest woman she had ever seen, wearing a long black dress with a wilting red lily pinned to it. With her greasy gray hair pulled tightly into a bun, the woman’s face resembled a shriveled apple. Wicked wrinkles gouged in her skin, and a grid of purple veins looked like a grotesque spiderweb covering her face.
The woman’s eyes drank in Griffin. Then in a low, crackly voice she said, “Only once before in my life have I seen that shiny liquid red color woven into a girl’s hair—half autumn leaves and caramel kisses, half blazing sunset.”
“Griff?” said her mom, coming from behind her. “Find anything?”
“Dr. Penshine and Griffin, forgive me,” said Mr. Schmidt,
returning from the back room. “I need to introduce my great-aunt Mariah Weatherby Schmidt, who has come from Topeka to visit for a few weeks. She offered to help me today at the store.”
A sinister smile curled on Mariah’s cracked lips. “What a pleasure to meet you, Griffin Penshine. What are you looking for today?”
“Something for my turtle’s terrarium or something lucky for the first day of school,” Griffin said.
“I see,” said Mariah, her yellow eyes narrowing. “I have just the thing for you. One moment.”
Griffin looked at her mom, but she was too busy examining the antique model of the solar system.
Mariah disappeared through the heavy curtain. Griffin’s head spun. The scent of spices, mandarin orange, dried lavender, cloves, and incense pounded in her brain. “Mom, I have a headache. I’m going to wait outside.”
“Okay. I’ll be five more minutes,” she said.
Just as Griffin’s hand touched the doorknob to leave, Mariah’s cold hand brushed hers. “Where are you going, dear?” She held out a ring box. “This is for you.”
“What is it?” asked Griffin, not moving from the door.
“Open it,” the old woman said, beckoning with her long, spindly fingers.
Griffin slowly took the box from Mariah’s bony hand and looked inside. Beams of light shot out all over the ceiling like lasers, illuminating the store. Carefully Griffin removed a single Indian Head penny.
It bounced in her hand.
“That’s the shiniest penny I’ve ever seen,” said Dr. Penshine.
“I’m sure it is,” said Mariah. “I never forget to … polish it. It is priceless. An Indian Head penny from 1897. Very rare, very valuable, and shall we say … very lucky.”
“Wow,” said Griffin, mesmerized by the pulsing glow. Droplets of light sprinkled all over the room.
“It must be yours!” said Mariah, her eyes flashing.
The strangest sensation knotted inside Griffin, part repulsion, part desire. “How much is it?” she asked.
“It is my special gift to you.” Mariah smiled wickedly. For a moment Griffin swore Mariah looked younger, luminescent, something wild and alive in her eyes.
“I can’t take something priceless for free,” said Griffin, now blinded by the magnificent penny.
“Just promise you’ll keep it shiny, and it will be … worth it to me. You will accept my gift, won’t you?”
Every cell in Griffin’s body fought to say, “No. No, thank you!” But the Indian Head penny shined so hypnotically
that Griffin could hardly speak. Her pupils dilated from the beams shooting off the penny. She tried to shake her head, stop the odd breeze that whirled around her body. No, she mouthed, but no sound came out. Instead “Yes” exhaled from her lips.
Mariah froze. Then very deliberately she said, “It is done. Let me get a box of polishing cloths from the back for you. Give me a few moments to find it.”
Griffin tucked the penny into her pocket, and it burned against her skin.
Penny, penny bring me luck,
’cause I’m the one who picked you up.