By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: It’s been a long time since your village had a wizard visiting. Like everyone else, you’re enthralled by his amazing acts in the square. That evening when he walks off into the forest, however, you’re the only one who notices the small flask that falls from his robe. You hold it gently in your hands. What will you do with it?
Benny picked up the flask and turned it over in his hand. The liquid inside made a luscious sloshing sound, and the flask felt warm. Warmer than it should have. He stroked the flask, and then without thinking he let his fingers caress the cork. Within moments he had pressed his fingers around it.
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
Benny jumped and turned around. “Wha—what?”
The wizard smiled. His smile held wisdom and knowing and experience. And his eyes twinkled with just the slightest touch of mischief. He stepped forward and gently took the flask from Benny’s hands.
“Are you sure you want to do that? Take a sip, I mean.”
Shaking his head almost violently, Benny stammered his way through a denial of doing any such thing.
“I—I don’t even—I mean, I didn’t want to—I wasn’t thinking—”
Suddenly the wizard stood an arm’s length away. “But of course you thought it about, boy. You thought about it, and you felt the potion drawing you toward it.”
“No, no, I just felt the flask.”
“And how did it feel?”
Benny licked his lips nervously. “It felt—it felt warm.”
The wizard leaned in closer, making Benny blink in nervousness, and he lowered his voice conspiratorially.
“It’ll do that. It’s a real potion, you know. That is, it’s magic.”
Looking around to make sure no one heard, although the other villagers had long since left the green, Benny lowered his own voice. “Really?”
The wizard nodded. “It can change you into someone else.”
“Really?” Benny repeated, this time feeling a tinge of awe.
“It’ll change you into the person you like the least for seven days.”
Benny frowned. “But why would I want to turn into someone I hate? That doesn’t sound like something I would want to do.”
The wizard held up his index finger. “Tut tut, my boy. I didn’t say it would turn you into someone you hate. Hate is a strong emotion, and I don’t concoct potions involving hatred. I said it would turn you into the person you like the least. That is an entirely different thing.”
A few villagers began lighting the evening lanterns to illuminate the paths between their homes. Benny watched them carry their candles and move carefully between lanterns. The wizard turned and watched with him, although an air of anticipation had somehow developed between Benny and the wizard.
“What happens after the seven days?”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the wizard turn toward him and grin. “You must make a choice. The potion causes you to come into a situation that will force you to make a life-altering decision. And then you must make a decision to stay in that life and continue or drink the potion once again and return to your current life.”
Benny thought about his current life. He thought about having to milk the cows every morning and sit in the learning center every day to try to absorb the sums and letters. He considered all the fighting he did with his older brother, Harold, and the way he had to compete with his little sister, Lucy, for his mother’s attention. Would stepping into the life of the person he “least liked” (even though that sounded the same as “hate” to him) be any worse?
“I want to do it,” Benny said, surprising himself for the second time that evening by doing something without thinking about it. “I want to drink the potion.”
Suddenly the wizard became serious. “Are you sure? You’re asking for something that could have grave consequences.”
Benny scuffed his feet in the dirt. “It can’t be any worse than what’s going on right now. Yes, I want to take it.”
The wizard examined him closely. He looked Benny in the eye for a long time as if searching for something. Finally he nodded slowly.
“All right, then. But remember: you are undertaking a great deal of responsibility”
Benny’s heart began to flutter, but it was too late. He couldn’t back down now. The wizard offered him the flask, and he took it with a trembling hand. Uncorking it, he took a mouthful and held it for a moment before swallowing the liquid. It tasted sweet but mild.
For a minute nothing happened. Benny looked around the village and finally turned to look at the wizard who watched him with unsmiling eyes. Just as Benny opened his mouth to declare the wizard’s claim a hoax, the world around him shimmered and then shifted completely.