Short Stories

Grampa Charlie’s Ring

Mitchell S Karnes

Austin held the shoebox at his side and stared at the silver casket as it sunk into the hole in the ground. His family watched on in silence as the shovels crunched into the frozen mound of dirt and tossed large clumps into the hole. With a great, “Thud” the first shovels’ full of dirt hit the metal casket. Austin jumped.

            Throughout the funeral he expected Gramp Charlie to throw open the top and yell, “Ta da!” as he had at the end of a great feat of magic. This time it wasn’t a trick. Austin’s grandfather was dead. Austin watched as the workers pounded the dirt flat. His mom took his hand, but he pulled away, walking beside her. He was too old for handholding. His little sister was crying, and his mom was crying, but he and his father walked on in silence.

            Later that afternoon, he put the shoebox on his dresser. He didn’t feel like playing on the trampoline, riding his dirt bike, or skateboarding with his friends. All he wanted to do was lie on his bed and remember Grampa Charlie.

            “Ladies and gentlemen, silence if you will,” Grampa would say at one of his magic shows. “What you are about to see will dazzle the mind. It may frighten you, so please hold the hands of small children.” Then Grampa would wink over at Austin who stood at stage right. “Abracadabra,” Grampa said as he clapped his hands. Suddenly a grizzly bear appeared on stage. It roared. Grampa watched with a smile as the audience melted into the seats.

            The bear stood on its hind legs and roared again. Gramp stepped backwards and said, “There are no trap doors, mirrors, or sleight of hand. What you see is what you get.” The bear swung at Grampa, but with a clap of his hands, it disappeared from the stage. “Oooohhh,” said the crowd as they rose in ovation of the feat.

            Austin marveled at the magic. He could see first-hand that there were no visible tricks at all. “How do you do it, Grampa?” he asked.

            “It’s magic, Austin,” Grampa said. “One day I’ll give the magic to you.” Grampa promised and promised him the magic, but he never gave it up. He couldn’t.

            Whenever he mentioned Grampa’s promise to his parents, his father would say, “It’s nonsense, son. He’s just filling your head with fantasies, just like he did your mom when she was little.” Then he and Austin’s mom would get into an argument that usually ended in silence for hours at a time. Austin’s dad never liked Grampa Charlie. Grampa thought the same of his son-in-law, but he loved Austin.

            He sat up and looked across the room at the shoebox. Grampa Charlie left everything to his daughter, Austin’s mom, except one little shoebox. The lawyer was given specific instructions to present the box to Austin and Austin only. He went to his dresser. He took the box, sat back on the bed, and opened it.

            Inside the box he found Playbills to some of Grampa’s best shows, a couple decks of cards, Grampa’s trick rope, a journal, and a small box. Austin opened the journal and read a few pages. It was a letter to him. On page three it read, “Austin, you should find a small ring box with this journal. Open it and place the ring on your finger.”

            He opened the box and studied the ring. It was gold with a small red gem in its center, but it was much too large for his hand. He was only in seventh grade, and Grampa was a large man over six feet tall. He obeyed anyway. As soon as he slipped it on, the ring shrunk to the size of his finger. Surprised and scared, he tugged at the ring. It wouldn’t budge. No matter how hard he tried, it didn’t move.

            He panicked as he continued to pull at the ring with no luck. He finally gave up and consulted Grampa’s journal. “I told you one day I would pass the magic on to you. I guess you’re wearing the ring now, which means I’m dead. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s the only way the ring turns loose.” Austin read on. “You see, it wasn’t so much that I was attached to my magic ring as it was attached to me. If you’re reading this, then it is probably safe to assume it is now attached to you. Relax…everything will be okay.”

            That afternoon and that night he studied his grampa’s journal. The secret of the magic was the power of the ring, and to make it work, the wearer had to concentrate on something, and imagine the object until he could really see it. Then suddenly it would appear—like magic! The journal also gave him a warning: “Be careful what you wish for, the ring is powerful, and sometimes things are very hard to control.”

            After supper, Austin rushed back to his room to finish Grampa’s journal. His mom and dad let him stay in his room alone because they assumed he was still mourning the death of his grandfather. But he couldn’t wait to try out the ring. He was excited, and at the same time, he was nervous and afraid. But the journal always repeated the saying, “It’s going to be okay.”

            I need something simple first, he thought. He looked around the room. “The bookshelf,” he said aloud. He ran to the bookshelf and began tossing books left and right, looking for the perfect one. “Harry Potter!” he exclaimed. Then, imagining the terrible things that could out of that book, he quickly dropped it to the floor. He looked through book after book, only to decide against each one for one reason or another. Some things were too scary, and some things were too big for his room. Finally, his eyes wandered to one of his mom’s childhood books on the back of his bookshelf, The Incredible Journey, a story of three pets, their survival, and love. He sat cross-legged and studied the cover picture of the dogs and cat. “Achoo!” Just looking at the cat made him sneeze. He settled on the retriever. He had always wanted a dog, but his dad wouldn’t hear of it.

            Austin closed his eyes and thought of the retriever. As he pictured the dog in his mind, something happened. The ring began to glow. He jumped back as something warm and wet touched his face. He opened his eyes to marvel that the dog was standing in front of him, licking his face. “Wow!” It began barking at him. Try as he might, Austin could not get the dog to be quiet.

            Austin’s dad barged through the doorway to Austin’s room and yelled, “What in the world is that dog doing in here?” The retriever wagged its tail and licked Austin’s face again. “So, that’s why you rushed back up here. You’ve been hiding a dog!” his father screamed.

            “No, Dad,” he began, “it appeared, like magic.”

            “You take him back this instant,” his dad yelled. Suddenly, the retriever barked at his dad and bolted past him. It ran down the stairs and barked at his mother. She screamed. Just as the retriever got to the foyer, Austin’s sister opened the front door. Out it went, running as fast as it could. Austin’s dad rushed down to chase the dog outside, but it was too late.

            When he was gone, Austin gathered his thoughts and remembered the journal. He picked up the book. One of the dogs was missing from the cover. He pictured it back on the cover and clapped his hands. The ring glowed for a moment and the dog was back in place on the cover.

            As much as he tried to explain it, his dad wouldn’t believe him. He heard his mother say something about Grampa and Austin’s sadness. Like always, the argument ended in silence. He was grounded to his room for the rest of the night, which was fine with him. Austin fell asleep with a smile on his face.

            The next day his teacher sent him to the principal’s office for daydreaming in class. As he sat in Mr. Johnson’s office and watched the principal pace back and forth, he got an idea. Mr. Johnson went on and on about something important, but Austin wasn’t listening. Instead, he began to laugh uncontrollably. There the principal stood in his boxer shorts and undershirt. He couldn’t help but laugh. That got him into even deeper trouble. He would be in his room for the rest of the week except for meals, school, and chores.

            Quietly, he lay on his bed and practiced his magic. He was getting better at it. One time he made a character from a video game appear and another time he conjured an actor from one of his favorite movies. Austin was getting good, but he was also getting careless. His obsession with the ring’s magic kept getting him in trouble at school. The bullies had strange things happen to them, and he was always right there in the middle of things. In one class, no matter how hard the teacher tried, none of the chalk would write on the board. And there sat Austin laughing and clapping. Back to Mr. Johnson’s office he went, and back to his room at home.

            One night, several weeks later, he had a great idea. He lay on his bed and pictured something really special. “Hello, Austin.” It was Grampa Charlie.

            “Grampa!” Austin jumped into his arms.

            “Whoa there, son,” Grampa Charlie said and sat down on the side of the bed.

            “I’ve missed you, Grampa.”

            “I know you have.” Grampa Charlie patted the side of the bed and signaled for Austin to sit beside him. “I see you’ve been using my ring.”

            “Yeah, it’s great!” he said with enthusiasm. “It’s so good to have you back, Grampa.”

            “But Austin…” Grampa began.

            “We can play games and talk, and you can show me some more…”

            Grampa put his finger over Austin’s mouth to silence him. “I can’t stay, Austin. In fact, I’m not really here at all.”

            “Sure, you can, Grampa.”

            “Austin, listen to me,” Grampa said. “The ring is only an illusion. It makes people see what they want to see and can ever make them think what you want to think…for a little while.”

            “But Grampa, the dog, the chalkboard, the bullies…and you?”

            “Just what you wanted to see and what you wanted others to believe.” Grampa put his arms around Austin’s shoulders. “I’m flattered that you would use the ring to see me, but you need to let me go. We had some good times, but now it’s time for you to live your life.”

            Austin’s eyes began to water and he wiped them with the back of his hand. “But Grampa, I don’t want you to go.”

            “I know, Austin, I love you too.” Grampa took Austin’s hand in his and looked at the old ring. “Take good care of it for me, Austin. I need you to do something for me.”

            “Sure, Grampa, anything.”

            “Use the magic responsibly. It’s there to entertain and make others happy, not to hurt or make others angry and sad.” Grampa touched the red gem. “It’s time to go, Austin.”

            Austin didn’t say anything. He nodded his head and clapped his hands. That night he had a wonderful dream about Grampa Charlie and his old magic ring.

Mitchell S Karnes