The pier jutted out into the lake like a tongue tasting the water. Strewn all over it were inner tubes, super soaker squirt guns, brightly colored inflatable balls, and nerf toys. At the end, with their legs dangling, sat two boys facing the setting sun.

Pete said, “Today was so random.”

“Best day ever,” Jon said.


Jon felt a strange sense of familiarity; like he had spent more than a vacation week playing with Pete. It felt more like a year, maybe even years.

Pete pushed his wet hair up off his forehead with his fingers splayed out and it stood up straight like it had been moussed. “Too bad we gotta go back to Massachusetts in two days.”

Jon said, “That’s a long way from where we are in New York.”

Pete stood up and struggled to get his hand in the pocket of his wet shorts. Fishing to the bottom, he pulled out some change and separated out a single shiny penny. He said, “My Auntie Liss says if you put a penny in your hand like this, smack your forehead and make a wish, the wish will come true.”

“Get out.”

“It’s true. She told me to do it once when my soccer team was playing their last game. Sometimes I mess up passing the ball, like maybe I get nervous or something. So I said the thing she told me to say and made a wish and it worked.”

“What did you wish for?”

“I wished that I wouldn’t trip over the ball. And I didn’t.”

Jon figured it was more a case of the power of suggestion, but he kept that thought to himself and just nodded. He asked, “What did your aunt tell you to say?”

“I’ll just do the whole thing and you can watch. Okay?”

“Sure.” Jon again perceived a sense of foreboding he could not quantify. It was like he was here before, watching Pete do his wishing thing.

“Alright, it goes like this: wish a penny, penny wish. Lincoln’s head to mine.”

The penny was shiny, glinting in the sunlight. Pete lightly smacked his forehead with the penny in his open palm and held it there.

“To make my wish come true for me would be real fine. So I close my eyes and wish—toss the penny away. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s all I can pay.”

Pete threw the penny over his shoulder and it plinked into the lake. Then he made his wish.

“I wish this summer was longer.”

Pete looked all around, as if expecting something to happen right then and there. Everything seemed unchanged, so he sat back down.

Jon said, “That’s it?”

“Yup. More summer. Auntie Liss says you gotta keep the wish simple, or it won’t come true.”

“That’s dumb.”

“Yeah maybe, but it can’t hurt to ask.”

Jon wanted that cloud of eerie familiarity to pass. It bothered him more and more that he had been down this road before. He stood up, surveying the distance to the inner tube floating a few feet from the pier. He said, “Bet I can dive through that inner tube.”

Pete checked it out and said, “Never make it.”


Jon took a step back, retraced the step and dove for it. The inner tube squawked as his skin tried to stick to it, but he made it through. His momentum carried him toward the bottom of the lake and he opened his eyes as he slowed. The water was crystal clear and as soundless as another world. Yet there was a subtle stretching, twisting sound of something huge and all encompassing, muted by the lake.

The bottom shimmered and he swam closer for a better look. What he saw were pennies. There were hundreds—maybe thousands—of shiny pennies littering the bottom of the lake near the pier.

At first he just marveled at them and then it occurred to him why they were there and his eyes went wide with the horror of it. Pete’s wish—over and over again—had come true. They were stuck in a loop and Pete’s wish was the hub. He pushed off the bottom and when he broke the surface he gasped for a breath.

He said to Pete in a rush, “You’ll never guess in a million years what’s down there.”

Jon’s father called out to them from the cabin, “Boys? Dinner. Come on up.”

As Jon was climbing back up onto the pier Pete asked, “What? What’s down there?”

Jon had just enough time to think about it and said, “I’ll show you later, let’s eat.” He stormed off toward the cabins already planning his intervention of the wish the next day.

He just hoped he remembered.


16 thoughts on “Pennies

  1. Valerie

    I notice you tagged this horror… why? As is, this is a nice meditation on a lazy summer. Not sure what else you could do, but if you want it to be horrifying, something more does need to happen.

  2. Maria Kelly

    Good story, Donald. As for the end, it would be cool if the kid got his wish. Maybe the parents decide they can spend a few more days at the lake—making the summer indeed longer. Still, its a pretty good story as it stands.

  3. Anke

    Hm, if you’re open to suggestions… I’d suggest to check the dialogue for gratuitous exposition. Personally, I don’t see what knowing how long their parents know each other, where they are on holiday or where they come from is important to the story, and that part of the dialogue sounds artificial to me – from the writer to the reader, rather than from character to character.

    I don’t understand what’s supposed to be “the horror of” a lot of pennies, either, so I’d say the ending could do with more explanation, or just somehwat less pennies and a less overblown reaction from Jon. Him seeing that apparently a lot of kids there do the same as Pete, rather than dismissing it as kind of silly might work as an ending .

    I really like the middle part with the boys talking about that bit of superstition. 🙂

  4. donaldconrad Post author

    Okay, it is obvious the idea that the wish has been made and remade as many times as there are pennies at the bottom of the lake didn’t get across to the reader… Rewrite time.

  5. Anke

    Oh, I did get that – and it must all have happened *recently*, because pennies don’t stay shiny for long underwater – I just don’t get what’s so horrible about it.

  6. mazzz_in_Leeds

    Oh, I get the horror. Much as spending forever in a loop in such an idyllic setting sounds good, you wouldn’t want it forced on you!

    Although, as I am currently stuck in work on a Saturday, it does sound rather appealing…

  7. Deanna Schrayer

    I like this Donald, though I don’t think it’s horrific enough to classify as horror. It seems more like a “supernatural slice of life” to me. Though it might be awful to realize you’re stuck in a moment that will never end, I think the easy conversation between them stands out a lot more than that “awfulness”. I hope that makes sense…

  8. ribbie

    I did find the thought that Pete and Jon might be stuck in a never ending summer a little horrifying – I don’t think the kids could grasp the magnitude of the possibility, although Pete seemed to know something was up. Unlike some others, I’m not all bent out of shape over the story tag. I just liked the story, the scene, the dialogue, even the geographical reference points. I liked to have a sense of where the story takes place, so that I can add my own knowledge of and experiences with these settings to the mix

  9. John Wiswell

    Donald once I read your comment I got it and felt a little silly, but I definitely wouldn’t have figured it out. That is a very clever device you’ve set up. I think the problem is that the wish is for summer to never end – so 1) why wouldn’t they remember making it before, and 2) why make it so many times if once should last? If the wish was for summer to last one more day, and perhaps there is a remark that the boys feel like summer has gone unusually long, then the myriad of pennies would click for dense readers like myself. I still like the idea quite a bit.

    Much smaller note, but I’d tweak the redundancy of “the water” in the first sentence.

  10. Eric J. Krause

    I caught the horror right away. Sure, being stuck in a time loop of summer fun would be great at first, but living eternity in the same day, over and over? Yeah, not so great. I enjoyed this one.

  11. Anke

    I guess the reason why it didn’t recognise the idea as a timneloop was that from one of those I’d expect the penny either to be back in the boy’s pocket on the next round, or to stay on the lake bottom, so he’d run out of pennies after a few rounds. 🙂

    1. donaldconrad Post author

      Without knowing to which RSS reader you refer, I cannot help with specifics.

      I am currently using Google Reader attached to my Google Home Page. To add something, I simply click on the header of Google Reader which opens it as a new window. In that newly opened window is a button titled ‘Add a subscription.’ Be sure when you add the URL of a site, that all the ‘slash-stuff’ at the end isn’t included (ie: in this address~> the URL to add actually ends with the dot-com part. The rest is specific to the page you are on.)

      I hope I helped.


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