Authors: E. M. Lilly
The genie appeared as he had the other day, although he wore a different shirt and tie. Winston bounded over to him and bumped up against his leg. The genie gave the dog a warm smile before turning a solemn expression to Emily.
“You called for me, Miss Mignon?”
“I get some wishes, don’t I?” Emily asked, still seething in anger over having to deal with a grotesque pig like Mitch in her own apartment.
“Of course. Nine of them.”
That surprised her. She had convinced herself after reading the Arabian Nights and other stories that she’d only be getting three wishes. Nine were a lot more than she had expected, but there was only one wish that she truly wanted, so the others would be a bonus. That would only be if she were willing to trust the genie enough to make any wishes at all.
“That’s more wishes than I thought I’d get,” Emily said.
“All of my masters have said that,” the genie said with a thin smile. “But you’ll be surprised at how quickly those nine wishes can go, and you can’t use one of the wishes to wish for additional ones. The natural law of genies that I operate under prevents that. And if you lose my lamp and later reclaim it, you don’t get nine more wishes, only the number of wishes that were previously remaining.”
Emily nodded slowly as she digested that. “If I wished for you to turn Mitch into a pig, would you be able do that?”
“Easily,” the genie said. “And if Mitch is that same oaf who insulted you out there, I’d also add
. Simply make the wish and it will be done.”
Emily’s expression turned somber. She wasn’t serious about doing something like that, and only said it as a way to let out some of her anger. She shook her head. “I’d better not,” she said. “It wouldn’t be fair to whoever ended up with pork chops from him. I’m sure it would give the poor person a bad case of trichinosis at the very least.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” the genie said with the utmost seriousness “If the meat is cooked well enough it would be fine.” He reflected on the matter a brief moment and his disappointment in not being given the go ahead to turn Mitch into a pig showed in his eyes. “But I can see your point. Any meat a butcher got from him would be too fatty and gristly for anyone to enjoy. How about I turn him into a slug instead? That way you could crush him with your thumb.”
Emily shook her head.
“I see. We’ll leave him as a human variety of slug for now. Have you thought of what wishes you’d like?”
“Yes. I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. Her eyes lowered from the genie’s. “I have some questions I’d like to ask you first. Would that be okay?”
Emily took a step toward her desk to get the questions she had written up earlier, then turned back to the genie with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This has been very rude of me. I don’t even know your name.”
“You may simply call me your humble and obedient servant.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Emily said, frowning. “I’d like to call you by your name.”
The genie’s brow furrowed and his eyes took on a faraway look as he considered the matter. “It’s been many years since I’ve thought about what I was once called,” he said softly. “And several thousand years since anyone has called me by my birth name. I find it hard to remember what it was. Miss Mignon, why don’t you call me Jack? It’s more or less how I’ve grown to think of myself.”
“Jack,” she said, nodding, as she thought of how the name suited him. “You had a birth name? Were you once a man?”
“I was. Many thousands of years ago I was born to a flesh and blood woman and grew to be a young man.” His eyes dimmed as if he were brought back to that time. “I was punished for an act of recklessness and transformed into what you see now, but yes, at one time I was a man like any other. A young and foolish one.”
“The way you look now, is that how you looked when you were still a young man?”
“I believe so,” Jack said. “That is the image that I carry. But I can’t say for sure.”
“Let me get my questions,” Emily said, deep in thought as she hurried to her desk. The genie had just contradicted everything that she had read earlier that day, but then again, could she believe him? The engraving on the bottom of the lamp warned her against it. It saddened her to think that he could’ve once been a young man before being imprisoned in the form of a genie. If that were true, then it would have to be a lonely existence for him missing his former life and all those who were once part of it. But as tragic as the idea of that was, it also gladdened her to think that at one time there had been a human spark within him, and that the genie wasn’t simply a spirit of some sort taking a man’s form. But that was only if she could trust him, which she still wasn’t convinced that she could.
Emily dug her list of questions out of her desk drawer. She squinted hard at the paper since she didn’t have her reading glasses on, and read him the first one which was how he knew about Winston Churchill. When she looked up at him from her sheets of paper, she saw that Jack was grinning.
“Did I say something funny?” she asked, confused.
“Oh no, Miss Mignon, not at all. I was simply smiling over how pinched and serious your expression was when you asked me about Churchill. I found it quite endearing.”
Emily blushed. “If I was squinting, it was only because I don’t have my reading glasses on.”
“Why don’t I read these for you then.” In a blink of an eye, the papers were no longer being held by Emily but by the genie. “Regarding your question about Winston Churchill, is there a reason I shouldn’t know about him?” he asked.
“Yes, there’s a very good reason. At least I believe so.” Emily retrieved the antique chest from where she had hidden it in her closet. She removed the false bottom showing the hidden compartment. “This is where I found your lamp,” she said. “The newspaper that was used for packing was from October third, 1890. I’m assuming that was when your last owner hid the lamp.”
“Hmm. A good assumption,” Jack said. “And pretty much true. It would’ve been around that date when I finished granting my previous master his final wish.”
“And you haven’t been out of your lamp since I summoned you two days ago?”
“Then how did you know about Churchill?”
Jack laughed softly to himself over that. “Miss Mignon,” he said, “you would’ve made an excellent prosecutor. But the fact that I haven’t been able to enter this world since 1890 doesn’t mean I can’t bring objects into my own world. Look at Winston as an example. Or the clothing I’m wearing, which I think you’ll agree is contemporary and certainly not dating to the 1890s. I have an extensive reading library, an equally extensive video and DVD collection, as well as Internet access, so my knowledge of world affairs and history is very up to date, especially given all the time that I’ve had on my hands.”
“Y-You have Internet access?”
“Of course. Wireless technology has been a boon to genies everywhere.”
, Emily thought.
Is the idea of genies using the Internet from inside their lamps any more outrageous than the thought of a genie existing in the first place?
She backed up until she could sit primly on the edge of her bed. Jack had been standing up until then, but as he read through Emily’s questions, he shifted position and his body hovered in the air as if he were lying on an invisible chaise longue. With a grunt, Winston jumped on Jack’s lap, and the genie sagged downward an inch from the added weight but otherwise continued hovering in midair.
“Very interesting questions, Miss Mignon,” he muttered, frowning slightly. “Yes, very interesting. Some of these I can’t answer either because I don’t know how to, or I’m simply incapable given what I am. Just as there are natural laws that govern your world, there are laws that govern mine as a genie. But I will answer what I am capable of. Let me start first with your question regarding how a dog could live in a genie’s lamp, since it will also touch on several of your other questions. Winston has never lived in the lamp and neither have I. The lamp acts as a conduit from my world to yours.”
Again, that stunned Emily as nothing that she had read that afternoon regarding genies suggested such a thing. “What is your world like?” she asked.
Jack gave her a helpless look and shook his head. “As much as I’d like to tell you, I can’t,” he said. “This has to do with the laws governing my world. Just as the forces of gravity would cause any object you were to drop to fall to the ground, I would be left speechless if I were to attempt to explain my world to you. But let me move on to other questions of yours that I’m capable of answering.”
The genie then proceeded to go through Emily’s questions in order, answering some and skipping others, and becoming more and more moody as he did so. When Jack got to her question concerning his previous master, he hesitated before telling her that he wasn’t sure whether he could answer that. “It may be a breach of master-genie etiquette,” he said, his tone somewhat snippy.
“The man lived over a hundred and twenty years ago,” Emily countered. “I don’t believe it would matter to him if you were to give me his name.”
“You’re making an assumption that my previous master was a man,” Jack said with more of that snippy tone, although also showing a teasing smile.
“You referred to him earlier as a man when you talked about granting your previous master
“That is true. But I could’ve said that simply to mislead you.”
Emily stared at the genie quite frustrated. “So I can’t believe anything you tell me,” she said coldly.
“That’s the real question, isn’t it?” The genie held up the pages filled with Emily’s questions. He was still smiling but there was an edge to it. “The point of these questions is to ferret out whether I’m a liar who will pervert your wishes into calamities or if I’m trustworthy, but how could you possibly trust anything I say if you’re already thinking that I’m only a clever liar? So what difference does it make now how I answer any of these?”
“Your last owner warned that you were not to be trusted,” Emily said defensively.
Emily nodded. She retrieved the lamp from where she had hidden it in her closet. “Take a look at what he had engraved on the bottom of your lamp,” she said.
Within a blink of an eye the lamp moved from Emily to Jack. As he read the warning engraved in the lamp, he stroked his chin thoughtfully and his hard-edged smile turned more into a bemused look. “Interesting,” the genie said. “Of course, it could be a legitimate warning, and that I’m not to be trusted. But it is also possible that he wasn’t specific enough with his wishes, and if he had been more so, they would have worked out better. Or it is also possible that he was a particularly unpleasant individual, and so in his case I made sure that his wishes turned out equally unpleasant. Or it could’ve been simply fate or bad luck, and out of my control. But the problem is that there is nothing I could say that could help you decide whether I’m a clever and convincing liar or am being forthright with you. So I don’t see much point in answering any more of these. And you should find a better hiding place for this lamp.”
The lamp disappeared from his hand and was quickly back in Emily’s. While the genie might’ve told Emily what he did out of petulance, Emily had to agree it made sense. She wouldn’t be able to figure out whether she could trust him from any list of questions. But Jack did give her a hint, which matched what she had earlier read about genies, and that was that her wish had to be specific enough so that there would be no wiggle room for the genie to distort it and make the wish disastrous for her.
“I have one wish I’d like to make now,” she said.
Jack raised an eyebrow as if he were surprised by that. “Whatever you wish, Miss Mignon, will be yours” he said.
Emily felt her heart racing as she explained to him how she needed to live someplace else and how Mitch’s presence in the apartment was making things too uncomfortable for her.
“Then wish for me to turn him into a slug as I had recommended earlier,” Jack said. “Or for me to drop him on a deserted island if you wish to show him more kindness than he deserves.”
“No, that would be a gross overreaction,” Emily said. “He might be a pig, and I of course would like Sally to see him for what he is and be free of him, but I don’t have the right to do something like that to him. Besides, he might be a pig, but he’s basically harmless.”
“I’ve seen many like him during my existence, Miss Mignon, and he is far from harmless.”
“That might be true, but I’m not going to wish that for him. But I do need a new place to live, so instead I’ll be wishing for the following. I would like someone who is living within three blocks of Washington Square in Manhattan to call me within the next hour because this person will be needing a house sitter so that he or she can pursue a positive opportunity, either personal or professional. This may be an apartment or condo, and my monthly expense for my share of the rent is to be kept at the same amount that I’m paying now, with all other expenses covered by the owner in exchange for my house-sitting. I will be allowed to move in this Saturday, with the arrangement being that I can stay there for a full year. This will need to be a two-bedroom or larger apartment, fully furnished, and with no crime, heating, pest, air conditioning, noise, neighbor or maintenance problems. All appliances will be up to date and in working order, and I will be allowed to have a dog in the apartment if I wish.”
“Very specific and very complex,” Jack murmured, his eyes dimming. He rubbed his chin as if he were deep in thought. “Also a very modest wish,” he said. “Perhaps the most modest wish I, or any genie, have ever been asked to grant. I don’t understand. Why wish for something like this? Why not instead wish for a luxury townhouse worth millions of dollars? Or a mansion? Or a whole city block? Nine wishes may seem like a lot, but they’ll go faster than you expect. You could very well find yourself deeply regretting spending a wish on something this insignificant.”