Authors: E. M. Lilly
Emily had thought that was the case—that Jack had played up how attractive he found Sally as a way to make her jealous. She resisted the urge to press him further about that. Still she felt herself blushing once more. “I would’ve wished that for Sally if it was possible,” she insisted.
The genie shrugged. “I’m not doubting you, but I knew at the time that wasn’t what you were really after and I used the opportunity to have some fun with you. It was meant to be harmless, but because of that you’ve now wasted another wish.”
From Jack’s expression, Emily wasn’t entirely sure whether he was gloating over the fact that he had made her throw away a wish or was actually regretful about it. She decided it would be better to give him the benefit of the doubt.
C’est la vie
,” Emily said, magnanimously. “I still have seven wishes left.”
“Ah, but those wishes will go faster than you’re expecting. There will come a time when you’ll badly want back this wish that you have wasted.”
“If that turns out be the case, then so be it.” She pointed at Winston whose rear-end was still wiggling like crazy as he wagged his tail, and was jumping up on Jack’s legs trying to get his attention. “Are you going to keep ignoring the little guy?” she asked.
Jack noticed Winston then and scooped him up so that Winston could slobber over his face, then proceeded to rub the dog gently along the loose skin hanging from his jaw. After about a minute of his attention fully on the English Bulldog, he looked at Emily again.
“Miss Mignon, if you don’t mind my asking why did you make that wish? I would’ve been granting you wishes regardless.”
“Didn’t you expect me to do what I did?”
“Perhaps so,” he admitted. “Although I’m not sure exactly why.”
“It’s simple,” Emily said. “Look at you and Winston right now. I was afraid if I didn’t find a way to fix things between us that you would be too stubborn to hang around in this world except to grant me my wishes, and I didn’t want to see you kept from your dog, or Winston from you. So if that ended up costing me a wish it was worth it.”
Jack nodded slowly as he considered that. “Thank you for your kindness, Miss Mignon,” he said, his expression turning grim. “Over three thousand years and I’m still prone to the same poison of false pride. Perhaps in another three thousand years I’ll be able to move past that. Now that I’ve granted your wish, would you like me to leave?”
Emily shook her head. “No, I’d rather that you stay if you’d like to. It’s too bad we can’t simply shake hands and be friends again, but there’s that whole being bitten by a thousand black mambas thing. But maybe we can go back to where we were.”
“Miss Mignon, if anything, I was understating what would happen if I were to touch you or any living person.” The genie frowned as he shook his head. “And about us being friends, please do not mistake our relationship. You are presently my master and I am your genie, and that is how it must be. There are laws governing this that are beyond my control.”
“I understand, but even so, I prefer having your presence here during these evenings when I’m reading these manuscripts, and if you also prefer spending your evenings here with me and Winston, then let’s simply leave it at that.”
“Very good, then,” Jack agreed.
That evening they settled back into what had been their earlier routine, with Emily reading manuscripts and making notes, while Jack browsed Professor Anderson’s book collection, at times picking out titles to read, and hovering in the air in a lounging position while he did so, usually with Winston sleeping lazily on his chest.
It was four nights later that Emily put aside the latest manuscript that she needed to evaluate, which was yet another mindless and formulaic zombie novel—in this one zombies were being trained as special op forces. Jack noticed her do this, and he put down his own book on the Roman emperor Nero to give her a quizzical look.
“I know the name of your previous master,” Emily told him.
“Is that so?” he asked, amused.
“Oh yes. Lawrence Willoughby.”
Jack nodded approvingly while Emily maintained a straight poker face. “Very impressive, Miss Mignon,” the genie said. “Do you mind telling me how you figured that out?”
“Only if you first tell me whether you were ever the genie for Emperor Nero.”
Jack opened his eyes wide as if stunned by the question. “How in the world did you ever guess that?” he asked.
“Elementary, my dear genie,” Emily said, her poker face dissolving into an impish grin. “As a little girl I grew up reading Nancy Drew books before graduating to Agatha Christie and later Dashiell Hammett. I’ve always been a junior detective at heart. I saw the way you reacted when you first spotted the book, and then later the way you smirked as if you were reading something that you knew from firsthand experience was false.”
“Miss Mignon, I must admit, you are full of surprises,” Jack said. “Yes, at one time I served him. First, I was under the service of his mother, which was how that unpleasant little bugger through an extremely circuitous turn of events became emperor in the first place. And then he stole my lamp from her, and I was forced to be in his service.” Jack let out an angry laugh. “This book and others that I have read talk about how that petty tyrant tried twice to murder his mother before finally succeeding. In fact, he expended six wishes to have his mother killed in extremely detailed and elaborate methods, all of which ended up failing disastrously. After the sixth failed attempt he took matters into his own hands and had her clubbed to death. But enough of such matters. How did you figure out that Lawrence Willoughby had been my previous master?”
“It wasn’t difficult,” Emily said, distracted, her brow furrowed. “First though, I’d like to ask you about something you’ve just said. About how you made at least six of Nero’s wishes fail disastrously. So you’re admitting that you do distort a person’s wishes?”
“Miss Mignon, these were evil wishes, each of them wishes to commit murder. Of course I would make sure wishes of that sort didn’t work out as planned. At least if the wish wasn’t specific enough. In fact, in the emperor’s case, I was able to make all nine of his wishes useless, as they were all equally evil.”
“I see,” Emily murmured, her brow furrowing even more deeply. “I can understand you intentionally distorting murderous and other evil wishes so that they don’t work out. But I don’t believe Lawrence Willoughby’s wishes could’ve been thought of as evil. I was able to find out about him by searching through editions of The Times from January 1890 to October of that year, and I came across stories about different calamities that the man suffered. A new fleet of ships sinking in calm weather. A grand and newly built mansion being struck by lightning and burning down. A goldmine flooding. Willoughby being arrested and having his wealth confiscated for failure to pay adequate taxes. While his wishes may have been motivated by greed, none of them appear to be of the evil variety. And yet they all ended badly. Which brings up the issue I asked when we first met of whether I would be able to trust you. Or if you’ll make sure all your masters’ wishes end disastrously.”
“I can see your point regarding Willoughby,” Jack said stroking his chin, his eyes dimming as if he were deep in thought. “You must take into account that he was not a nice person. Small-minded and self-centered, and lacking even a shred of empathy and charity, but even so, I didn’t cleverly devise for his wishes to fail. Sometimes it’s simply bad luck. Or fate, as I believe it was in his case. He simply wasn’t meant to have what he wished for, and I believe it was fate that made sure he didn’t get them. Or at the very least, keep his wealth for very long. But Miss Mignon, not all of the masters that I have served have ended up seeing their wishes fall apart as Willoughby did. You’re enjoying these living arrangements, isn’t that correct?”
“I am,” Emily agreed. “But as you remarked at the time, this was only a modest wish on my part.”
“True, but Miss Mignon, to put it bluntly, Willoughby was a dolt. If you, for example, were to wish for great wealth, I am sure that you possess the vision and foresight to be able to do so in a way that would leave you fully protected from the law and other potential catastrophes, something that Willoughby was unable to accomplish. I have full confidence in you and that all of your wishes will end up as splendidly as your first wish did.”
“Or you could be tricking me,” Emily said. “Allowing my modest wish regarding this apartment to work out to encourage me to make further wishes.”
“Of course that is possible, but I would suggest that you have faith, Miss Mignon,” the genie said. “Or don’t. It is purely up to you whether or not you make another wish. But I certainly don’t have any interest in tricking you.”
Jack smiled wickedly as he said that.
He’s toying with me
, Emily thought.
But what else could I have expected?
She understood that discussing the matter further would be pointless. She didn’t believe Jack was evil or malicious. Of course, even though he was once a man thousands of years ago and still looked like one, or at least presented himself to her as one, he was now something entirely different, and exactly what a genie really was she wasn’t sure, nor would she ever be. Maybe it was something within a genie’s makeup to cause the wishes they grant to backfire in spectacular ways. Or maybe it was only wishes involving greed or evil as Willoughby’s and Emperor Nero’s were, and she had no desire to wish for anything of that sort. At times when she looked at Jack, especially when he was smiling gently at Winston as he absently rubbed the dog’s belly or scratched him under an ear, she’d have to remind herself that he wasn’t human, but at the same time she was convinced that there was still a basic decency within him. That it wasn’t an act or an elaborate ploy to trick her into trusting him. But still, could she risk making another wish? As Jack had mentioned, genies had their own laws of nature that they operated under, and maybe one of them was to make their masters regret the wishes they asked for. Emily was convinced if she wished to be made wealthy as Willoughby must’ve done it would backfire on her similarly. But the wish she wanted to make was perhaps modest enough that she’d be able to get away with it, as her first wish had been.
So that was her predicament. Could she trust Jack, or at least trust herself to make a wish that didn’t have any loopholes that could be exploited? The situation left her perplexed. All she knew for sure was that she needed to think more about the wish that she had in mind. And make sure that it was foolproof.
Three weeks later during one of their quiet evenings together Emily told the genie that she had another wish to make. As she described her wish in great detail, Jack’s expression shifted from bemused to puzzled. By the time she finished she was near breathless, her heart racing as if she’d just been chased by a pack of rabid wolves and had barely escaped with her life.
“A very curious wish,” Jack said as he pondered what she had told him, all the while stroking his chin with the thumb and index finger of his left hand. Winston had been lying in his lap, and even he cocked his head and gave Emily a bewildered look. “I don’t quite understand why you’re requesting this.”
“I believe what I’ve asked for is straightforward,” Emily said, jutting her chin out defensively. “As well as clear. What more do you need from me to grant it?”
“Of course I’ll grant whatever wish you make,” Jack said, his eyes dimming as he continued to ponder the specifics of what Emily had detailed. “But I am in your service and feel compelled to offer suggestions where I can, especially with how you have already frittered away two wishes. While you may subtly benefit from having your bosses approve this book you’d like to see published and making you the editor in charge, the author will be in line to reap the greatest benefits, while you could see your career as an editor come to a screeching halt if this book flops.” His voice trailed off, then he added, “Why not simply change your wish so that you own this publishing company, and that you can publish any books that you wish?”
“That’s not what I want.”
“Hmm,” Jack mused, still deep in thought. He nodded to himself as he came to a decision and said, “Then how about including in your wish that this book becomes a bestseller? Why not specify how many copies it will sell? A million, five million, whatever you’d like. While you were very specific in requesting a good-sized marketing budget for the book, why leave things to chance as you’re doing?”
“The reason is because I believe in this book,” Emily stated stubbornly. “I know it can succeed on its own if it’s marketed properly.”
Jack made a bitter face at the prospect of that. “I’m simply a genie, not a seasoned publishing professional like yourself. But as you know I’m a voracious reader and I’ve read many of the so-called bestsellers that your publishing industry generates, and you should know better than anyone how much luck is involved. I don’t understand what the harm would be for me to tilt the luck in your favor. Similarly, your request that I not influence how this book is reviewed makes little sense. Why leave something like that to the vagaries of the universe?”
“Again, because I believe in this book. Do we need to debate this?”
“No, of course not, Miss Mignon. I will grant what you have requested right away if you want, but please, humor me. I’m only trying to look out for your best interests.”
Or trying to figure out how to make this wish backfire on me
“Perhaps I could read this masterpiece that you feel is so deserving?” Jack suggested. “I’d be happy to give you my opinion on it.”
“Is this really necessary?”
“I’m only trying to be helpful,” Jack said, sniffing, his lips tightening slightly to show his insult. “After all, does it matter whether I grant this wish this very second, or that you wait a short time? I am a fast reader, after all. And in either case, nothing is going to happen until tomorrow.”