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Be Careful What You Wish For – Ch. 1

I’m running out of time. Or rather, Diane Hanson is. She’s the most recent number on my List, but I cannot for the life of me understand what she is involved in. Some numbers are easy, the threat obvious, but not this time. As a prosecutor for the District Attorney, she has a long list of enemies, although it has recently grown a little shorter.

Pope, the man she was trying to put behind bars, was stabbed to death in his cell just last night, and the man’s younger brother, Michael, was found dead in the street, executed by one of the city’s many gangs. Pope had been my prime suspect until then, which just proved how useless I was. I need a partner, someone with the skills to take the knowledge I have and act on it, but so far, my quest has been in vain. I’ve looked at ex-soldiers and special forces, former FBI and CIA, but invariably the reason why they’re no longer employed with said agency is the same reason that I can’t hire them. I don’t have time to deal with alcoholics or drug addicts, and I can’t condone giving the psychologically unstable the means and permission to start stalking people.

I try to relieve my frustration with a walk to a nearby antique dealer. I used to jog in the park to clear my head, or run on a treadmill, but these days all I can manage is a laborious, lurching walk that is often as painful as it is unsightly. I’ve been visiting this store for years, though the owner still doesn’t know my name. I, on the other hand, know everything about him, everything one can find in this day and age of digital information. He greets me with a friendly smile and a wave as I enter the cluttered little shop, but he knows better than to try and sell me anything. If there’s anything worth buying, I’ll find it on my own. I need the quiet, the ritual of searching through the shelves of knickknacks and dusty books, the tactile feel of smooth porcelain and old leather.

After an hour, all I’ve found is a first edition of John Payne’s English translation of the One Thousand and One Nights. Arabian folk tales don’t particularly interest me, but I find it hard to pass up a two hundred year old book in good condition. Plus, it’s not like I have a shortage of room — I own a library.

I carry my find up to the counter and the shop owner, Daniel Baxter, a seventy-two year old widower and father of three, rings up the purchase. As I hand over a twenty, the sleeve of my jacket catches on an old, tarnished oil lamp and knocks it over.

“You break it, you bought it,” he says.

With a frown, I stand the lamp back up. “It’s not even scratched,” I tell him.

“I know,” he says with a sigh. “It was worth a shot, though. I’m about ready to toss that old thing in the dumpster.”

“Why?” I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. It’s certainly old, quite heavy, most definitely brass, with a thick, blue-green patina on the metal, making it impossible to read any sort of maker’s mark.

“That hunk of junk has been kicking around this shop for twenty years. One of the first purchases I made to stock the store was the leftovers from an estate sale, and that damn lamp was part of it. Nobody wants the thing. I probably couldn’t give it away.”

“I’ll take it,” I say and he gives me a sideways look, like he’s expecting me to be joking. “It’ll put it on the shelf with my new book.”

“Ah, like the genie in the lamp,” he says with a smile, holding out my change.

“Keep it,” I say, picking up my acquisitions, “for the lamp.”

“I should be paying you to take it,” he says with a chuckle. “Thanks.”

I leave, heading back to my library. At the corner, I stop to wait for the light and glance down at the lamp in my hand. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t put knickknacks and trinkets on the shelves with my books. The books are locked away behind ornate steel gates secured with a padlock. Oh, well. Maybe I can clean it up and sell it on Ebay.

Back in the cool, quiet interior of my library, I place the book on a shelf and sit down at my workstation, half a dozen computer monitors arranged across the top of one of the old library tables. I do a bit more searching, looking for new information on Diane Hanson, hunting for a suitable partner, and checking my Machine to see if any new numbers have come up, but on all accounts I get nothing.

I sigh and lean back in my chair, absently adjusting my leg to relieve the ache in my hip. I hate this. I hate being useless. I would give anything, do anything if I could only help these people. What is the use of having the knowledge if I can’t do anything about it? Now I know how Cassandra felt.

After a moment, I reach over and pick up my new lamp. I’m going to need some kind of metal polish, which I think I might have in a cupboard somewhere, but I don’t feel like getting up to look. Instead, I pull out my handkerchief and begin to rub the side of the bowl.

Suddenly, the lamp begins to shake in my hand and I nearly drop it as a stream of dark blue smoke issues from the mouth, coiling around my chair like a living thing before condensing a few feet away. I blink, my mouth hanging open, as the smoke dissipates, revealing a tall man with darkly tanned skin and blue eyes, his black hair cut short with silver sparkling at the temples, wearing a most unbelievable outfit of golden slippers and pale blue silk pants, with a hoop of gold in one ear and wide gold bracelets on both wrists.

The man looks around the room, his expression intense, observant, and then he sees me. I jump as he bows. “What dost thou wish of me, Master?”

“I- I beg you pardon?” I ask, barely louder than a whisper.

He straightens and takes a step toward me, cocking his head to one side as he studies me, those penetrative blue eyes seeming to see right into the depths of me. “What year is this?”

Taken aback, I moisten my dry lips before answering. “Two thousand twelve.”

His eyebrows rise a fraction and for a moment he looks surprised. Then he nods at the lamp. “Where did you get that?”

“An antique shop. Is it yours?”

“In a way. You don’t know what it is, do you?”

I glance down at it, then back up at him. “I’d say it was a magic lamp, but then I’d have to check myself into a psychiatric hospital.”

“Why?”

“Because magic lamps don’t exist.”

He arches an eyebrow at me. “Then where do genies live?”

“They don’t exist either.”

“Then what am I?”

“You…” I stare at him, at a loss for words. “You are a hallucination brought on by stress.”

“You’re not hallucinating.”

“That’s the thing, hallucinations can be very convincing.” There’s a note of hysteria in my voice and I force myself to stop, to close my eyes, to take a deep breath. When I open them again, he’s still there. “If you’re not a hallucination, prove it.”

“How?”

“You say you’re a genie?”

He nods.

“Genies grant wishes, correct?”

He nods again.

“Then if I make a wish and you’re really not real, then it won’t come true and I’ll know I’m crazy.”

“I suppose that’s one way to put it,” the man says. “And when I grant your wish, will you believe in me then?”

I hesitate. “I suppose I’ll have to.” Now I just need to think of a wish, something that could never happen by luck or by chance, something that couldn’t be part of the hallucination, like wishing for an elephant or Marilyn Monroe.

“Before you decide on anything, there are a few things you should know. My powers do have limitations.”

“Convenient.”

He gives me a dark look. “I can’t bring the dead back to life, so think carefully before you wish me to kill anyone. I can’t interfere with a person’s free will, so I can’t make someone fall in love with you or grant world peace. I also cannot effect events outside of this moment in time, so I can’t change anything in the past. Other than that, your wish is my command.”

“And I get three of them?”

“The first three are free,” he says. “If you want more after that, you’ll have to pay for them.”

“How much?”

“It depends on the size of the wish. If you want a ham sandwich, it won’t cost much. If you want a mountain named after you…”

“Why would I want that?”

He shrugs. “You’d be surprised what some people have wished for.”

We stare at each other for several minutes. Finally, I turn away, set the lamp down on the table, and scoot my chair back up to the desk. “I don’t have time for a mental breakdown,” I say, trying to focus on the screens before me, “and I don’t have time to think up some stupid wish.”

“I could help,” he suggests. “Tell me what you want. Tell me your hopes and dreams, your secret fantasies and deepest fears.”

“I don’t think so,” I say with a frown. “I’m a very private person.”

He makes a frustrated noise. “Please, Master, don’t do this to me. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been trapped in that lamp?”

“No,” I say, “and don’t call me Master. You can call me Mr. Finch.” I hesitate; he seems nice enough, but do I really want to get friendly with a figment of my imagination? “Do you have a name?”

“I’ve had many. Most recently I was called Reese.”

“Reese…” I repeat. “That will do just fine.”

“I prefer John, actually.”

John…that might be a little too familiar, especially for something that was trying to ruin my day. “I prefer Mr. Reese, if you don’t mind.”

“As you wish, Master Finch,” Reese says. I open my mouth to correct him, but then close it again. There’s no point in arguing with a hallucination. “What are you doing?” he asks after a moment.

“Working.”

“On what?”

“It’s–” I stop before I tell him it’s none of his business. Perhaps it would help to talk it over with someone, even if that someone is most likely a manifestation of my subconscious. It’s not like he’s going to tell anyone. “We are being watched,” I say. “The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on everyone, every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the Machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything, violent crimes against ordinary people, people like her–” I pull up a picture of Diane Hanson on one of the monitors. “Crimes that the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act so I decided I would, but…I can’t do it on my own. I need a partner, someone with the skills to intervene, but I can’t find anyone and she’s running out of time.” I sigh and rest my chin on my fist. “I just wish I knew why the Machine picked her.”

A cold gust of wind ruffles my hair and I turn in my chair, my eyes growing wide as that blue smoke billows around Reese again. “Your wish is my command,” he says and as I realize what I had said, he vanishes. I glance around the room, then get up and limp down the hall, peering into the dark and dusty unused rooms that I pass, but I’m alone again. Still. I’m no longer hallucinating. Good riddance.

I return to my workstation, eyeing the lamp warily before picking it up. I look around for a suitable place to put it, my eyes lighting on the old card catalog. I use it to store tools and supplies for repairing my electronics as well as the outdated wiring in this place, but the big bottom drawer is mostly empty. I place the lamp in with a roll of electrical tape and a pair of wire strippers. There. I shut the drawer and limp back to my chair. It was an entertaining flight of fancy, a moment of harmless delirium, but it’s over now and I need to get back to work. A woman’s life depends on me. Again.

Next –>

2 Comments
  1. ROFL!!! I remember seeing the photoshopped picture now, but I must have passed on reading it since it was in-progress and I didn’t have time. Oh, what a riot! I would pay real money to see Reese in that outfit!! XD

    Fave line: “I don’t think so,” I say with a frown. “I’m a very private person.” — In this context, it sounds hilarious!

    I do hope Genie!Reese isn’t just going to tell him “why the Machine picked her” and leave it at that… 😉

  2. Rosslyn permalink

    This is hilarious. I kept imagining Reese with an Arabic or Indian accent in the beginning, but still, really hilarious!! 😀 😀 😀 Love it!

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