Become a Fan
By Ed Howdershelt
Saturday, July 12, 2003
Not rated by the Author.
A beach, a bottle, and a new take on the subject.
The 4th Wish
Copyright 2002 by Ed Howdershelt
Sometimes the website construction business is just too damned good. I stepped away from my computer around three on a Thursday afternoon and tried to shake some feeling back into my mouse-arm, then went to make a fresh coffee and walk around a bit to get the numbness out of my legs.
All three of my cats were parked on the windowsill above the sink. Moocher and Charlie seemed fascinated by the antics of one of the local lizards, which was doing pushups on the side of a planter and fluffing out its red throat ruff.
Winston, the matriarch of the group, was facing away from the action and gave me a look that told me that both the lizard and his audience were beneath her notice.
After cobbling together my coffee, I checked the cats' food and freshened their water, then wandered outside into a hot, sunny Central Florida day. Something about the quality of the light and the way I could see far into the clouds reminded me of a day at the beach some years ago.
'Funny,' I thought, 'People spend big bucks to visit Florida and its beaches. I only live ten miles from a beach and haven't been out there in years.' After a sip of coffee, I mentally added a sardonic, 'Must be a reason.'
Yeah, there's a reason. This area is a retirement community, so the local beach is a colossal bore for anyone between nineteen and fifty. Scalding sunshine, sand in shoes and everything else, one lousy drink machine, grandparents and their grandkids everywhere, and flat, surfless Gulf water.
On the other hand... nubile young beach bunnies with fine, solid legs and butt-floss bathing suits could be found a mere twenty miles south at Hudson Beach and...
...And what the hell... I needed to be exposed to some sunlight. I needed to get out and walk for no reason, thinking thoughts above and beyond the internet.
Going back into the house (and momentarily breathing a sigh of relief at the cool air within) I headed for the bedroom, changed into cutoff jeans and put a towel in my small green backpack, then headed for the car before some stray thought could cross my mind and change it.
Southbound traffic on US-19 was sparse; most of it was heading out of St. Pete and Clearwater, not into it. But the Hernando Beach parking lots were crammed, of course.
Oh, well. I lurked near the restaurant and waited for a parking space to open, sipping coffee and listening to Sarah Chang pull Tchaikovsky's 35th out of her violin. The good stuff, played by a beautiful woman with a talent on a par with that of Itzhak Perlman.
I almost missed a couple heading for a blue Beemer. Nosing in close to block anyone else's access to the area fairly completely, I shoved my 84 Olds into the space as soon as they'd moved aside, stashed my CD player in the trunk, then headed for the beach, whistling the music that had filled the car so well.
That didn't last long. Pink's "Don't Let Me Get Me" was blaring from the bar/snack bar's speakers. More good stuff. Pink's got a helluva sexy voice and she'd be flatly gorgeous without all the tattoos and funky rags. Great legs, too, as seen in a video for the "Moulin Rouge" movie. I happily switched to whistling Pink's tunes as I doffed my sneaks and crossed the strand.
Flat water here, too. Not like the Atlantic side, where three-to-five-foot waves are normal. The Gulf side's more like a lake, with wavelets that lap the shoreline. Shrug. It's still salt water. Scanning the beach, I saw a big sign -- big enough to read from fifty feet -- that said, "NO T-BACK BATHING SUITS ON BEACH."
Well, damn. The blue-nosed prigs were hard at work, as usual. No biggie; legs are my favorite female viewables, anyway. I looked around for the best concentration of such scenery and saw that beach bunnies had sense enough to cluster around the shaded bar/snack bar. Good enough. I could handle a cold beer.
Heading toward the bar, I bashed my right big toe on something that barely budged on impact and nearly tripped me. After saying a few unkind words and checking my aching toe, I bent to uncover whatthehellever had assaulted my foot.
It was a Pinch booze bottle. No label and the exterior had been sandblasted to cloudy opaqueness by the elements, but the shape was distinctive. The bottle was apparently empty, but heavy as a brick. Holding it up to the sunlight, I tried to see what was inside it. No luck. It still appeared empty.
Pulling the stopper out, I looked inside, but saw nothing. Absolutely empty. Yet heavy as hell. Hmm. It was a curious thing, but I just wasn't interested enough to lug an empty booze bottle around.
There was a trashcan near the bar. I tried to re-stopper the bottle as I walked, but the stopper didn't seem to fit anymore. Too much trouble to bother with. Sightseeing. That's all I had in mind. A distraction of female flesh and form to make me forget about the Internet code crap for a while. No friggin' puzzles today, please.
I trashed the bottle and stopper as I passed the can. As with the parking space, I had to stand by and wait for a barstool to come open. At last, someone unassed a seat and I scooted in to re-ass it, then ordered a beer.
Like I said, I like Pink's music. I hate rap and dislike most country, but otherwise, anything with a decent beat will do. Drumming my fingers on the bar, I tried not to be too blatant about eyeballing the young sun goddesses as I sipped my beer.
If a young guy leers -- and they do, indiscriminately -- the ladies think it's cute or cool and preen themselves or pose. If an older guy even looks, it isn't always received well. Haven't figured that out, really. All guys look, and if that's all you're doing, what's the big deal? Besides, we only bother gazing at the really good stuff by the time we hit fifty, so if an older guy eyeballs you, take it as a compliment.
One of the women at the bar said something to another one about hoping her nearly-finished historical-romance novel would be published sooner than she'd been told to anticipate. Her friend asked what someone named Harry had told her.
"Two to three years," she said. "Gawd. That's like forever, y'know? Almost."
"Has an editor already seen it?" I asked.
Miss Authoress tilted her head and articulated, "Hah?"
"And just who are you?" asked the other girl with a lot of attitude.
"Someone who also writes," I said. "And my question was for your friend, who can probably speak for herself if she can write a novel, don't you think?"
"Uh, well," said her author-friend, "I haven't really sent it anywhere yet."
"Has your friend Harry ever been published?"
After a glance at her girlfriend, the authoress said, "He writes strictly for the enjoyment of it. And it's mostly fan-fiction, but it's very good."
Uh, huh. He was using someone else's preconstructed, well-known, proprietary characters and playing with them like Barbie dolls. Far less possibility of rejection by the diehard fan friends unless your scribbles were truly, completely crap.
Even if they were good, his stuff was saleable only to the company who owned the rights to the shows, and they were swamped with submissions they never read for fear that someone would accuse them of having stolen script ideas from the slushpile.
I made no comments about Harry's works or their potential saleability. We spoke on the subject of publishing and all went well until I told her that I'd e-published my twelve books on my own website to avoid the very delays and hassles she was facing.
"But that's not real publishing," she semi-politely sneered.
"People buy my books and read them," I said. "I make money at it. What's not real about that?"
With an air of superciliousness, she asked, "How many thousands of books have you sold? One? Two, maybe? How long has it taken to sell them?"
I sipped my beer, then said, "You got it. I've sold almost two thousand ebook CD's in less than two years."
Sipping my beer again as she shared a snotty grin with her friend, I added, "At fifteen bucks each, minus postage, packaging, and blank CD's. And that figure doesn't include the individual ebooks I've sold by email or through bookstore websites."
The authoress tried to appear unimpressed, but her friend simply stared at me as I continued, "That beats the hell out of some big publisher's promise to pay fourteen percent or less at some vague future date IF your work is actually ever read, IF it's actually ever published, IF they sell enough copies during the two months it'll be on store shelves, IF they keep honest books -- and many don't, that's been proven in court -- and IF you don't have to lose or hand back a big chunk of your royalties due to returns from stores and a few other things that can happen."
Miss Authoress huffed and curtly said that epublishing still just wasn't the same thing as real publishing at all.
I grinningly agreed and sipped my beer as I watched some bunnies go by outside. Screw Miss Authoress and her worshipful attitudes about paper publishing. Her ego needed to see a New York logo on the cover, that's all. How many books actually sold was far less important to her than seeing her name on a paperback.
The same kind of people count website hits as if they actually mean something. The hits may be from repetitious graphic loadings, spiders and robots from the search engines, spam-bots scanning pages for email addresses, or even occasional real, live visitors to the site. Again; screw that. I count ebook orders, not hits.
A short walk on the beach and a return trip past the streetside shops later, I'd had enough sand and sun. I was ready to head home, clean up, feed myself, and see if there was some decent music in one of the local pubs. Just as I'd decided to hit Crabbit's Pub around eight, I heard footsteps nearby.
"Excuse me," said a woman's rich contralto voice near my car.
I looked up from unlocking the driver's door to see the shoulders and face of a truly superb mid-to-late twenties specimen of brunette womanhood standing on the other side of my car. In that light-tan jacket and skirt outfit she was dressed more for an office than a beach.
Wow. Tall. Beautiful. No, gorgeous is a better word. Who did she kind of look like? Kate Vernon? Sort of? Lordy! Those eyes!
"Yes?" I managed to say when my eyes finally met hers. It seemed so inadequate. I'd wanted to say, "Yes, please," or something very like it.
"We need to talk," she said with an odd slight accent.
'Oh, hell,' I thought.
Nothing puts a man on the defensive faster than a woman saying, 'We need to talk'. Automatically double your trepidation if you don't know her and triple it if you think she might work for any branch of the government.
I told myself to pull my tongue back in and be reasonably cautious. Twenty-something women who look like her aren't usually interested in fifty-three-year-old men who drive eighteen-year-old cars.
"Uhm, talk?" I asked, "About what, ma'am?"
Glancing around cautiously, she softly said, "I am in your debt. I must settle the matter with you properly."
Debt? Settle? Properly? I felt like looking up to see if I could spot the mothership.
Looking her over again, I said, "Lady, I don't know you at all, and -- trust me on this -- I'd remember meeting a woman as beautiful as you for the rest of my life. Maybe longer. Just think a minute, okay? Are you sure you have the right guy?"
Smiling slightly, she nodded and rather firmly said, "Yes, I'm certain of that. You've done something for me and now I must do something for you."
With a vastly skeptical gaze, I said, "Uh, huh. Excuse me for asking, but would this 'something that you must do' later involve my paying you for your services?"
After a moment, her gaze narrowed as she seemed to grasp my meaning.
"No. You need pay me nothing. As I've said; I am in your debt."
There was firm insistence in her tone. She seemed absolutely convinced, even if I wasn't. I took a quick glance around and didn't see any cameras pointed at me, but, then, the cameras were always hidden on those insipid TV shows.
If she wasn't a hooker, maybe she was a con artist? Go somewhere to "talk", then have someone burst in claiming to be a husband to try to shake me down? Surely she could see that I wasn't particularly rich.
"Exactly what am I supposed to have done for you?"
She lowered her eyes and said, "I think that would be better discussed in private."
Uh, huh. Ducking a bit to look through the windows, I saw that she had no purse. Flat pockets on her sleek jacket; no pocketbook or keys were evident. Well-dressed otherwise, but away from home without a purse? Nope. It was time to go.
Shaking my head slightly, I said, "Like I've said, I don't know you. Sorry." With a last glance at her lovely face, I added, "And I really kind of mean that. Goodbye."
I opened my car door and got in, then started the car and zapped all the electric windows down halfway to let the heat out of the car until the air-conditioning could get up to speed. She tried the door handle, but the door was locked.
Her hand reaching in to pull the door's lock knob up made me put the Olds in gear, but she didn't pull her arm out of the car. I started backing up slowly, to give her a chance to reconsider.
She still didn't pull her arm out. Instead, her arm seemed to turn into a colorful shadow of itself and the car's dash backed through it until her arm was on the other side of the windshield, her hand apparently reaching through the hood of the car.
I stopped the car and stared in total disbelief as she moved her shadowy arm and hand back through the windshield and dashboard, apparently as a demonstration. When I looked at the woman beyond the shadowy arm, the rest of her also blurred slightly and she simply sat down in my car through the closed car door.
"We may leave now," she said.
Staring at her for a moment, I quietly asked, "How the hell did you do that?"
Sighing as she looked at me, she said, "That would be better discussed in private. Could we please leave this place?"
"We aren't going anydamnwhere until I know what you are, who you are, and why you think you owe me anything, if that wasn't just a line."
A Ford honked at us and I let the Olds drift back into the parking space. The Ford driver swore at us as he drove by, obviously somewhat disappointed that we hadn't left the space.
Looking at the woman, I said, "Okay. What's your story, lady?"
"You wish to talk here, in your vehicle?"
"No, I don't wish it. I demand it. At first I thought you were a hooker. Now I think you're probably nuts and possibly dangerous."
"What is a hooker?"
Who speaks English and doesn't know what a hooker is? But her question seemed completely genuine.
"Jesus, lady, where the hell are you from?"
She shook her head slightly and seemed absolutely serious as she said, "I'm not allowed to tell you that."
In a gesture of frustration, I let my hands leave the steering wheel and flail in mid-air and slapped the steering wheel. The woman startled and her gaze turned to a rather stark glare.
"Sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to scare you. In fact, it never occurred to me that I could scare someone who can reach through a car. How the hell did you do that? No, wait. First tell me your name. I'm Ed."
"Ed," she repeated carefully. "I'm... Jaline."
"You don't sound too sure about that."
Less tentatively, she said, "That name will do. I am a Jinn."
"A Jinn. You mean a genie?"
With one eyebrow raised at me, she repeated, "A Jinn."
"Uh, huh. But you know what a genie is, right?"
"Yes. It's a mistranslation of Jinn."
Looking her over again, partly to look for weapons, I said, "Well, by God, you looked magical enough to me even before you sat down through a closed steel door, but I'm not a big believer in magic and I believe even less in wishing for things. You're saying that you were in that bottle I found?"
She nodded. "Yes. I've been in that bottle since 1917."
"So where'd you get that outfit? Why aren't you wearing stuff from 1917?"
"There was a newspaper in the trash container. I took a few moments to read it and find out where and when I'd materialized, then I checked the sale ads to see how people are dressing and created something appropriate."
"You'll understand if I find this hard to believe."
Sighing, she said, "It's ever so with mortals. On many occasions, 'How did you fit into that bottle?' has been one of their first questions."
I shrugged and grinned as I said, "No problem. Magic."
Giving me a sharp glance, she said, "You just said you don't believe in magic."
Grinning, I said, "It was a joke, Jaline. I say the same thing about how computers and their programs work. It usually saves having to try to explain to newbies."
"New-bees?" she drew the word out a bit. "That word wasn't in the paper, either."
"Newbies," I said. "People who are new to computing, for instance."
"I see. May I say that you seem to have a fairly cavalier attitude concerning something you don't seem to understand at all?"
"You're sitting in an air-conditioned car, ma'am. They didn't have those in 1917. They didn't have computers, either, but you didn't ask me what a computer is. Seems to me that someone who hasn't been out of her bottle for eighty-five years ought to have more than a few questions, too."
Giving me that raised eyebrow again, she said, "Computers were mentioned in the paper, as was air-conditioning. I do have some questions, but there will be time enough to learn what I wish to know about this era once I'm fully released from my debt to you."
"Back to that, huh?"
"Yes. I must grant you three wishes."
"Tell you what, Jaline; I'm pretty well set. You've made your offer and I don't really need any wishes, so why don't you just hop out and go on about your life?"
"I must perform my duty."
"Uh, huh. Well, let me think about it, then. Where can I reach you later?"
"You don't understand. I may not leave you until I've satisfied my debt."
"Oh, no. Huh-uh. Nope. Look, lady, that won't work at all. My girlfriend isn't gonna react well if I bring you home, and we only have a few more days together before she leaves for Tallahassee."
"She's leaving you?"
"Yeah. She'll be going to school there."
Jaline's startled eyes traveled my face as she asked in a shocked tone, "She's a mere schoolgirl?"
"Hey! Don't look at me like that! She's thirty-three!"
Her startlement changed to suspicion. "How can a woman that age be in school?"
"She just is, and I can't take you home with me. Now hop out. See ya. Bye."
My tone and words obviously irritated her. Jaline sat stiffly staring forward for some moments, then said, "I'm required to remain with you until I've completed my service. I have no choice."
"You can't stay with me."
"Until I grant your wishes, I must."
"Yeah, right, the wishes. Three, you said?"
Studying the woman next to me, I considered a few things. She'd appeared out of nowhere and ghosted into my car through a closed door, and that had been no illusion. I then remembered that some genie stories didn't end very well for the bottle-opener, either because the wishes backfired or the genie simply killed him. They'd left me with the feeling that dealing with genies was like dealing with devils; a chancy proposition at best. Well, at least she hadn't killed me. Yet.
"Suppose I put my disbelief in my pocket for a minute, Jaline. If I wished for world-wide peace, what would happen?"
Her eyes narrowed slightly, but she matter-of-factly said, "If that were your wish, I'd have to grant it."
"Uh, huh. And how would you do that?"
With a wry look, she said, "Through my magic, of course."
Shaking my head, I said, "No, I mean... well, how would you change people so that they'd go along with the peace program?"
"I'd rather not discuss that."
"Tell me anyway."
"If you wish it."
Again shaking my head, I sat back and looked at her.
"If you're for real, I'd only have two wishes left, right?"
She didn't answer as she met my gaze.
"Jaline, may I ask why you can't simply talk to me about these things?"
With a little shrug, she said, "Yes," then nothing else.
Smiling slightly, she said, "You only asked if you could ask."
Looking abashed, I said, "Oh, right. So I did," then I turned to face her and said, "Get out of my car. Now."
"I may not leave until..."
I said rather flatly, "Shut up and get out. Now, or I'll call a cop."
She shook her head and seemed to anchor herself to the seat. "I can't."
Opening my door, I said, "I'll do it, lady. I'll call the cops. I'm not joking."
"Neither am I. I can't leave you until I've granted your wishes."
That was enough for me. I saw a pay phone by the restaurant door and headed for it. Ten paces along, I glanced back at the car, saw no brunette in the passenger seat, and stopped to look around.
No Jaline -- or whomever, or whatever -- anywhere in sight. I almost relaxed, then I felt a presence behind me and turned to see Jaline standing not two feet away. I didn't bother asking how she'd got around me.
Keeping her in sight, I backed toward the car. She remained standing for a moment on the sidewalk, halfway to the restaurant door, then moved to follow me. I scampered around the car and opened the door, never taking my eyes off her in the process of getting in and starting the engine.
Dropping the car in reverse, I scooted out of the space and quickly backed up toward the lot entrance. Jaline stood on the sidewalk by the space and watched me go for a moment, then she simply disappeared. There one second and gone the next. I stopped the car and stared. Someone honked behind me and I ignored them.
Jaline reappeared on the seat next to me, her hands together in her lap as she looked at me with an 'I told you so' expression. The car honked again, then another car honked. I was blocking the entrance. With a sense of resignation, I let off the brake and we headed for the parking lot's exit.
With a small smile, Jaline said quietly, "Oh, good. We're finally moving. Does that mean that you believe me now?"
Pulling my seat belt into place before we reached the street, I buckled it and said, "For lack of a better explanation, I'll go along with you for now. Buckle your seat belt. If we get stopped, the fine is one-eighty-five."
She examined the shoulder belt as she pulled it across herself, then fastened it.
"Will you make your wishes soon?" she asked.
"No. Not until I know a bit more about the process."
"What don't you understand? Make three wishes. I'll grant them."
"Yeah, well, I'm kind of worried about the aftermath, ma'am. Most of the stories I've read about genies end rather unhappily. I'm wondering how -- and why -- someone put you in that bottle back in 1917, too. Until I know a lot more about you, I won't make any wishes, so if you want to hurry things along, you'll answer my questions and do your best to make me comfortable about you."
After a moment of silence, she softly said, "I see. Comfortable in the ways that other men have demanded of me?"
I took my eyes off the traffic long enough to glance at her, then said, "Zap yourself up a chastity belt if you want. Are you really a woman, or did you just make yourself look like one because a man found your bottle?"
"I was created female," said Jaline.
She didn't claim to be a real woman, I noted. Just female.
"Are there others like you?"
"What'll you do when you're free of me?"
Turning to look at me for a moment, she said, "That is none of your concern."
"It is if you want to be free of me anytime soon. If you're really what you say you are, letting something like you run loose in the world could be a big mistake."
Jaline glanced sharply at me and said, "I can't tell you."
"I'm not allowed to reveal such things."
Sighing, I said, "Oh, yeah. Again with the 'not allowed'. Naturally. I should have expected that. Gee, how very damned convenient for you."
Her voice was almost strident as she again turned to me and said, "I'm not lying to you. That isn't allowed, either."
"For which I have only your word, of course. Very reassuring. But if it were true , it seems to me that someone put a lot of fences around you, lady. That makes me wonder why, but I'll bet your answer would be 'I'm not allowed to tell you'. Right?"
Her look was an outright glare as she softly, tensely said, "Yes."
Shaking my head with a small laugh, I said, "You 'creatures of magic' types must have a helluva union. What'll happen to you if you tell me something I'm not supposed to know?"
"I'd rather not say."
I grinned and exclaimed, "Whooo! All right! Finally something other than 'I'm not allowed to tell you'! Is that some major progress, or what? Hey, can you disappear and stay that way? Invisible?"
Smiling slightly, she said, "Yes. Is it your wish that I become invisible?"
"Nope. Not a wish at all. It's part of your ticket to freedom, ma'am; part of the 'cooperation' thing I mentioned before. Work with me on this, 'cause if you hurt my girlfriend by making her think I've already replaced her, you'll be waiting for me to make my last frigging wish for a long damned time. No silly games. Just do it. Once Selena's gone, you can pop back in and we'll square this thing away. It'll only be for a few days, okay?"
After a moment of gazing at me almost studiously, Jaline nodded, said, "Yes," and vanished. Or so it seemed, until I saw the seat belts still hugging her outline.
"Intangible, too, if you can," I said. "No tricks, please."
The seat belt, still buckled, retracted quickly and tightly across the seat.
"Thank you," I said. "Now, do you eat or drink? I mean, do you have to? I don't want you to starve or dehydrate or whatever."
"No, I don't have to eat or drink."
"Great. I'm not interested in making you suffer, you know."
Her tone was wry as she said, "Thank you so very much."
Pulling in at a convenience store, I went inside and bought two Creamsicles and two cold cans of sweetened tea. When I got back to the car, I handed Jaline one of each.
"Here, Jaline. Try these."
The clerk was looking out at me as she took the two items. His eyes got big as he saw the wrapper apparently peel itself away from Jaline's ice cream.
"Uh, Jaline, could you make the ice cream and tea invisible, too? We have an audience, and..." They disappeared before I could finished the sentence.
"Thanks," I said. "How do you like your Creamsicle? I don't think they had those back in 1917."
Around a bite of it, she slurred, "Zhey ditn't. Umm. It'sh ferry good."
"I think you'll like the tea, too."
I felt a slight motion and realized that -- even though I couldn't see her doing it -- she had turned to look at me as she asked, "May I ask why you're suddenly being nice to me?"
I shrugged and asked, "You're cooperating, right?"
After a moment she said, "Yes. I am."
"Then I have no reason to be difficult with you, whether all of this is for real or not. All I want to do is get through it without any of the consequences I've read about."
"Yeah, consequences. In one story the genie thanked the guy for freeing him, then tore him apart because he was human and a human had bottled him up. Psychotic shit like that. Or like when another guy wished for a king's ransom in gold -- however the hell much that may be. The genie made the gold fall out of the sky on him. Killed him with it. And then there's the guy who wished to sit on the throne of his country." Waving a hand dramatically, I said, "Poof. Done. He was sitting in the king's chair. The king's guards instantly dragged him away and killed him. Want more?"
Jaline giggled. "Poof?"
"Yeah, poof," I said around some ice cream. "You know what I mean. A puff of smoke or a flash of light and zap, one dead bottle-opener. No thanks. Not for me. Hey, are the wishes transferable? Could I donate them to charity?"
"No. You freed me. No other person may make your wishes."
"Figures. It was just a thought."
She giggled again. "Would you feel better if I told you that I have no intention of killing you?"
"Oh, a little, yeah. Want to hear about a bottle-opener who didn't get killed?"
In a sardonic tone, she asked, "Oh, you actually know of one of those, as well?"
"Sure. Three guys were shipwrecked on an island. Food and water were in short supply and they didn't get along well at all. One found a bottle and let a genie out of it. He wished to be back in his hometown. Poof, done. He then wished for great wealth. Poof, done. In his excitement, he said, 'Boy, I wish those other two assholes could see me now!' Poof, done. He was back on the island with them."
There was absolute silence for a long moment, then a snicker that turned into a giggle that turned into a long, chortling laugh.
Somewhat breathlessly, Jaline said accusingly, "You made that up."
Sipping my tea, I tossed my Creamsicle wrapper in the trash bag that hangs on the radio tuner knob and said, "Nope. Read it somewhere. Augustus Claudius used to say, 'Be very wary of gifts from gods.' Read that somewhere, too." Glancing in the direction of my unseen passenger, I said, "I'd think that applies to goddesses, too."
"I'm not a goddess. I'm a Jinn."
Reaching through the area above the passenger seat, I strummed the taut seat belt on her side of the car and said, "Yeah, well, the differences aren't readily apparent to me, ma'am. Of course, neither are you, at the moment."
I heard the pop-hiss as she opened her can of tea, then nothing more for a time, until she snickered again and said, "Thank you. I haven't had a reason to laugh for a long time."
"You're welcome. Question: Why haven't genies taken over the world?"
Slightly muffled by ice cream, her answer was, "I can only speak for myself. I don't want to take over the world."
"Is there anything you do want?"
She instantly replied, "My freedom."
"Beyond that," I shot back.
"I need nothing beyond that."
Shrugging, I said, "Well, then, I hereby declare you to be free."
"You can't do that. As I told you, I must..."
Sighing loudly to interrupt her, I gave her an exasperated look.
After a moment, she quietly said, "A greater power has decreed it."
"What greater power? Who? Where? How do I lodge a complaint?"
"I'm not allowed to..."
With a minor curse and a swat at the steering wheel, I said, "Yeah, yeah, all that."
I put my empty tea can in the trash bag and started the car, then headed us back out on US-19. Silence reigned for some time before something occurred to me.
"Jaline, can you assure me that nothing terrible will happen to me because I made a wish?" As an afterthought, I added, "And just to be specific, I mean the sorts of things that I would consider terrible."
"Of course I can, but would you believe me?"
"Well, probably not at this very moment, I guess. I've been trying to figure out how someone could make someone like you get into that bottle, and about all I can come up with is; he or she used the third wish. Probably to try to get more wishes."
I half-expected her to remain silent, really. Or to deny it. She didn't.
"That's precisely what he did," she said. "He thought I'd have to grant him three more wishes when he released me again."
"You say that as if it's not the way things work."
"It isn't. I tried very hard to convince him of that before he wished me back into the bottle, but..." her words trailed away.
"What happened? Did he get a bad case of insecurity or something? Why didn't he let you out again?"
After a few long moments, Jaline said, "He became afraid that I would kill him for reconfining me." Pausing for a heartbeat or so, she added, "He was wrong. I'd have killed him for what he made me do to his people to fulfill his other two wishes."
Considering her words and tone for a moment, I said, "That probably means he did something that left some kind of footnote in history. Who was he?"
"His name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin. Nicolai, to the gullible fools who believed they were his friends. He found my bottle when he and three followers took refuge from the Tsar's men in a cave near Zurich. He decided not to share his good fortune; the Tsar's men were blamed for the deaths of the others in the cave."
In minor amazement, I muttered, "Well, Holy Shit, Batman! The guy who barfed up the Russian Revolution and made a third of the world Communist. That's why 1917 had such a familiar ring." Turning to Jaline, I asked, "He made you make that happen?"
"Yes, through the manipulation of the minds of a great many other people. That's why I so poorly received your question about a wish for world peace. He used similar words quite often in his rhetoric."
I shook my head. "Yeah, I've heard some of that rhetoric. Most of it was pretty lame, but there are still people who parrot it and believe in it."
After a moment, I said, "But I'd just like to see people to be able to get along with each other for a change, Jaline; to learn some real global management skills, to get rid of their stupidities, and to stop blowing each other up."
"Exactly how would you like me accomplish that goal, Ed? How would you have me 'adjust' humanity to that end?"
With a grin, I said, "Um. Yeah. Good question. Tell ya what; maybe we'll come back to that idea some other time. You sound as if you care what happens to people."
"I don't wish humanity any harm. Does that surprise you?"
"Maybe a little. After being locked up for a while, a lot of people would turn pretty mean -- a poor comparison, maybe, since you aren't human -- and with your kind of power... Huh. Never mind. A lot of people get like that without being locked up."
The trash bag jostled as Jaline said rather dryly, "I've noticed that, too," and her Creamsicle wrapper and tea can appeared in the bag.
As I made the turn onto Northcliffe Boulevard, I asked, "How did you come to be locked in a jug in the first place? Or on Earth, for that matter? Was it a vacation that didn't work out well? Did you piss someone off to get sent here?"
With a sigh, she said, "I can't tell you those things, Ed."
"Thought you might say that. Jaline, I have to be able to trust you, at least a little. I want to know why you're here on Earth and how you came to be here before I turn something as powerful as you loose on the world. You don't have to tell me, and I won't wish you back into that bottle if you don't, but like I said, it could be a damned long time before you get any wishes out of me at all."
She sat silent the full three minutes to Commodore Avenue and my driveway. Selena's blue Ford was parked on the swale in front of my house. I pointed at it and said, "Selena's here early. She was supposed to show up in the morning. Pretend you don't exist until she's gone and we'll be fine. Okay?"
"You've already instructed me about her and I agreed."
"Yeah, but I just want to be sure. She's one of the nicer people I've known and I don't want her last days with me to turn sour. Um... Does your sticking around mean that we won't have any privacy?"
"I need only be where I can be summoned conveniently."
"So... Okay, I guess. Remember how I knew you were behind me on the sidewalk at the restaurant? I'll probably know if you're in the room, too."
"You sound very sure of that."
"Lots of practice. Experiences in nasty places. Yes, I'm fairly sure of it."
A thought occurred to me and I asked, "Is sticking so close to me just a means of pressuring me to hurry up and make the wishes? I have the feeling you could be on the other side of the world and hear me if I called you."
Her rich, soft laughter came to me, then she said, "Yes. I could."
"Then how about going sightseeing for a few days, ma'am? Go see what's new in the world since 1917. Something like that. I won't disappear in the next three days. Besides, I think you could probably find me if I did."
"If something happened to you during my absence, I'd be unable to fulfill my debt. I'd be trapped here, Ed."
Unable to think of a counter to that, I muttered, "Well, that really sucks."
"Just an expression. I think it's unfair. If I die, why should you be stuck here?"
Sighing, she said, "It's the way of things."
Selena's face appeared in my kitchen window. She undoubtedly wondered why I hadn't gotten out of the car and I didn't want her to see me speaking to thin air, so I said, "Oops. Gotta go now," and got out to go to the house.
At the door I glanced back at the car and saw exactly what I'd expected; nothing. Selena opened the front door and I went in. She pulled me into a hug and a kiss as usual, but I realized something was different. No cats surrounded our ankles.
I looked in the kitchen and saw all three cats with their noses to the window screen, vastly interested in whatever was outside. Following their unmoving gazes, I realized that they weren't watching a lizard; their faces were focused on apparently nothing at a spot more than five feet above the front porch. Jaline's face, probably. Moocher stood up and preened as he always did when someone new was around.
"Ed?" asked Selena.
"Oh. Uh, just wondering what they were staring at."
She looked where I had and said, "There's nothing out there."
Kissing her again, I said, "Cats just like to mess with our heads now and then. You decided to skip your going away party tonight?"
"Cathy rescheduled it for this afternoon to surprise me. I hate surprises. When I got wind of it I went home around one, caught her in the act, and turned it into a pizza party." Hugging me again, she said, "I slipped out around four. I wanted to be here."
With a little grin, she added, "I do hope I haven't inconvenienced you, sir."
"Oh, not at all, milady. I thought you might pull something like this, so I tossed my other four girlfriends out by three, just in case."
"Good thinking." She pointed at two pizza boxes on the stove. "We wouldn't have had enough to go around, anyway."
We attacked the pizza and washed it down with Ice House beer at the kitchen table. Both of us noticed that -- instead of being interested in ham and other pizza parts -- the cats seemed very interested in an area by the kitchen sink and speculated about what might be causing the interest. Selena settled on the idea that there must be something in the cabinet and I let that supposition stand.
When Selena made a trip to the bathroom, I whispered, "Jaline."
From somewhere by the kitchen sink came her quiet, "Yes, Ed."
"Grab a beer and some pizza and take it to the back porch if you want."
"Oh, are you feeling sorry for me now?"
"No, I'm feeling somewhat guilty because I can't invite you to join us."
She snickered softly. "At least you're fairly honest about it." With a wistful tone to her voice, she said, "I'd love to be included, even in such a very modest way, but..."
I sighed and said, "Oh, hell, lady. Do it or don't. All you'll miss is pizza and beer, and they'll be available later."
She didn't even open the fridge door. I heard the muffled clink of bottles inside the fridge, then the soft hiss of a bottle opening a couple of feet away. A bottle cap landed in the trashcan and one of the pizza slices disappeared, then all the cats traveled in a loose cluster to the sliding glass back doors, which opened for them and closed after them.
Some moments later, Selena returned and asked, "I thought I heard the porch doors. Did you go out?"
"Nope. They did." I thumbed at the cats parked or sprawled on the porch table.
Selena gazed at them for a moment, then said, "Your cats are weird, Ed. Any other cats would be trying to score some pizza scraps, but yours decided to go out."
I shrugged and nibbled some pizza. Selena sat down and went back to work on her own pizza. Out of sight was out of mind; the topic of conversation shifted from my cats to other things fairly quickly.
Dinner. Drinks. Talk. Dancing in the living room to the kinds of music that allow you to hold your partner in your arms. Long showers with lots of soap and play. The bedroom. Sadness about soon being so far apart. Gladness to have the weekend before she had to leave. Promises to visit on long weekends and call frequently.
Just like all the other times. Anna, Kim, Beverly, Brenda. Marsha, Susan, Linda... I had no illusions; the calls and visits would decrease over time and finally cease. She'd find a man in Tallahassee and I'd find a woman a bit closer to home. With only a few small variations, the fond reenactment continued until sleep overcame us.
Odd noises from the living room woke me at three in the morning. I went quietly out there and looked around in the dim lighting from night-lights. At first I saw nothing, then I spotted the third volume of my ten-year-old encyclopedia set floating open before the bookcase. I left Jaline to her reading and went back to bed.
Monday morning arrived much too soon. I made us a fairly elaborate late breakfast, then we postponed Selena's leaving by two more hours with another visit to the bedroom and a last shower together. It seemed to me that an era of goodness had ended when Selena tearfully drove away, but she had felt that it was time, so...
"Ed," said Jaline from perhaps two feet to my left.
I looked that direction and saw nothing, thankfully.
"Hi, Jaline. She's gone, but please stay invisible outside the house for now. The neighbors can be pretty nosy about some things."
"A woman who truly loved you wouldn't leave you, Ed. Not for any reason."
Turning to go back into the house, I said, "She would if she found herself needing children more than me, Jaline."
"But if you wished it, you could be healed..."
With a horrified look, I stepped back and said, "Woah! Hell, no, lady. Don't even think about it. I paid good money to get this way. That was back when the dollar was still worth something, too. I've been real happy as a practice toy."
Her gaze narrowed at my tone and words. She said, "It is written that a man who has no children has no future."
"That was written before the bronze age, Jaline. We don't need to breed our own farmhands anymore, and when we're old in this country, we can check into nursing homes. C'mon, let's go back inside and start talking about your situation."
Jaline's tone was kind of sharp.
"My situation? You said that as if it wasn't also your situation, Ed."
"Um. So I did. Well, ma'am, you're the one who said she'd be trapped here if I died. Same if I didn't make the wishes, I figure. Since I got by without wishes before I found you, I figure I could probably keep on getting by without 'em. Let's go in, get some coffee, and see what we can do to solve your problem."
A small cloud formed some ten feet above the ground. As it quickly grew to about a yard in diameter, it turned very dark and lightning laced it with actinic flashes.
"Cute trick, but it won't help to get all fuzzed up," I said, heading for the house. "My very first wish could be that you couldn't ever directly harm or harass me or anyone else -- or indirectly cause me or anyone else to be harmed or harassed -- in any manner whatsoever. How do you like your coffee?"
She didn't answer as I closed the door. When I turned around, Jaline was standing in the kitchen, dressed in black slacks and a white blouse. She glanced at the table, and -- without so much as a blink -- a rather elaborate silver samovar on a tray popped into being. Two of the tiny cups turned rightside up and became steamingly full.
"That's how I like my coffee," she said.
"Is that the Arabic stuff that's stronger than French espresso?"
"Well, no offense, then, but I'll make my own. I like bigger cups and I've gotten used to instant coffee." My last two words struck me funny and I laughed shortly.
Jaline had picked up one of the cups. Her gaze narrowed at me.
"Instant coffee," I said, indicating her cup, then her samovar. "You just gave me a new meaning for the term."
In a flat, cool tone, she said, "Oh. I see."
Sighing as I spun the lid off my coffee jar and tapped some into the lid, I said, "We're here to talk about fixing things, milady. You want me to go find something else to do until you're in a better mood?"
Also sighing, Jaline rested her chin in a palm and said, "No."
"Then let's get down to it. Will providing me wealth in any form cost you anything in any way? Energy or whatever it is you run on?"
"No. Magic is like an unending river to those who can use it."
Perhaps sensing the change in Jaline's mood, the cats began to appear. Winston cautiously entered the kitchen, then Charlie followed her.
As they investigated Jaline in her visible form, I asked, "Could I be made able to use magic?"
Shaking her head as she stroked the cats, Jaline said, "That is not allowed."
"Well, damn. Okay, onward, then. If I asked you to supply me with fifty pounds of diamonds -- each diamond of a size that could be cut into to a flawless, half-carat finished gemstone according to existing standards -- could you do it?"
She nodded as she smiled slightly and said, "Of course."
"They wouldn't disappear or turn into something else or wind up out of my reach when I let you go, would they?"
Jaline snickered and said, "No."
"You'd create them yourself or dig them out of the ground?"
Moocher came in for a share of attention as she said, "Whichever you wish."
"I think I'd prefer that you create them yourself."
"Okay. Are the diamonds your first wish?"
"Nope. They'll be my second wish."
Her eyebrow went up. "What's your first?"
I took a deep breath and said, "Jaline, you're far too powerful and you have some human temperaments. Sorry, but I just can't blindly trust that you'll never get pissed about something and wipe out the world. My first wish is the one that I mentioned; that you can't ever directly harm or harass me or anyone else -- or indirectly cause me or anyone else to be harmed or harassed -- in any manner, except as necessary for self-defense or defense of someone else."
"Done," she said with a grin. "That was a wasted wish, by the way. Well considered, but wholly unnecessary."
As Moocher stood on a chair to sniffingly investigate the samovar, I said, "Glad to hear it, but better safe than sorry. Instead of just loose on the table, would you make the diamonds appear in a backpack like the one you've seen me carry? So they don't turn into cat toys?" I gestured at Moocher and Winston, who also had become curious about the samovar.
When the backpack appeared smack in the middle of the table, it displaced air with a popping sound and a slight breeze. Both cats jumped a few feet and wound up on the floor. Winston landed in combat mode and Moocher looked at me for reassurance.
"No problem, Moochie," I said, heaving the bag to the floor and shoving it out of the way, up against the cabinets. Patting the bag, I said, "It's just a plain old thing, see? Can't get you."
All three cats cautiously edged their way closer to the bag as I put a hand on Jaline's shoulder and said, "Thank you very much, Jaline. I have some plans and ideas for some of those diamonds."
Her brows furrowed and she seemed somewhat startled and puzzled as I sat down and picked up my coffee.
"Don't you want to see them?"
Sipping my coffee, then shaking my head, I said, "Nope. Seen 'em before in Africa. They don't look very special at all before they've been cut and polished. 'Course, the people who buy them from me may not feel that way about them. I'll sell a few quietly now and then and stash the others."
"But..." She glanced at the bag, then returned her gaze to me as she said, "Never mind. Are you ready to make your third wish now?"
"Gimme a minute. I'm still putting it together. You made it all the way through the encyclopedia over the weekend, didn't you?"
With a somewhat miffed expression, she rather stiffly stated, "Of course."
"Well, then, you know what telekinesis is. That's part one of wish three. I'd like to be able to move things with my mind. To make them move fairly fast, too. And, in case I wanted to hop over to Europe for a weekend, I'd need to be able to move myself safely at high speeds. How could you grant me that?"
She shrugged. "I'd simply give you the ability to apply variations of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. You'd then be able to redirect field energies in order to move matter at virtually any speed. And to create a protective field barrier around it or yourself. I can instil the knowledge of use with the ability, but using it safely will still require quite a bit of practice."
Chuckling, I said, "Oh, I don't doubt that at all, ma'am. Not at all. Great, then, we'll make all that part of my wish. I'm also thinking about my health, Jaline. Can you reverse my physical years to age thirty and set my body to remain in perfect health at that age indefinitely?"
"Yes, I can roll back your years and give you perfect health. No, I can't lock your body at that age. You'll begin aging normally from that point."
"In that case, make me twenty-five. Will you do it without affecting my mind as it is at this moment? No memory losses or scrambling?"
"Are there any other caveats I should know about?"
"I can't think of any."
I nodded. "Can you extend the reversal of age and perfect health part of the wish to include my immediate family and friends? Back 'em all down to twenty-five?" I picked up Winston and added, "And my cats? Would you make them each about a year old, physically?"
In a tone that said that I was beginning to bug her with my unending details, she said, "Yes."
"Then we'll add that in, too. Now for the last part of my third wish. After irrevocably granting my other conditions of this wish, you'll accept your emancipation from whatever bondage made me your temporary master. I won't include that you never again allow anyone to confine or control you unless you tell me to."
Both of her eyebrows went up at that.
After a moment, Jaline said softly, "I'd prefer that you not include that in your wish. You're smarter than I thought."
I shook my head. "Probably not, really, but no human I've ever heard of could confine or contain someone like you without your cooperation. Why do you do it?"
Studying a fingernail, she said, "I... I can't tell you that."
"More rules, or just plain ol' unwillingness?"
Her eyes rose to meet mine. "All right, then. I won't tell you."
"Ah, hah." Patting Winston, I grinningly said, "See? Give a genie her freedom and she gets all uppity."
Winston gave me an ear-flick equivalent of 'don't blather, just pet me'.
There was a lull in conversation as we sipped our coffees. When it occurred to me that I'd never seen any reference to a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle outside a science fiction paperback, I had a sudden revelation that was as if someone had flipped a switch inside my head. Complete understanding flooded my mind.
I had to try it. My gaze fell upon the diamond bag. I envisioned it sitting by the kitchen door and it disappeared, then reappeared by the kitchen door.
In more or less complete shock, I softly muttered, "Oh, shit! It really works!"
Jaline smiled at my expression. I envisioned the bag on the kitchen counter. It disappeared and reappeared there. The new knowledge in my head told me how to suspend it above the floor and I tried that, too, which made the cats extremely nervous. They stared at the floating bag until I set it on the floor.
Looking at my reflection in the microwave's window, I searched for changes to my face and saw none. Examining my left hand for signs of returning youth, I began to ask Jaline when I'd begin to look and feel younger, but she anticipated my questions.
"Your body -- and those of the others you included in your wish -- will be adjusted gradually over the next week or so, Ed. Changing physiologies too quickly causes considerable pain. Those who aren't aware of your wish could also experience serious mental distress." With a grin, she added, "Will you be contacting them, or will you allow the changes to be a complete surprise?"
Grinning back at her, I said, "I'll call my mother in a day or two and let her know what to expect. She'll probably think I'm a little crazy, but by then she'll have noticed her own changes. I'll call my sisters after I talk to her. It might comfort them to know that they won't un-age back to zero."
Chuckling, Jaline asked, "What about Selena?"
"She's only in her thirties, so the changes won't be as noticeable. I'll give her a few days to get organized in Tallahassee, then call her if she hasn't called me in the meantime. Should be interesting, either way. If I'm all set, what are your plans now, Jaline? Are you in a great big hurry to hit the road?"
As Moocher stood on the chair by Jaline's and preened under her hands, she asked, "Hit the road? You mean to leave?"
"Yes'm. You don't have to, you know. You're very welcome to use Selena's room and stay a while. You'd get free use of the cats, too. Especially that one."
Moocher's loud purr as she petted him made her chuckle softly. Jaline ruffled his chin fuzz for a time, then sighed.
"I don't know," she said. "I'll have to... I'll want to check with some... people."
Shrugging, I said, "Well, the room's yours if you want it."
She seemed thoughtful for some moments.
"How long is 'a while' to you, Ed?"
"As long as it turns out to be, Jaline. I don't really believe you need a room, y'know, but it's just about all I can offer you. That and company. You made me make three wishes, but they're over and done. Now it would just be a matter of being with someone who wouldn't try to make you do things; who wouldn't try to control you." Sipping my coffee, I added, "And everybody should have at least one person in his or her life who doesn't want a damned thing from them except a bit of company."
Getting up to refill my coffee mug, I said, "If you don't feel right about staying -- or can't stay, for whatever reason -- or if you stay a while, then leave, you could still visit now and then. I'd like that a lot." Gesturing at the cats, I said, "We'd like that."
Jaline set Moocher on the other chair and stood up as she softly said, "Ed, I'm almost six thousand years old. You're a little young for me."
Grinning, I said, "Oh, gee, let me try to dig up something witty, here: 'You don't look a day over four thousand, ma'am!'"
"How cute," she said dryly, but with a smirk of her own.
"Big numbers don't scare me, lady. You're smart and you're gorgeous. Most of my neighbors will be green with envy, y'know."
Mock-sighing exasperation, she said, "Sure they will. You can stop now."
Taking her hand, I said, "Oh, only if you wish it, milady," and gave her time to chuckle again before I said, "But be warned; if you decide to stay, you'll probably be hearing things like that fairly often."
She tilted her head slightly and wryly asked, "What happened to not wanting anything from me?"
"All right; amend that to 'nothing that you won't willingly offer'. How's that? If you don't offer, that won't make you less welcome to stay."
"Won't having me here somewhat cripple your chances of finding another girlfriend?"
I shrugged. "Oh, sure, but probably not forever. You'd get tired of all the compliments sooner or later."
Laughing, Jaline asked, "What if I didn't?"
"No biggie. We'd figure something out. Besides, don't you want to stay and watch me figure out how to use my new talents? That might be pretty funny at times."
Moocher didn't like being ignored. Standing on the edge of the chair's seat, he leaned as far as possible toward Jaline's dangling right hand and teetered there precariously, trying to make contact. When his paw touched her hand, Jaline startled slightly and Mooch lost his balance, toppling forward.
He fell only a few inches before floating upward and into Jaline's arms, where his loud, happy purring began immediately as he met her gaze.
Jaline chuckled and stroked Mooch for a few moments in silence, then looked up at me and smiled.
"Okay. You've convinced me. I'll stay for a while, Ed." She raised an emphatic index finger and said, "But it will be a while as I choose to define it; no longer than that."
Grinning at her, I said, "Jaline, I'll bet one of the diamonds in that bag that your definition of 'a while' won't be long enough to suit me." Nodding at Moocher, who was rather forcefully nuzzling her chin with his face, I added, "Us, that is."
*** End ***
EBOOK titles by Ed Howdershelt
"3rd World Products, Inc., Book 1"
"3rd World Products, Inc., Book 2"
"3rd World Products, Inc., Book 3"
"3rd World Products, Inc., Book 4"
"Bitten and Smitten"
"In Service to a Goddess, Book 1"
"In Service to a Goddess, Book 2"
"In Service to a Goddess, Book 3"
"In Service to a Goddess, Book 4"
An index to my articles and ebooks
may be found on my website:
Site: Abintra Press!
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|Reviewed by Vesna Perkovic
|Yup!! Ya know how it works..we all will soooon!
Great piece..brilliant as a matter of fact!
Love that mind of yours..reminds me of my own!! ( giggle)
Blessings kindred soul,
|Reviewed by Anne Pache
|Ha! I loved it!
'Bewitched' and 'I Dream of Jeannie' were all about controlling a woman with goddess-like powers.
It's about time someone wrote something like this story.