Genie short story by Iris Carden
The exhibition was called “Treasures of the Ottoman Empire.”
There were some beautiful pieces. There were intricately woven Turkish rugs, beautiful vases and other richly-coloured objects.
I admit I was enjoying admiring the pieces as I took them out of their crates and set up the display.
Then I found it. It was an old oil lamp, gold, heavily detailed with jewels and bright coloured enamelling. Unlike most of the items in the exhibition, it was over the top. It was too much.
By now, I’d discovered how dangerous some historic artefacts could be. As I carefully lifted it out of the packing material to put it on display, I said to myself over and over, “Don’t rub the ugly lamp. Don’t rub the ugly lamp.”
Did I really believe in genies?
Well, I hadn’t believed in dragons, or in mummies coming to life, and had been proven wrong. I knew enough of the mythology to know genies weren’t benevolent, and wishes would have a cost.
I put the lamp gently in place, but it unbalanced and began to fall. I caught it. I guess in catching it, I must have rubbed it a little.
Coloured smoke poured out of the lamp.
“No! I didn’t summon you! I don’t want you! Go back where you belong!” I might have sounded frantic or manic, but I was frightened.
A shape slowly forming in the smoke seemed to look down on me from above, and a loud voice in my head said, “The lamp is in your possession. I am summoned. I serve.”
“No! I don’t want to be served! I mean I don’t want a servant. Although don’t serve me to anyone or anything either, I don’t want to be eaten. Just go back into the lamp.”
The voice was deep and seemed to have an echo inside my head. It said, “I am summoned. I must serve. You have three wishes. I cannot return until I have fulfilled them.”
“OK, do I have time to think about it?”
“You have as long as you live, and more.”
“And more? I mean, what happens if I die before I make a wish?”
“You will stay with me until you have made your wishes and I have fulfilled them.”
“Stay with you? Wouldn’t it get a little crowded in that lamp?”
“The lamp is just a door between realities.”
“OK. Well, I’m going to think about what to wish for, you just don’t do anything until I say, OK?”
“That is, as you say, OK.”
Wishes. What I knew about wishes from folklore and tradition was that they would go wrong. Of course, I could wish for something big like world peace, or the end of hunger, but what was to stop the genie killing half the people on the planet to achieve that. What if I chose little things? How much harm could come from a tiny wish?
“I wish I had a cup of coffee to help me think,” I said.
A cup of coffee appeared in my hand. I should have anticipated it might just appear like that, but I didn’t. It slipped through my hand, shattered on the floor and splashed coffee everywhere. There’s a very good reason food and drink aren’t allowed in the exhibit area, and I spent hours carefully cleaning spots off priceless objects.
What could I wish for? What wish wouldn’t have a downside?
Could I resist making wishes, and submit to a fate of spending eternity in whatever reality the genie came from? Was the genie even telling the truth?
Eventually, I drove home, leaving half the day’s work undone and a lot of catching up to do the next day. Traffic was stop-start.
In my head, the voice said, “Do you wish me to clear the traffic?”
I’d left the ugly lamp in the museum, but the genie was still with me.
“No,” I said, “don’t interfere with the traffic in any way.”
The thing had followed me, even though I couldn’t see it. I had only ever seen a wisp of coloured smoke that seemed about to form into something then dissipated.
“Are there rules here?” Can I just wish that you returned to your realm and additionally wish that you never came back?”
The voice in my head laughed as if I’d told a hilarious joke. Then it gave a one-word reply: “No.”
“If I have all three of my wishes you won’t come out of the lamp for me even if I rub it again, right?”
Even so, the lamp was part of a travelling exhibition, and I would only pass the problem on to the someone else.
“Why a lamp anyway? Why not something else?”
“A lamp was what was available. I’ve used the same lamp for centuries. But it could be a ring, a vase, a carpet, a plate, any object at all.”
The seed of an idea was beginning to sprout.
“And once you’re back in the lamp or whatever, you can’t come out until someone rubs the item and summons you?”
It would need to be something heavy, and something no-one would want to touch.
I made a couple of stops on the way home. From the chemist, I bought a sharps container. From the hardware shop, I bought quick-setting concrete.
I filled the sharps container with concrete.
I made a wish: “I wish I could see where you are.”
The smoke appeared. Good, I had a visual cue as to what was going on.
“For my final wish, I wish you to now use this container as your home, or portal between realities or whatever you were using the lamp for.”
The smoke disappeared into the concrete-filled sharps container.
Was it really that easy?
I closed the lid on the container and sealed it with tape.
Later that night, I dropped the container from the centre of a pedestrian bridge over the Brisbane river.
Consequences? Well, there are security cameras, so I could end up with a fine for littering. Apart from that, everything’s OK, except I seem to be seeing things that can’t really be there, wisps of coloured smoke, like ghosts or something.
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As amazing as it sounds to be given wishes…I think you captured very well what a burden they could be. Nicely done, Iris! 💞
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