It was just sitting there, right out in the open. George almost didn’t take it, but you never knew what would sell, so he tossed it into the bag on his way out. Back at his place, a low-rent hotel room paid for by the week, he dumped out the bag to assess his haul.
The bottle looked shabby and old compared to the high-end electronics, but it seemed surprisingly at home among the pile of gold chains and antique jewelry. George sorted through the pile of jewelry, expertly separating the junk from the treasure and setting aside a couple of flashy, but worthless pieces for his girl of the moment, Amber. He knew just the place to offload the rest of the jewelry and had another guy for the electronics, but what was he going to do with this bottle? Maybe Amber would like it for her perfume.
It looked like something from that old TV show, the one with the blonde with no navel. It was shaped a bit like a light bulb, with a round bit at the bottom and a tall, thin neck and was made of blue glass held together with copper-colored metal. It felt heavier than it should when George hefted it. Maybe it wasn’t empty, maybe it had some kind of fancy liquor in it. He peered through the glass, but it was murky and dusty and he couldn’t see inside. He pulled his sleeve down over his hand and gave the glass a bit of a polish. The glass started to glow. He rubbed harder and the light brightened, filling the room with cool, blue light. George set it down on the night stand and stepped back in disgust. Just a cheap, trick light, one of those LED jobs, probably. Definitely worthless, but maybe Amber would like it.
He was just turning away to finish sorting through the rest of his haul, when the light brightened more and smoke billowed from the top of the bottle. Oh great, the thing was catching fire? That’s all he needed. He waved the smoke away and headed back to the bottle, ready to search for an off switch when the smoke suddenly intensified and then solidified and he found himself nose to chest with another man. With a curse, he stumbled back and looked in shock at the dark-skinned stranger standing in front of his night stand.
“Who are you? How did you get in here?” George blustered, looking around for a weapon. This wasn’t the first time he’d had to defend a haul, but how had this dude gotten in the room?
“I am the genie of the bottle, Master. What is your wish?”
George laughed, “Yeah, right. Genie. Very funny, man. Get lost!”
“Is that your first wish, Master? I only ask because I want to be very sure to fulfill your wishes correctly. I have no desire to cheat you or trick you. In fact, that is a common misconception about my kind, a rather insulting one, based on a few badly-trained genies. As a professional, my only desire is to give you your three wishes and ensure that you are content with your choices. If you truly wish for me to get lost, I will do so, but that will make it more difficult for me to fulfill our contract as to your second and third wish.”
George examined the stranger and thought he looked the part of a genie. He was tall, dark, and muscular and was under-dressed for the winter weather with a pair of loose trousers and a vest that left his bare chest exposed.
“This has to be a joke, right? Am I on one of those prank channels on YouTube? Let me guess, you’re here to scare me straight or give me a makeover.” George casually threw a blanket over the pile of loot on his bed as he looked around the room, searching for cameras.
“I am not a YouTuber or a member of law enforcement. I have no desire to change you in any way other than as directed by a wish. I am a genie and I am ‘for real’. All you have to do is make your wish and it will be done. To ensure customer satisfaction, we now offer a 24-hour guarantee. If you are, in any way, unhappy with the service provided, your wish will be canceled and you will be returned to the state you were in before you made it.”
“Then I would get a new wish? So, I could wish to sleep with Cameron Diaz and then cancel that wish and be Jason Momoa for a day? I could see a lot of possibilities here.” George was still not quite sure he believed this guy, but thought he might as well humor him.
“No, I’m afraid the wish would not be replaced, but it would be canceled, along with any ill effects. I should also mention that you can’t wish for more wishes, eternal life, or world peace. There are other restrictions, but we can address those as they arise. Are you ready to make your first wish?” The genie waited, arms crossed across his bare chest and feet planted wide, statue-like in his patience.
“Sure, I’ll bite. I want a million dollars.” George waited, but nothing happened. He felt himself starting to get hot with embarrassment and anger. Of course this guy was a liar. Not that he had ever thought he wasn’t, of course he hadn’t.
“Is this your first wish, then? You wish to have a million dollars? In cash, check, or coin?” The genie asked just as George was about to explode with rage.
George started to speak, demanding the payment in cash, but then thought better of it. If this guy was a real genie, great, but he didn’t believe for a minute he wouldn’t try to make the wish go wrong. What if he buried him in a million in pennies? That would kill him!
“You’re not getting me that easily. I don’t want to be buried alive and I can’t imagine any bank would cash a check that large, so just put it directly into my account. I will want proof it’s there, too.”
The genie just sighed, a wounded expression on his face. “As you wish, Master. It is done. I will return in 24 hours for your second wish. If you are unhappy in any way about this first wish, you may cancel it then.”
One minute the genie was there, the next he had dissolved into smoke and then even the smoke was gone, leaving a faintly glowing blue bottle. Even as George watched, the light faded away, leaving the bottle dusty and dark once more.
George blinked. If this guy wasn’t the real thing, then he had better special effects than anything on the big screen. He pulled out his phone and called up his banking app. The last time he had checked, the balance was hovering right above the drain, about to go down for the third time. He logged in with shaking fingers, not sure what to expect, but there it was, $1,000,003.29. He refreshed the screen a few times, but the figure didn’t change. He had a million dollars in the bank! Why hadn’t he asked for a billion? Or many billions? He could be the richest man in the world! Then he remembered, he had two more wishes, he could get more cash and still have another wish left over.
He started to text Amber about his good fortune, but paused. Was Amber the best he could do now? He deleted the text and grabbed his coat. The bank wouldn’t open until 9:00, but he could hit the ATM and get a lot of celebrating done before then.
George couldn’t find a bar open, it was hours after closing time, so he stopped at a convenience store and withdrew the maximum on his debit card and grabbed several kinds of liquor. He could do his celebrating back in his room while he waited for the rest of the world to wake up. He headed back to the room, planning his spending. Maybe he would surf some real estate sites. He could get a penthouse apartment. Heck, if he wished for enough cash next time, he could buy an island and have billions to spare. He never saw the mugger that stalked him from the convenience store. Lost in daydreams, he forgot to watch his back and went down hard to the cold pavement.
He woke up in the hospital, hours later, with two police officers standing over him. They had few questions about the mugger, they were much more interested in his bank balance. They questioned him about the suspicious transfer of a million dollars and George retained just enough presence of mind not to tell them about the bottle and the half-dressed stranger. They finally left, but not until they told George that his account was now frozen and he was under investigation for money laundering.
George slipped in and out of troubled dreams the rest of that long day, head aching and anger burning in his heart. He should have known that genie would ruin his wish. All of the stories warned about this. He lay there in the dark of his hospital room and thought harder than he had thought in many years. He wasn’t going to let the genie get away with this. He would cancel the wish and start over. Now that he knew this guy was the real deal, he would be more careful. He was smart, a lot smarter than anyone else believed. He just needed to figure out the right wish and he would get everything he had ever wanted.
He wasn’t even surprised to find the bottle glowing on the table next to his hospital bed when he awoke in the middle of the night, exactly 24 hours after his first wish.
“Master, I have returned to ask if you are satisfied with your first wish and to fulfill your next desire,” the genie spoke as soon as he had appeared from the smoke. Then he looked around himself and frowned.
“Oh dear, it does not look like things went well for you. I’m very sorry, Master, can I assume that your wish did not work out as you had hoped?”
George bit back curses and forced a grim smile. “Nah, don’t worry, bro, it’s my own fault.” George gestured to the hospital bed and his bandaged head. “I know better than to flash the cash like that. What do you say we cancel wish one and start over with wish two? Deal?”
The genie nodded and suddenly they were back in the seedy motel room and George’s headache was gone without a trace. He sighed with relief and sank down onto the bed.
“That sucked, but now that I know the deal, I am ready to make wish number two.”
“I await your command, Master,” the genie said, impassive.
“I wish to be rich and famous. I want people to know me and no one to wonder where I got my money. I want billions this time, not just a measly million. I don’t want to be a rock star or a performer, they’re always dying of drug overdoses or something. I want to be an investment banker and a very wealthy one. I want everyone to know me and I don’t want anyone to question my bank balance.” George carefully laid out the wish he had spent the day in the hospital planning. He went on for a while, detailing his new history and naming the many rich and famous friends who knew him and would vouch for him. By the time he was done, he knew he had covered everything. There was no way this could go wrong.
The genie listened without changing expression until George finally wound down.
“This is your second wish, Master? Is there anything else you want to add?” he finally asked.
“Oh yeah, no funny stuff like giving me cancer. I want to be perfectly healthy. Healthy, rich, and famous, that’s what I want,” George said with a firm nod. “Let’s do this.”
“As you desire,” the genie said and waved a hand.
A second later, the genie dissolved into smoke and returned to his bottle, but George wasn’t there to see it. As the genie’s gesture ended, George was transported to a penthouse apartment. Instead of moldy wallpaper and stained bedding, he was gazing out over the city, surrounded in luxury.
“Come back to bed, lover,” he heard from behind him.
Before he could turn to see the source of the words he heard another voice, “Yeah, babe, you can’t be done, yet.”
He turned to see two model-perfect twins lounging on an enormous bed, beckoning him to join them. This was more like it!
He slept late the next day and found breakfast waiting for him within minutes. He had never felt better. When he told the genie he wanted to be in perfect health, the genie had taken him seriously. His body felt young and strong and he had no aches and pains from his strenuous night. He spent the morning exploring his new home and answering phone calls and texts from the same people he used to watch on film or on TV.
His every need was anticipated as beautiful women brought in breakfast and then lunch, every choice perfectly matching his tastes and mood. He had done it, he had forced that genie to give him exactly what he had asked for and nothing else. He was rich and famous, healthy and free. His only worry was what he could possibly hope to wish for next. Maybe he would hold onto that wish, just in case, but there was no way he would be canceling this one.
“Alys, what time is my dinner with Bill tonight?” He called over his shoulder, eyes glued to the massive screen showing the action of his favorite video game.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think you will be able to make dinner tonight,” a male voice said from behind him and George paused his game in irritation. He had only women on his staff, of course, so where had this man come from? He turned to see two strangers in black suits. The male had been the one to speak first, but his partner, a business-like female stepped forward now.
“We need to talk about you and your friends and your private island,” she said.
The questioning took hours and at the end of those hours, despite the best efforts of his lawyer, George found himself in a holding cell. There was talk of underage girls, famous friends, and frequent flights to a private island. On the advice of his lawyer, George had said nothing, but he couldn’t have answered their questions even if he had wanted to. He had no memory of the life he had given himself, just the results.
He sat in the holding cell, cursing and swearing to himself. That genie had done it again. He had twisted his wish until it had gone wrong. There was no fixing this one, either. There were pictures, records, and witnesses. George had no choice, he had to cancel this wish. So he sat, grimly waiting for the genie to show.
As soon as the smoke cleared he snapped, “Cancel it.”
With a jolt he found himself back in the all-too-familiar motel room.
“Why did you do that?” George raged, pacing up and down the dingy carpet. “I had everything and you just had to screw it up, didn’t you? Now I see the stories are true, you genies are just as tricky and twisted as they say.”
“I didn’t twist your wish, Master. I gave you exactly what you asked for. The wish wraps around you. If things go wrong, it is due to the nature of the Master, not the desires of the genie.” The genie didn’t even flinch when George waved a fist under his nose. “You have one last wish, Master. I will do all I can to keep it from going awry, but remember, it will depend in large part on your nature and desires.”
George fell heavily on the bed, thinking furiously.
“You’re saying that the wish conforms to my nature? But, what if I don’t wish for something just for me. What if I wish for good fortune for someone else and I just kind of go along for the ride?” He said, after a great deal of thought.
“It might help, Master. If you tie your wish to the fate of someone deserving, you might get the results you desire.”
“How’s this? I want you to find a gorgeous woman who is poor but deserving. She should be kind, loyal, and loving who would never hurt anyone. She should have a hot body and be young and beautiful, but single and ready to devote herself to me. Then I want her to be so in love with me that all she wants to do is take care of me. I want you to give her everything you gave me last time, but without the crime. I want her to be filthy rich and well-known, but no private island this time. I want us to live in luxury and I want her to cater to my every whim.”
George took a deep breath and then continued. “I want no further problems with the cops, no arrests or jail. No matter what I do, I want her to always love me and I promise I’ll be good to her, too.” He stopped for thought and clarified, “I want an honest-to-god woman with curves in all the right places but a good heart and lots of money. Lots of it. I want to live a full lifespan, too. No getting hit by a car or dropping dead of a heart attack. Make me young and fit and give me a full life.” He paused for another breath. “Have I forgotten anything? Help me out here, I don’t want this one going wrong.”
The genie frowned in thought but finally shook his head. “No, I think you’ve covered everything. Are you ready, Master?”
George nodded. “Let’s do it, and don’t screw it up this time.”
George blinked and stretched and yawned, claws extending to grip the silky sheets of the bed, tail swishing behind him. Claws? Tail?? He opened his eyes and looked at himself. Stretched in front of him were the lithe limbs of a Siamese cat. He flexed his fingers and watched the claws dig into the bed. He was a cat?
He sprang upright, back arched and hissing. He was going to kill that genie!
“What’s wrong, Georgie?”
He turned and saw a lovely woman sitting up in the bed behind him. She was beautiful and curvy with the glow that only youth and wealth could produce. He felt his throat vibrate and realized he was purring. Before he could stop himself, he padded over to her. She picked him up and held him to her generous bosom. This actually wasn’t bad. The touch of her fingers scratching behind his ears was one of the best feelings ever. It might be the effect of the feline body he found himself in, or the proximity of those glorious curves, but he couldn’t help purring louder and nestling closer. He was still going to kill the genie, but for now he relaxed into the touch of her fingers and soft skin.
George found the day surprisingly pleasant. He ate salmon and chicken for breakfast and wondered at how glorious it tasted. He had never found fish that tasty, but his feline senses couldn’t get enough. The woman from the bed, his “owner” lavished attention on him, brushing him from head to tail and then stroking him while she read a book. They napped together in the afternoon and then went for a drive around the city before eating out at a fine restaurant. The wait staff didn’t blink an eye when she brought him in and set him on the chair next to her. They brought him caviar and fish with a cream sauce that beat anything he had eaten as a human.
George lay sprawled on silk sheets that evening, a hand running over his furry belly, and thought hard. He had no more wishes. This was his last chance for a life of ease and riches. Sure, he hadn’t thought about being a cat, who would? But he had to admit, the life suited him. Someone took care of his every need and he wasn’t expected to lift a finger. He had a beautiful woman waiting on him hand and foot and no one was trying to arrest him or hit him. What was his alternative? Go back to life as a thief, scrabbling for every penny?
His nose and instincts told him that there were receptive females in the apartment building nearby and he was sure to be able to get to them when he wanted company. What did he have to lose?
When the genie arrived late that night, George wasn’t sure what his answer would be. He had left the bedroom and was sitting on a cushion overlooking the city below when the genie appeared.
“This is your last chance, Master,” the genie said, seeming unsurprised to see George in the body of a cat. “If you wish to cancel this last wish, you need only come with me and I will return you to your old life.”
He spat at the genie and backed away, back arched.
“Are you certain, Master?” The genie asked, crouching to make eye contact with George. “Once I leave, there will be no turning back. You will be a cat for the rest of your life.”
“Will I stay here with this woman? Will I have this same comfortable, easy life?” George tried to say, but it came out a series of meows and hisses.
The genie had no trouble understanding him. “You will have a long, easy life with this woman. That I can promise you,” he said.
“Then I will stay,” George hissed.
“As you desire,” the genie said and dissipated into smoke. A moment later he was gone, never to return.
The next morning George awoke with a hand stroking his back. “Today’s the day, Georgie.”
What day? George thought it, but couldn’t ask, merely nudging the hand to rub under his chin.
“Your vet appointment, of course. You’re getting fixed today.”