Eirik Gumeny is over six feet tall and enjoys sugar. Originally from the highway-choked suburbs of New Jersey, he now lives in the mile-high...read more desert of New Mexico. He is very pale and it is very sunny, so he will probably combust any day now. He has still never seen a coyote, though he has eaten lunch with a roadrunner.
Eirik is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, co-author of Screw the Universe, founding/former editor of Jersey Devil Press, and a folder of origami cranes. His short fiction has been published in a number of journals and anthologies, including Thieves Jargon, Kaleidotrope, and Monkeybicycle, and two of his stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His plays have been workshopped in New York City, his resumes have gotten a number of his friends jobs, and his doodles occasionally make it onto the refrigerator.
A rainy August afternoon, the early ‘90s. The 1990s. Meet Cooper Mewes – frozen yogurt store clerk by trade, grave robber by circumstance. Cooper has fallen on hard times of late: his credit cards stolen, his apartment burned down, and lady problems to boot. But Cooper has heard tell, through the usual channels – an uncle of a friend of a friend – of an ancient enchanted lamp buried here, in the cemetary of Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow, that could make all of those problems go away.
You've heard of the axiom “be careful what you wish for?”
Well, sometimes “careful” isn’t enough.
Cooper Mewes rested the shovel over his shoulder, breathing hard and staring down into the grave. The rain poured down harder now, plastering his hair to his forehead, running the dirt off his clothes, pooling in a puddle of mud at his feet. Cooper threw the shovel to the side and hopped down into the hole he had cleared.
Kneeling atop the bottom half of the coffin, Cooper began prying open the upper part. With a terrific wrench and the sound of splintering wood, he ripped the casket open. He was immediately hit with a gust of mildewed death. Instinctively, Cooper turned his head away, swallowing back vomit.
The young man closed his eyes and set his stomach, thinking back to the two girls with whom he had shared a single bathroom in college—he had endured much worse than the stench of a hundred-year-old dead man. He leaned forward again and gently pulled apart the brittle arms of Herman Adlersflügel. The man’s decomposing skull staring back at him, Cooper looked the rotting suit jacket up and down, searching for the tell-tale bulge of hidden treasure. He found it. He flipped open the remains of the jacket, then reached in and pulled free the oil lamp from where it had nestled in Herman’s cracked and deteriorating ribs.
Lightning crashed in the distance, illuminating the grave like a supermarket. The lamp was bigger than Cooper thought it would be—nearly a foot tall, four inches wide. There was a lot more glass than he had been expecting, as well. Still, a magic lamp was a magic lamp. Carefully, Cooper placed the lamp on the muddied ground above, then began to pull himself free of the grave.
As the young man started to haul himself up, he felt something grab his right leg. Thunder boomed overhead. Cooper, turning slowly and doing his best not to soil himself, saw it was just a twig stabbed into the fabric of his jeans. With a smile and a relieved sigh, he leaned down and freed his pants from the wooden assailant.
Cooper once again started to pull himself up, and once again he felt something grabbing at his leg. This time, though, the young man saw that it was Herman Adlersflügel himself clutching onto his jeans.
Out of the instinct born of abject fear, Cooper flailed sideways, twisting and falling hard onto his butt atop the coffin bottom. He tried to scurry backward but got nowhere, his pants still entangled with the skeleton’s hand. Lightning ripped through the sky again, and only then did Cooper see that Herman Adlersflügel had not crawled back from the afterlife to defend himself – the dead man’s bony fingers were merely caught on the torn and faded denim at the bottom of Cooper’s jeans. The young man shook his leg free of the corpse’s grasp.
Cooper Mewes lifted himself up and out of the grave and sat in the muddied grass. He picked up the oil lamp and looked at it again. The lamp had a thick, clear glass foundation, rising into a bulbous glass housing for the oil, a dark cranberry color. Above that was the metal burner and a thin, clear chimney. The entire affair felt incredibly fragile. Cooper was amazed it had survived a century underground.
Carefully getting to his feet, the young man looked for a dry place to inspect the lamp further. Not far from the open grave an enormous, gnarled oak tree hunched in the corner of the cemetery, a twisted black shadow rising into the dark sky. Two limbs near the base of the tree hung barren, stretching empty branches forward, like long, knobby hands scratching along the ground.
Grabbing his backpack from beside Herman Adlersflügel’s chipped headstone, Cooper crossed the rainy graveyard and settled into the hollow between the clawing arms of the oak tree. He took out a flashlight from his bag and looked the lamp over once more, his hands shaking with excitement. He could see no markings or etchings, nothing that pronounced the lamp as significant. Cooper had read the stories, though, heard the fairy tales. He had seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He knew that it was the least ornamented items that held the greatest rewards.
His anticipation at a fever pitch, a smile wrapped around his face, the young man rubbed the glass clean with his shirtsleeve. Nothing happened. Cooper tried another section of glass. Nothing happened. He tried the metal burner. He blew across the top of the lamp. He spit on it. He pulled out a lighter and ignited the lamp. Still nothing.
Cooper sat there, in the crook of the oak tree, rain pouring down, thunder rumbling all around him, staring at the lamp. The young man bit his lip and furrowed his brow. His excitement was quickly being replaced by confusion and resentment. The dim light of the oil lamp danced in the darkness.
In a fit, Cooper stood up and threw the lamp at the base of the oak, shattering the glass and unleashing a tiny fireball that quickly died. Then, as he watched, the fizzling grey smoke began pouring out thicker and thicker, taking on a purple color, until it filled the crook of the tree. Cooper stepped back, into the rain. Lightning crashed behind him. An exceptionally hairy, eight-foot-tall humanoid creature wearing nothing but a red fez appeared from the within the swirling cloud.
The beast stretched its arms wide and let out a mighty roar, drowning out the thunder, and then dropped down to one knee.
“What is thy bidding,” boomed the creature, closing its eyes and bowing its shaggy head, “my master?”
“Are you...” began Cooper, dumbfounded. “You’re a genie?”
The hirsute beast raised its head and opened an eye. “I came out of the magic lamp, didn’t I?”
“It’s just... uh, I didn’t expect...”
“What? Sasquatches can’t be genies?” The genie shook his head, disappointment seeping out of him, and got to his feet. “That’s pretty racist, man.”
“Shit. I’m sorry.”
The sasquatch shrugged. “Honestly, I’ve gotten a lot worse in my day. So,” he said, tilting his furry head from one side to the other and cracking his neck, “what do you want?”
Finally, the moment Cooper had been waiting for. A smile exploded around his visage again.
“I wish I had twenty million dollars,” said the young man, before adding, “in ten and twenty dollar American bills only, taken directly from an unscrupulous billionaire’s private safe, with no incriminating evidence left behind and, in fact, without him ever knowing or caring or— and this is the most important part—seeking any kind of retribution or repayment.”
“You seem to have thought this through,” grumbled the sasquatch.
“I like to be prepared.”
“Apparently,” replied the genie, a little dejectedly. The bigfoot crossed his arms and nodded his head. Eighteen duffel bags appeared thirty feet from Cooper, in the muddiest part of the cemetery, soaking up the downpour. “There you go, Daddy Warbucks.”
Cooper ran to the bags and opened the top one. A stench worse than his old bathroom and the decaying remains of Herman Adlersflügel combined reached up and punched him in the face.
“Jesus,” he coughed, turning his head.
“Just be glad you didn’t let me do any of the really fun stuff,” replied the genie.
“Apparently I was not specific enough,” said Cooper, holding his breath and riffling through the cash before him. He zipped up the bag and then began tossing the duffels one at a time into the relatively dry hollow of the oak tree.
“Thank you,” he finally burped, carrying the last of the bags over and still holding back his lunch.
“You... You’re welcome?” replied the genie, raising a giant, furry eyebrow. “That’s the thing you say, right? Not very many people thank me.”
“Well, you guys do have a reputation for messing pretty hard with people’s wishes.”
“Again, that’s pretty racist.”
“You made my money smell worse than literal death.”
“Yeah, but I gave you the money.”
“Yes, and I’m incredibly appreciative, but how am I supposed to spend it?”
“Money’s money, man,” replied the genie. “Besides, you can just Febreze the stink away.”
“Oh, shit. That, uh, that hasn’t gone national yet, has it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, no. Don’t worry. We, genies, exist outside of time. Just sit tight on that fortune for a few more years and the odor won’t be an issue anymore.”
“I guess that’s better than being wanted for grand theft,” mumbled Cooper, scratching the back of his head, “and getting beaten by cops.”
“That was Plan A.” The sasquatch shrugged. “Anyway, what’s next, master?”
“Oh, right,” replied the young man. “I wish I had a new car: next year’s model, black, four doors, automatic transmission, all of the paperwork and stuff already sorted out, no police or furious previous owners... and it smells like a car, not something terrible.”
“You’re no fun.”
The bigfoot in the fez crossed his arms and nodded again, a brand new Ford Escort materializing directly on top of several nearby gravestones. The automobile wobbled slightly, balanced precariously on the cement slabs, the rear tires rotating in the breeze. Despite the ongoing downpour, all four windows were wide open.
“Good luck driving that out of here,” said the genie, smirking.
“You’re kind of an asshole.”
“You’re the one with twenty million dollars asking for a new car.”
“I work in a yogurt shop. This money is for investing!” shouted Cooper, running over to his car. “I’ll never have to work again! Do you have any idea what they can do with computers these days?”
“Yes, actually,” said the genie matter-of-factly, before adding, “You probably should’ve asked for more.”
Cooper had the driver’s door open, furiously cranking the handle and rolling up the window. “That seemed like it would be inviting more trouble than it’s worth.”
“You have weird priorities.”
“You’re the one that gets off on tormenting humans.”
“That’s actually exceedingly common among genies and sasquatches, so, you know, not weird at all, Judgey McJudgerson.”
“It’s still pretty shitty, man.”
“Whatever,” replied the sasquatch, rolling his enormous eyes. “You’re down to your last wish—and no wishing for more wishes! I don’t like you enough to put up with your shit for the next sixty years.”
“That seems awfully specific.”
“Sixty-two years, three months, and seventeen days would be specific.”
“You know when I’m going to die?”
“Maybe,” replied the sasquatch coyly. “Make a wish and find out.”
“Eh,” mumbled Cooper, slamming the last door shut. “I’m willing to chance it.”
“Anyway, my last wish,” said the young man, jogging back to the shelter of the oak tree. “I wish for a female companion—attractive, tall, dark hair, dark eyes, someone who will love me unconditionally, will not be here against her will, does not have any latent health or mental issues, has some sense of good fiduciary management unlike that stupid Laura, has a family that doesn’t think I’m a shiftless slacker, and doesn’t mind if I play video games once in a while because sometimes you just need to blow off some steam and, Jesus, I’m not ignoring you, Laura. Oh, and, uh, she should, uh, love to give head.”
“Maybe your priorities aren’t so weird after all,” replied the genie. “Anything else you want to add before I Weird Science this up?”
“Did I say looks good in a skirt?”
“Then: looks good in a skirt.”
“As you wish,” said the sasquatch, crossing his arms and nodding his head.
There, in the crook of the graveyard tree, rain pouring all around, wind howling, clouds crashing, from a swirling purple smoke a woman appeared. She was tall, with eyes as dark as coal and hair that was as slick and shiny as seaweed growing at the bottom of the ocean. Boils and wrinkles covered her pale blue skin, her naughty parts covered by gussets made of coral. Despite manifesting beneath the canopy of the oak, she was dripping with salt water. Fish flopped at her bare feet.
“Oh my God,” said Cooper, staring at the sea witch.
“You weren’t expecting that, were you? You never did specify that she was attractive to you. Suck it, human!”
“No, you don’t understand,” said Cooper softly, putting out a hand and tentatively walking toward the woman, “that sea witch is my brother!”
“Well, your sister now, really,” explained the sea witch, “assuming we’re even technically related anymore, what with me being a half-fish creature in the court of the kingdom of Atlantis.” She raised her hand, revealing delicate webbing between her clawed fingers. “I mean, look at this.”
“Kevin, I... we thought you were dead, after you were taken from the cruise ship... by those pirates...”
“I may have been, honestly. I don’t really know what happened after they grabbed me. I just... woke up like this one day.” She ran her hands down the length of her, like a model showing off a ball gown. “Underwater. Also, it’s Runa now.”
“Runa,” muttered Cooper. “We have so much to catch up on. I can’t believe this! You’re here! You’re... alive! Can you... do you want to get coffee?”
Runa shrugged. “Sure.”
“We can... we can take my new car,” began Cooper, still flabbergasted. “I got it from this genie... he’s the sasquatch over there.” He pointed toward the disgruntled bigfoot resting against the thick, clawing branch of the oak tree. “That’s also why you’re here.”
“Hi,” grumbled the genie, crossing his massive arms over his chest.
“Hi,” said Runa.
“The car should run great,” Cooper continued babbling, “I mean, I hope so, it’s supposed to be new, I haven’t actually been able to start it yet... I, uh, I don’t know how to get it off the gravestones.”
“That’s genies for you,” replied Runa. “Don’t sweat it.” The sea witch clapped her webbed hands together and the car tumbled through the air, landing wheels-down on the graveyard’s car path.
“Oh, wow, that’s awesome,” mumbled Cooper, before starting toward the duffel bags nestled in the crook of the tree. “Hang on, let me just get –”
“I got it,” replied the sea witch, clapping her hands again. The twenty million dollars sailed through the air to the rear of the Ford Escort.
“This is unbelievable...”
Runa threw her arm over Cooper’s shoulders. “You have no idea, brother.” The siblings made their way through the rain to the driveway.
“Man,” grumbled the genie, staring disheartenedly as the young man and the sea witch climbed into the car, “this did not go as planned, at all.” The sasquatch began to unravel, subsumed back into the ether and trapped inside the nearest glass vessel, which, in this case, was a Snapple bottle full of hobo urine. “Not even close.”
“If wishes were horses,” the saying goes, “beggars would ride.” But if it was the horses that were making the wishes, then, well, the beggars probably wouldn’t even come into the equation. And someone like Cooper Mewes would never reconnect with his long-lost brother, now sister, also a sea witch. Which is why we don’t give wishes to horses. Or genies. Because genies are jerks.