I DREAM OF GENIE
by Carlton Herzog
THE flashing neon sign read: ONE STOP SHOPPING FOR ALL YOUR MYSTICAL NEEDS. No one in the occult community ever disputed that claim because Rowena’s Magic Shop had cornered the market. There were elven harps, flying carpets, magic lamps, mummy hands, troll hammers, and every other kind of mystical doodad a person could desire.
For myself, I needed a magic lamp to find love, because everything else I tried had failed. Not from any deficiency on the part of my prospective partners. No, my abject failure with women sprang from me. There were not enough skycaps at the airport to get my emotional baggage to the kerb. And then there were my amphetamine rotted choppers
I ignored the slack-jawed naysayers and scoffers who said Rowena was a fraud. Why shouldn’t I? They were all meth heads like me. Whatever wisdom they professed came straight out of a pipe.
After I read the advertisement in the Muttontown Press, I hopped in my car and jetted over to Fox Hollow, home to Rowena’s.
I got there early. Rowena was sitting behind the counter staring off into space. The place smelled of the deep earth and dust and all the things ancient. I got the sense that I had stepped through a portal into some wacky nexus between the past and present, between reality as I experienced it and some other alien version of it.
She greeted me with a “Howdy partner. What kin I get ya’?”
“I need a magic lamp. Pronto.”
“Well ya’ done come to the right place, cause I got magic lamps out the wazoo. I got long ones, short ones, big ones, small ones. Every kind and colour money can buy.”
“I’ll pay anything for one that will give a genie who will grant me true love.”
“Not as simple as all that. All the genies in these here bottles are different. Some are friendly, some are downright mean. From the outside, I don’t know which is which. You won’t know the score until she’s released. One time, an old boy popped the cork and out comes this literalist of a genie. The genie’s master asked for her to create world peace. And she did. She got rid of everybody except for him. He couldn’t take the silence, so he used his second wish to bring everybody back. He used his third wish to bring his brother back from the dead. He expected his brother to come back the way he was before he died. But she brought him back all rotted and smelly.”
“Well, the wisher tried to kill him, but he wouldn’t die. Tried everything: shot, stabbed, strangled—you name it, he tried it. Finally, he got an axe and chopped him to bits. But the bits wouldn’t die. So, he buried them all over the place. Rumour has it an arm got free and found the head and now they’re looking for the brother what chopped them off.”
I said, “I got nothing to lose. I’m a drug addict and career criminal. How much for this one?”
“Give me twenty and we’ll call it square.”
So, I did. The only thing left was to bring it inside and clean it.
I made the drive back wondering what kind of surprise was waiting for me inside the bottle. When I got back to the rooming house, I poured myself a drink. I wanted to take my time, ponder my options. I stared at the lamp and I would swear it stared back at me, as if it had a life of its own. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. I jumped up, grabbed a cloth, and massaged the lamp. As I did, the walls vibrated. I heard a buzzing sound like that of a thousand angry bees. I could feel my hair stand on end as the buzzing got louder. The windows shook and exploded in a shower of broken glass.
The lamp released a green mist that coalesced into the form of a woman. Mind you, this was no cute blonde wearing Arabian attire. This genie looked like Joan Jett of the Blackhearts. Right down to the White Gibson Melody Maker guitar, the spikey black hair, black leather pants and vest, and the deep dark eye shadow.
I said, “You don’t look like a genie. And what’s with that guitar?”
She said, “It’s a guitar full of hits. I take it you were expecting that blonde, empty-headed cow, Barbara Eden. Even you must know she’s an old bag by now.”
“You look like the 80’s rocker Joan Jett, right down to the leather pants.”
“Yeah. Haven’t you heard? Leather keeps the farts in. I look like a rocker because I love rock and roll. So put another dime in the juke box, baby. But my name ain’t Joan. It’s Jenn and I’ll call you lambchops.”
“Because you’re so soft and juicy.”
“Whatever. I just want my three wishes.”
“Not gonna happen. Rules say that every hundred years, I get three wishes of my own. If I get what I want, then you get one lousy wish. And then only if I’m in a good mood. What’s your poison?”
“Well, I want true love. I want her to screw my brains out.”
“From the look of things, I’d say your prison boyfriend beat her to it.”
“You need to lose all that negative energy.”
“I can’t. It’s the only thing holding me together. After all, I just spent the last hundred years cooped up in that bottle. There’s only so much television and porn I can watch before I go bat shit crazy.”
“The crazy ship has already sailed and you’re in the wheelhouse.”
“Very clever, Zippy. But if you want your one wish you must go along with my three. Deal?”
“You need to work on your enthusiasm, because right now you’re a total buzz kill. For my first wish, I want to deliver a sermon at a Pentecostal Church.”
“Because Pentecostals are all greedy, money grubbing hypocrites wrapping themselves in the bible while they shill magic cloths and oils and make promises they can’t possibly keep. If I had my way, I would turn them all into pigs.”
“It’s your show.”
“Yes, it is.”
As we stood there looking at one another, I knew in my heart that I had found true love. Jenn had that brassy spit-in-your-face bravura that reminded me of my own mom. Mind you, my mother was rough around the edges, and once told me that I must have been switched at birth with another baby since, “There is no way I could have given birth to such a hateful child.”
With that thought in mind, we materialized before the pulpit at the Franklin Park Church of What’s Happening Now. The choir and the congregation looked stunned. But Jenn didn’t miss a beat.
“Brothers and sisters, I’m here to spread the gospel right. Can I get an amen? Come on, brothers and sisters. This is the Lord’s House. Can I get a Goddam amen?”
Blasphemous though it was, she did inspire a thunderous amen. But I knew it was just a matter of time before the lightning bolts started flying down from above and I was reduced to a pair of smoking shoes.
“Now the Lord wants us to be happy. Amen. He wants us to enjoy our earthly life. But most of all he wants us to laugh. Can I get an amen?
“Well then, here’s some limericks that will put joy in your heart, a smile on your face and a bounce in your step.
There once was a lady from Wheeling
Who claimed she lacked sexual feeling,
‘Til a cynic named Boris
Simply touched her clitoris
And they scraped her off of the ceiling.
“Can I get an amen?”
Half the congregation was laughing while the other half kept looking up, waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop.
Before anyone could register their shock, Jenn let fly with another blasphemous barrage.
There once was a man from Belair
Who was humping his wife on the stairs,
But the banister broke,
So, he quickened his stroke,
And finished her off in mid-air.
Then she opened her shirt to expose her braless breasts which ballooned to three times their normal size. If that weren’t bad enough, she began gyrating and twisting her body to make them flop up and down.
“Hooters! Get your hooters here. Feast your eyes on these boys. They won’t come this way again. I’ll be here all night, so don’t forget to tip your waitresses.”
After that, the pastor approached Jenn. She was positively ancient. With her lunar face, so sunken and grey, she could have passed for the Crypt Keeper. I could see menace in her eyes, but before she could say anything, Jenn opened fire.
“Comes now, Mother Time, so full of dust and undigested mastodon meat. Was your first Christmas the First Christmas? Your first car a chariot? Do you like to take long walks on the beach after crawling out of the ocean and growing legs?”
The pastor, however, was no slouch in the insult department.
“God tells me that you have been on more hotel pillows than a chocolate mint.”
“He’s right. If I were a video game, I would be rated E for everybody. But at least I don’t spend my days developing an alternative fuel source made from puppies.”
“People like you make people like me appreciate my own death.”
“Really? I would gladly kill you but I’m too pretty for jail.”
“Leave or I will call the police.”
“Come on, Jenn. Let’s go. You’re making me look bad.”
“That’s not me. It’s genetics and barber school haircuts. You know if you get old Prudence here pregnant, then we can get a full page in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
“The police it is then. They will not be as patient as I am.”
“Why don’t you have God remove me. After all, it’s his house, not yours.”
Then she let fly with yet another limerick:
There once was a man from Lake Bass
Whose balls were made out of brass.
When he banged them together
They played stormy weather
And the lightning shot out of his ass.
No sooner had she finished than a bolt of lightning shot through the church roof and exploded the podium.
Jenn looked at me and said, ‘That’s our cue. You’ve been a great audience, folks.”
The next moment we materialized in Time Square. The pedestrian plaza was a sea of tourists gawking at the scores of advertisements—electric, neon, illuminated and zippered. Pushy plush costumed characters vied for picture opportunities.
“Why Time Square?”
“Have you ever seen The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman?”
“It’s classic schlock. Not really my thing.”
“How can you not like it? Its very absurdity, and all those cheesy special effects, make it a classic. I just loved Nancy Archer’s towering torso wrapped in a makeshift sarong.”
“There’s no accounting for taste. I’m going to show you just how much fun it can be to have a fifty foot woman running amok in New York can be.”
With that, she grew to colossal proportions and grabbed a Nike banner to cover her privates.
“I always wanted to play the giant since I spend most of time as an imp in a bottle. How do you like me now?”
Everyone in Time Square stared slack-jawed at the colossus. Then promptly scattered, but not before she kicked Elmo, Mickey, and Minnie Mouse into the enormous neon Coca Cola sign. After that she began uprooting streetlamps and hurling them like javelins through storefronts, from the Hard Rock Café to The Gap.
From their Time Square station, the police came in droves. They opened fire. But with a wave of her colossal hand, Jenn turned their bullets into butterflies and hummingbirds.
She lumbered through and out of Time Square. She moved up Forty Second Street dropkicking cars and buses through and over buildings. It didn’t take a Sigmund Freud to see that she had anger issues and was overcompensating for her confinement as a Djinn.
I ran behind, yelling for her to stop. But my cries fell on deaf ears.
She turned off Forty Second Street and headed up Fifth Avenue, trashing everything in her path. When she reached Forty Ninth Street, she made for the Rockefeller Plaza. Her goal was the statute of Atlas holding the globe above his head. She pulled the statute from its base, grabbed it by its feet, and swung it right over Rockefeller Centre.
But her show was far from over. She scaled the skyscraper at Rockefeller Centre.
That pastor was right: Jenn was crazier than a bag of rats in a burning meth lab. I wondered about her human life before she became a genie. Did she sniff paint as a kid? Were her Mom and Dad related? First cousins perhaps. Clearly, I needed to take another look at her hands to see if she had thumbs.
The logical thing to do was to head up to the observation tower and try to talk her down. But I was not about to hop on an elevator and join that insane supernatural at the Top of the Rock.
In any event that would have been pointless since she started ripping out chunks of the building and throwing them every which way. As she slowly whittled the building down, police and news helicopters buzzed around her like angry hornets.
The police marksman ran into the same problem the ground patrolmen did. His bullets turned into butterflies and hummingbirds as Jenn launched hunks of masonry from the dwindling skyscraper.
When Rockefeller Centre had been reduced to a pile of rubble, Jenn, covered in dust, hopped off the demolished building and strode over to me. She shrank to normal size as she did.
“Man, I feel better. That was such fun.”
“Why all the destruction? What purpose did it serve?”
“Think about it. I am stuck in a lamp with nothing more to entertain myself than some magazines, a Sony Walkman, and a Pac Man machine. That gets old after a week. So, you can see why, after a hundred years, I need to let off steam in a big way.
“The worst part is that I can’t die. God knows I have tried everything. If I try to stab myself, the knife turns into a banana. If I go for poison, it turns into pudding. Fire, an aromatic balm. And so it goes. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to be human so I could die. But that is the only wish I can’t fulfil. So, I settle for going crazy in the human world.”
“Don’t you have any regrets? You hurt a lot of people.”
“No, I didn’t. The powers that be bring them all back and compensate them for their trouble. If I kill you, intentionally or unintentionally, you get a new Lexus.”
“How did you become a genie?”
“That’s a loaded question. I don’t think you can handle the answer, because the ideas are too big for your little mind.”
“Maybe later. I still have my third wish. And I’m feeling pretty good now, so you’ll probably get your one.”
I was curious, so I asked her again how she became a genie.
She looked at me and said, “I was the youngest of the Sheik’s twenty-eight wives. That did not sit well with me. Nobody likes to be at the bottom of the food chain, even in a harem. So I methodically killed off my competition. I would stab a belly here, slit a throat there. Some I poisoned. Some I bashed. Others I had killed by hired assassins.
“I had the sheik all to myself. Or so I thought. His sister liked to double dip with his wives. When she saw I was the last skank standing, she put two and two together. Then she had her personal bodyguard snatch me. The two of them brought me to the High Priest. Long story short, the High Priest cursed me for all eternity. Standard mumbo jumbo. Next thing I know, I shrink down to the size of an imp and find myself inside a lamp. A short time later, a giant floating head of some sort pops in one me. He reads me the riot act as to what I can and can’t do inside and outside the lamp.
“In the lamp, I can have some amenities, but they must be dated. So, I had to wait until movies livestreamed on the Net before I could get a VHS player. The only books I get are the old ones in the public domain. I get as much paper and ink as I need, so you might think my memoirs are like the Encyclopaedia Britannica on steroids. But there’s nothing to write about.
“The cruelty is the boredom, the inescapable pain of having a mind and nothing to do with it, constantly stuck in emotional feedback loops, reliving the same moments over and over and over because there is nothing new to supplant them.
“Yet, they expect us to be teachers. Our job is to school you humans on how to make better, more thoughtful, unselfish choices.”
When she finished, I asked what was next on her list. She said, “I want to make a copy of myself.”
I asked, “Why?”
“I want to make a copy of myself, someone to sit in the lamp while I walk the earth.”
I said, “How do you propose to do that? Robot, clone? How would that work with your being all supernatural and such?”
“I’m not entirely sure. That’s what makes it so interesting. It wouldn’t be any fun if I knew the outcome beforehand. Nobody likes a spoiler. Not even a frustrated genie.”
“Okay—so how do we begin?”
The next moment, we were standing inside the Dynamic Genetics Institute, the corporation doing cutting edge experiments with DNA cloning.
“Now I know you’re asking yourself. Cloning requires time for the copy to mature the same as a natural birth. That would be true, if the DNA in question were human and the engineer were human. But I’m more than human. So, once I take this saliva swap and stick it in the petri dish, I’ll wave my hands, utter some seemingly serious mystical jibber jabber and bang, zoom, another me.”
I watched as she did exactly that. The same green mist that her lamp had exhaled filled the laboratory. When the fumes cleared her exact duplicate stood there naked as a jaybird and grinning from ear to ear.
The two genies stood there studying their own fleshy reflections, the one clothed, the other not.
Jenn spoke first, “Look at you. The only thing missing is heavy black make-up, a wild hair tease, and some leather. You are picture perfect.”
The copy tried to speak but choked on her words.
Jenn said, “I forgot. You still need to play catch-up.”
She waved her arms again, muttering some arcane nonsense.
The copy spoke: “I’m you but I’m not you. Why did you make me? Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to be here, but I don’t understand why you need a second you.”
Jenn said, “It’s complicated.”
“Try me. I’m a copy, not an idiot.”
“I want you to be my substitute in the lamp so I can go live out my life on Earth. I know that seems unfair, but when you get tired of living in the bottle you can make a copy of yourself and dump the work on her. And so, ad infinitum.”
“But once you renounce the bottle, you’ll be human, and to be human is to know death.”
“I’ve been waiting to die for a long time. Immortality gets old after a while. To truly be alive is to know that one day you won’t.”
“Do I have a say in any of this? After all, I’m blameless. I never killed anybody. So, why do I have to stay in that crappy lamp?”
“If I hadn’t made you, you wouldn’t be here at all. Just do some time, and after a hundred years, use your wishes to make a get out of jail copy for yourself.”
Jenn worked her magic to make the switcheroo. However, nothing happened. She had a dumbfounded look on her face.
Then a red mist formed between the two of them. A giant floating head looking suspiciously like Peter Dinklage floated like a cloud on a bright sunny day. It looked the two women up and down then smiled.
“Ladies, I admire your initiative, I really do. Unfortunately, I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them. And the one hard and fast rule is that a genie herself cannot undo the magic that incarcerated her in the first place. It must come from an external agency. Since the powers that be have no intention of ending your imprisonment anytime soon, I must bind your spell. You will go back to the bottle. As for you, my lovely, you are free to do as you please. Perhaps go with this fine young man and help him mend his ways, or strike out on your own, or enlist with me and become one of the Guardians of Order. The choice is yours.”
Jenn looked pissed. Then she smiled and said, “Well, if that is how it has to be then so be it. But before I go back, this dapper young and somewhat toothless fellow has a wish coming.” Then she gave me a long soulful look.
As visions of sugar plums danced in my head, along with any number of strippers and barrels of cocaine with them, I had an epiphany. I remembered what Jenn had said about her role as a teacher, someone who led people away from short-sighted objectives. My conscience, which I thought had died after my last relapse, seemed to be talking a mile a minute. My right brain and left brain were duking it out inside my skull like a couple of MMA fighters trading strikes. If somebody wanted to host a cognitive dissonance jamboree, my head would have made the perfect cerebral stadium.
I wanted a drink or a toke to make it quiet down, but there was none to be had. I stood there with a blank stare on my face as war raged between my ears and the two Jenns and that Game of Thrones head waited for me to make a wish.
I can’t say how I came to my decision, or even where inside my head it was generated. But one moment I was standing there in a self-induced trance, and the next I blurted out, “Screw it—I wish the original Jenn were fully human.”
Jenn looked at me and asked, “Is that your final decision?”
I said, “Yes, be human. Get to live out the rest of your days as a person and not a prisoner in a bottle.”
With that, the giant floating head popped out of existence, Jenn vibrated for a moment, and then everything was quiet.
“Thanks, dude. That was mighty generous of you. You deserve a reward.”
I said, “Knowing that I set you free is reward enough. So maybe I learned something after all.”
Jenn said, “Whatever. How would you feel about a threesome with twins? I’ll bet my doppelganger would go for that, wouldn’t you?”
Jenn number two said, “I may have been born today, but I know a good thing when I hear one. Count me in that menage a trois.”
With that, I had escaped the loveless abyss in which I had been trapped. No longer would I have to yank it like a monkey in a mango tree, providing my own sad, happy endings.