Any Wish Way

HARTSBURGH--Police discovered the body of Agnes McKinon after neighbors reported not seeing her for several days. The 78 year-old woman was dead nearly a week before being discovered, and the amount of decomposition has made it difficult to determine the cause of death; although, heart failure is suspected.

The rich widow has no relatives and left no will. Her estate, which totals nearly $11 million will go to the state.

And that was that. Oh, some people read about her--after they read about the latest basketball games and glanced over the gossip of the newest Hollywood pretty-faces. Perhaps they were even troubled to read the news--to worry briefly about the gang influx or ponder who was behind the recent string of bank robberies--and, after scanning all the main stories their attention perhaps turned to the smaller news items in the back.

More than a few people talked about her vast amount of wealth and how it had been wasted on an old (though remarkably well preserved) woman, but nobody really cared that she’d died. Just as nobody had cared that she’d lived. Nobody knew anything about her. Nobody remembered the woman of twenty-five who had gained sudden wealth overnight, who had left her first husband just as suddenly and run off with one of the many suitors who turned up in the days following, who had spent her time among the entertainment elite and was featured on the covers of all the most popular magazines. Nobody remembered that. All they remembered was an old woman who kept fiercely to herself and was desperate to be bothered by no one.

But he remembered. He had seen her long and painful fall--the fights, the tears, the affairs, the drug abuse, the desperate search for happiness and the miserable failure to find it. She had been given everything she thought she wanted, and when it did not make her happy she had no idea where to turn.

And, now that she was dead, it was he who collected the short newspaper article about her and tucked in away among a large collection of newspaper articles gathered over the course of many years.

As a genie he had one great joy in life: looking back fondly upon his old exploits. Needless to say, he had been overjoyed with the invention of the modern newspaper and now kept clippings of articles on all the people he granted wishes to. It was easy enough to remember the wishes that turned out splendidly well--like that of the Sultan of Baghdad. Even thousands of years later it still sent a shiver down his spine, or would have if genii had spines. But the lives destroyed in subtle and mundane ways he quickly forgot, which bothered him because the fact that the simple and naive fell before him was as important as the fact that the clever and powerful did so.

He did, he admitted to himself, feel a twinge of...he would not call it guilt--when a pretty girl made a particularly foolish wish. But he snapped quickly back to his senses. Some of the most beautiful women whom he had ever granted wishes to had asked for the most petty, vengeful things imaginable. Though somehow, even after the Princess of Kashmir wished for the death of all the other queens and princesses in the neighboring kingdoms he could not rejoice over her destruction as he rejoiced over the destruction of her father, who possessed a far less cruel spirit.

The genie was, as you may well imagine, heartbroken at the death of Grandma McKinon (as he fondly called her), having spent, as he had, the last fifty years locked away in her attic with nothing but the sound of her television and the meowing of her cats to break the silence. The stillness in the lonely days that followed was interrupted every now and again by people entering to inspect the old home. They stomped around and spoke with trite generalities about the deceased and, in general, spent so much time doing nothing that the genie began to fear they would continue doing nothing and he would be left undiscovered. But, finally, people began coming every day, and the house was no longer silent. Indeed, there was a great deal of hustling and bustling, banging and clanging, and, from the conversation, he finally ascertained that a group of students, as a school project, was fixing up the house so it could be sold.

Of all those, there were only three who came to work faithfully every day: Kane, Johanna, and Liese. Kane, the genie found, was easy to recognize. The leader, he was constantly giving orders in a low, powerful voice. Johanna was another story entirely. Like Kane, her voice was often heard, however, she rarely had anything of value to say. She was the source of a constant stream of worthless chatter revolving around television, boys, her mother‘s boyfriend, her annoying younger brother, and Carlos...beautiful, dark-haired, smooth-skinned Carlos.

Liese the genie did not at first realize was there as frequently as the other two. She didn’t talk as loudly as Kane or as often as Johanna. As a result, he only came to recognize her presence because, as the days passed, Kane increasingly instructed her, which he sometimes did quite loudly and curtly. Apparently, some of the students who were supposed to be working on the project, were not, and Kane found himself relying more and more upon Liese.

It could, perhaps, have been foreseen that she would be the one to stumble across the box which housed the genie’s bottle. Her labor brought her all over the old house, and her quiet nature made her more aware of what went on around her, allowing her to notice the genie’s bottle which was so easily overlooked. She had walked through all the rooms in the house, checking to make sure they were clean and that nothing had been disregarded. Now, she stood at the very top of the narrow staircase that led to the attic and looked across the empty room for any sign their work was incomplete. The sun shone through two narrow windows in the west wall, its rays revealing the million particles of dust floating gently in the still and silent room. She was just about to turn and leave when she hesitated, for, in the corner where the steeply sloping roof met the floor and the shadows were darkest, she spied the genie’s box.

The dust floated less gently now and the wooden floorboards creaked as she made her way across the room. She picked up the box. It was full nearly to overflowing and was kept closed by a length of sturdy tape. This she fumbled at for a moment before managing to loose enough to grip tightly. Then, with one quick motion, she tore it from the box. The flaps popped open, and she gasped as dozens of yellowed newspaper clippings, suddenly freed from their prison, went flying through the air all around her, stirring up the dust before fluttering to the floor.

With a slight sigh, she set the box down and quickly went about gathering up the many pieces of scattered paper.

“Liese,” faintly her name was called. There was the distant sound of creaking boards and stomping feet, then louder, “Liese!”

“Up here, Kane!” she called back. “I’m picking something up.”

There was a pause, followed by the sound of Kane walking up the narrow staircase to the attic.

“What are you doing up here?” he asked when he reached the top, then, “Oh...” as he saw the scattered papers.

“What’s going on?” came Johanna’s voice from behind him.

Not answering her, Kane stepped up into the room and started helping Liese pick up the last of the papers.

“What happened?” Johanna asked as she stepped into the room.

“We missed a box,” Kane answered, as he picked up the few remaining clippings.

Johanna walked over to the box, where it sat with a solitary clipping beside it. Both of these she picked up and carried back to Kane and Liese. Three hands reached into the box to put back the various papers they held, and, at the same moment, three sets of fingers brushed against the genie’s bottle.

Every genie needs a dramatic way to make his presence known. Some prefer to exit their jars/bottles/lamps/what-have-yous accompanied by thunder and lighting as they cry out in a deep and ominous voice “Who disturbs my slumber?” as if they actually enjoyed being cooped up in that jar, or “Cower before me, mortal. I bear the power of generations within me, to bless you beyond all your imaginations or curse you beyond your worst nightmares,” which, on top of being untrue, displayed a decided lack of self-confidence.

The genie in question, preferred to come out silently in a billow of smoke, colored, of course, slightly green to hint at his mystical, magical nature. After thousands of years of practice, he had gotten it down to a fine art. The smoke curled around the three teenagers’ bodies, and, at first, they could only look in surprise and growing alarm at the wisps that surrounded them. The light of the setting sun shone eerily through the miasma and, presently, the three became aware of a figure inside the smoky cloud. It seemed at first no more than a shadow, but as the smoke began to clear the shadow revealed itself to be man--tall, white, bald, and dressed entirely in black. The genie could not help but feel at least a small amount of satisfaction at the three pairs of wide eyes.

He took the moment of their stunned silence to look them over. There was no question that Kane was the tall, black boy, but the genie was rather disconcerted when he turned his gaze to the two girls. He had pictured Liese as very plain, but both girls werequite pretty. He quickly decided that Carlos-obsessed Johanna was probably the blonde with dark roots, which meant Liese was the brunette, which he found even more disconcerting for she was, in his opinion, much the better looking of the two.

“Well,” he said when they continued to stare silently at him. “there’s no use in rubbing my bottle if you aren’t going to make any wishes.”

Liese’s brow furrowed. “You’re a...genie?” It took her forever to say that last word.

He had heard stupider questions, but that did not mean he held respect for the one she had asked. “No, I’m a stalker. I’ve spent months lusting after you, following you, searching desperately for a way to meet you. Until finally I hit upon an idea: hide myself in a bottle in a box in the house where you are working. My darling Liese--” and here he knelt and took her hand--”will you marry me.”

Her eyebrow rose as she withdrew her hand. “I’m going to assume you’re a genie.”

Kane took a step toward him, and the genie rose to face him.

“You‘re not a genie,” he said. “I don’t believe in genies.”

“And, of course, anything you don’t believe must not exist,” the genie shot back. “I bow and worship at your feet; you must be God.”

“But genies don’t exist,” Johanna declared.

“If seeing is believing you must be blind,” he answered, his lip curling slightly as he turned his face to her. “I thought too much hair-dye only made you go bald; oh wait! It’s the eye shadow.”

His insult hit home, but she did not know quite how to react. (Really, how does one react to a genie?) Besides, he gave her little chance to do or say anything as he rounded on the other two. “Well, what’ll it be? Are you going to make your wishes or should I trot back to my little bottle and wait another fifty years for someone a little smarter to come across me?”

“But genies don’t exist!” Johanna cried again.

The genie glanced back at her, and felt at least a small bit of satisfaction; he had been wrong about Liese, but Johanna was exactly as he had imagined.

“Why don’t you wish for a pair of glasses and then see what you think.” The scorn was evident in his voice, and her face clouded as she prepared to respond, but before she could Kane interrupted.

“Well,” he said quickly, “I suppose we could wish for something. The worst that could happen is it wouldn’t work.”

“Finally!” the genie cried, clapping his hands together. “Someone with some sense.”

“Wait!“ Liese had remained silent ever since her first exchange with the genie. She had, however, been regarding him closely and here she interrupted. “How do we know the worst that could happen is that our wishes won’t get answered?”

Kane looked at her, but she did not let him reply. “I’m not questioning whether or not this person is a genie. I’m assuming he is, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good genie.”

“My dear girl,” the genie replied, “with all due respect, I must point out that genies are genies--or rather genii. All we do is grant wishes, and any evil that comes to you as a result is because you did not chose well.”

“Fifty years.” She rounded on him.

“Fifty years?”

“You said you could run back to your bottle and wait another fifty years. You’re long lived.”


“How long have you been alive?”

“Since time began! And a good deal before that,” he answered with a flourish.

Her brow furrowed. “And these newspaper clipping--” she nodded toward the box--”they’re about people you granted wishes to?”

He was about to tell her, yes, when he glanced down and noticed the top newspaper clipping was about a man who had died in a peculiar incident involving a horse, a light bulb, and a chain link fence.

“Not necessarily,” he answered. “They’re there for my amusement. You try living alone in a bottle for a millennia.”

She cocked her head slightly. “Do you like being a genie?”

Her question took him aback. Up until that point her questions had been uncommon, but only because he was rarely found by the particular type of moralist she was shaping up to be. But he had never been asked such a personal question as that which she had just asked, and he was not entirely sure how to respond. Thankfully, he was saved the effort by Kane.

“Enough,” he interrupted. “The only way to solve this is to make a wish.” He looked intently at the genie. “If you’re really a genie that means we can wish for anything and you’ll give it to us, right?” Very business minded of him the genie thought.


“Anything we want?”


“And we each get three wishes?”


“Why not?” demanded Kane.

“Well, all three of you touched my bottle at the same time. If it took all three of you to summon me, then I would think you’re only worth one person collectively, considering any normal person would be able to summon me alone.”

“But that’s not fair,” Johanna cried. He turned and fixed her with a hard gaze.

“I have spent more centuries than I can remember locked away in a bottle, only being let out so I can give some stranger three wishes,” he answered coldly. “Don‘t tell me what's fair.”

“Fair or unfair,” Liese broke in, “it’s the way it is, so there’s really no use in arguing.”

“Well said! And very true,” he said straightening. “Shall you go first?”

Her body visibly tensed, and it took her a moment to respond. “I’ll have to think about it.”

“All right,” said Kane, “let’s do this. You said we can wish for anything?”


“And is there any sort of catch?”

The genie paused, but only for effect. “There are catches to everything. A foolish wish will bring no end to your trouble. Choose wisely and there is no end to the possibilities.”

Kane thought about those words for a moment then spoke. “So, all I have to do is wish for something that will cause the minimum amount of problems and have the maximum benefits.”

“It’s not so much the wish that matters as it is the person who wishes.”

Kane studied him closely.

“Don’t look at me,” the genie told him, “look at yourself and decide how much you can bear. Wish for a billion dollars; can you handle the false friends that come with it? Wish for the world; have you the strength to rule?”

“Please,” Kane said, the corner of his mouth turning up slightly, “you couldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle.”

“As you say.”

“Okay, how does this work? Do I just make a wish or do I have to hold the bottle or do I need to do anything else?”

“My, we are very particular. Just make a wish.”

Kane was silent for a moment.

“I wish for,” he began, “I wish for,” he paused, “one hundred thousand dollars.”

“I see we aren’t a big thinker.”

“I wished for exactly what I wanted,” Kane answered, defensively. “I don’t want my whole life provided for. All I need is enough money to get through college. I want to work and get the things I have by myself.”

“Unless, of course, the work in question is actually hard,” the genie shot back, “and then you can only hope there’s a genie to bail you out.”

Before Kane could reply the genie asked, “Do you want that in cash, or should I deposit it directly into your bank account?”

“Cash is good.”

And with a snap of the genie’s fingers, a black briefcase appeared on the floor in front of him. “I’ll throw in the briefcase for free.”

All three of the teenagers looked down in surprise, and Kane quickly knelt to open the case. The corner of the genie’s mouth turned up in a slight smile of satisfaction as Kane’s eyes grew wide, and he let out a soft “damn” when he saw the rows of fifties and hundreds.

“It’s real!” Kane exclaimed holding up a wad of cash.

“Really,” said the genie with a role of his eyes, “what did you think I was going to put in it?”

“Wow,” breathed Johanna. “I’m going next.”

She apparently didn’t need to pause and give her wish any thought for she immediately said, “I wish that Carlos Torres was in love with me.”

The genie couldn’t help but smile. How many times had he granted those sorts of wishes? “As you desire.”

She looked expectantly at him. “That’s all?”

He blinked. “That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Really, I could have made him appear in a puff of smoke, but your wish was that I make him love you.”

And, paying no more mind to her, he fixed Liese with a stare. “And what do you want, my dear?”

Though he would hardly have admitted it, the genie was rather curious to find out what she would ask for. She had already proved herself to be entirely different from what he had first thought, and now he had no idea for what she would wish.

She was silent for a moment--a long moment--as her eyes grew unfocused and she looked off into space, thinking. He could see all of the possibilities pass before her eyes--money, power, fame, success, love each in all their various forms, each crowding to the front and pushing one another aside. Oh, the possibilities! How many times he had seen that look.

But, finally, she roused herself and, looking him straight in the eyes, said, “I do not think I will ask for anything.”

“Nothing at all?” the genie was a bit disappointed.

“There’s nothing that you could give me that I want,” she stated.

“Not even world peace?”

She shook her head, a slight smile upon her face.

“Then I wish I were famous,” Kane broke in.

“Done!” All three teens jumped at the genie’s sudden cry and the loud snap of his fingers.

“What?!” Johanna cried. “You can‘t! But!”

“I just did,” Kane answered with a smirk

For a moment it seemed Johanna was going to punch Kane...or the genie (she couldn‘t quite decide which one she was more angry at), but Liese quickly stepped between the two and said, “He can’t take it back, and you probably don’t want to punch a famous person anyway. Besides, I’m sure you want to look your best for Carlos. You wouldn’t want to break a nail would you?”

“Bitch,” Johanna muttered. She was kept from saying anything else by the sound of some classical tune or other being pounded out in annoying, high-pitched beeps. She fumbled in her pocket for a moment and pulled out her cell-phone.

“Hello,” she nearly barked, but she softened the moment she heard who had called her. “Carlos....”

Needless to say, she was out the door in three seconds. Liese, Kane, and the genie watched her go.

“Well,” said Liese finally, “that’s that.”

She and Kane looked at each other.

“Why don’t you go home,” she finally suggested.

“No, we have to finish up here,” he answered, looking around.

“I’ll take care of it.” She smiled. “You have your new fame to get used to and a hundred thousand dollars to take care of.”

“Thanks,” Kane said and, after picking up his briefcase, walked over to the staircase and disappeared into the shadows below. Liese watched him go then turned and fixed the genie with her gaze, and he realized, rather wistfully, that it was over. It had been so long since he had seen the sunlight and breathed fresh air.

“Well,” he finally said, “I have to be going now.”

“Do you want me to do anything with your bottle?” Liese asked.

“Just put it back in the box and put me with the rest of the things from the house.”

She fixed him with another look, and, gazing into her brown eyes, he had to admit he was glad she had not made a wish.

“Do you like being a genie?” She asked again the question she had gotten no answer to before.

“It’s what I am,” was all the genie was willing to say.

And with that, he gathered himself up in a cloud of smoke and retreated to his bottle.

And that, as Liese had said, was least for the time being.

It did not take long, however, for the genie to collect his first new newspaper article.

HARTSBURGH -- It has been a long and rocky road, but a date has finally been set for the trial of Kane Jacobson. Surprising for a robbery, the case has gained nation-wide attention, with Jacobson’s lawyer and representatives from the many groups campaigning for his release appearing daily on television.

Brought into questioning after several bills from various banks that had suffered robberies appeared in his possession, police quickly discovered he had at least $100,000 in cash at his home. Although he continues to claim he does not know how the money came into his possession, several of his acquaintances are avowed criminals whom police have suspected in the string of bank robberies leading up to Jacobson’s arrest.

His case has mobilized civil rights groups across the nation, in particular the NAACP which is holding him up as the most recent example of the racism evident in the modern criminal justice system. Only the latest in a string of alleged injustices, Jacobson’s case has caused widespread protests, and it is only now, nearly eight months since Jacobson was originally charged, that the case has shown any sign of moving forward.

Wish granting was the genie’s art of choice, and he thought it not pretentious of him to say Kane Jacobson was one of his modern masterpieces. Oh, of course, Kane would never rise to the level of that whole Sultan of Baghdad affair, but it was amazing what you could do with just the slightest knowledge of current affairs.

Johanna he had to wait slightly longer for. On the other hand, she was someone for whom all he had to do was grant her wish just as she had asked it.

HARTSBURGH--There will be a memorial service for Johanna Briggs on Friday, June 14 at 2:00 at the Renaissance Club. Her parents and her fiancé invite anyone who wishes to mourn her death or celebrate her life to attend.

MILLTOWN--The attorney for Carlos Torres filed a formal request Tuesday for a change of venue, arguing that pretrial publicity made it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial in Wasenau County.

Torres is accused of murdering Johanna Briggs two days before her wedding to Nathan Armstrong. Torres is alleged to have harassed her repeatedly during the year leading up to her marriage. According to her family, his alleged behavior caused her to get a restraining order against him and eventually move from her hometown of Hartsburgh to Milltown. Although the police received no more complaints, it is known that Torres became a resident of Milltown one month after Briggs moved.

As for Liese, the genie’s thoughts did wander toward her once in a while. She had been very pretty, and to this day she was one of only two people who had actually refused to make a wish (the other being a monk back in 1101 who’d tried to exorcise him). But, his thoughts only turned to her in passing, and he never expected to hear of her again....

Nearly ten years later, he was stumbled upon by a young, would-be actress who went by the name Sabra, though, her real name (no surprise there) was Jennifer.

....The real surprise of the evening came when Sabra Tormèn was named best supporting actress for her wooden (or perhaps I ought to say fossilized) performance in “The Expatriate”. That she was even nominated did not add to Oscar’s luster, but that she actually won--that is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

Anyone who's seen Liese Normandie’s performance as Andromache in “The Fall of Troy” must realize that she’s going to go down in history as one of Hollywood’s Great Actresses. However, even on the night of her painful defeat she was all smiles. I caught up with her at a post-Oscar parties and asked her about the whole fiasco. She flashed her sly trademark smile and said, “I‘m always careful what I wish for.”


Copyright 2002 Jessica Menn