William Quincy Belle is just a guy. Nobody famous; nobody rich; just some guy who likes to periodically add his two cents worth with the hope, accounting for inflation, that $0.02 is not over-evaluating his contribution. He claims that at the heart of the writing process is some sort of (psychotic) urge to put it down on paper and likes to recite the following which so far he hasn't been able to attribute to anyone: "A writer is an egomaniac with low self-esteem."
You will find Mr. Belle's unbridled stream of consciousness here (http://wqebelle.blogspot.ca) or @here (https://twitter.com/wqbelle).
Kelly stood at the entrance and surveyed his new apartment. What a find. Heck, what a steal. This was the perfect location in a great neighborhood, and he couldn’t ask for more. On top of it, the moving company did a great job of getting everything across town at the last minute and arranging the major pieces of furniture. All he had to do was to deal with the smaller things and his personal stuff. Could life get any better than this?
He walked into the kitchenette and opened several cupboards. It would take some thought to figure out how to arrange his dishes, utensils and cooking items. He peeked inside a side cupboard extending to the floor, the perfect spot for brooms and such. He frowned. There on the floor toward the back was an old cardboard box. The previous owner must have missed it.
Kelly picked it up and carried it to the living room. He set it on the coffee table and sat in an easy chair. Pulling the flaps up, he peered into the box and removed various items: a rolling pin, several sponges, a flower vase, and a plastic tray of utensils. At first glance, none of this seemed of any particular value, certainly nothing he could use. Getting rid of the box would be first on the list when he put out his garbage and recycling.
Something metallic caught his attention. He reached into the box and pulled out a handheld oil lamp. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It was a Middle-eastern style, an Aladdin magic lamp. Kelly chuckled. Should he rub it? Now, this might be something worth keeping. The rest of the stuff he’d throw out, but the lamp had a novelty aspect to it and would make for a good conversation piece.
He turned it over, looking for a clue as to its origin. There didn’t seem to be any markings, not even a price tag. He eyed it thoughtfully, shrugged, and then rubbed the side of it. Blue smoke poured out of the spout and Kelly gasped. He shoved the lamp on the table and jerked back wide-eyed as a cloud billowed throughout the room. Waving his hands, he coughed as a pungent aroma filled his nostrils.
The blue smoke dissipated and Kelly’s vision cleared. He looked at the lamp then glanced at the box and the other items on the table. He looked up. A man lay on the couch.
“Holy crap!” Kelly jumped up from the chair and backed away, keeping his gaze fixed on this intruder. “Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?”
The man lay full-length, his head propped up by the end arm. His eyes were closed. “Look at me and look at me closely. I’m wearing a turban. I have traditional Arabic shoes.” He wiggled one of his feet. “Note the style of my Middle-Eastern attire.” He motioned with one hand down the length of his body. “Who do you think I am?”
Kelly gulped some air and took a step forward to study the figure. “This is impossible.”
The man opened one eye and looked at him. “Oh, ye of little faith.” He sat up and put his feet on the floor.
Kelly crouched, ready to sprint out the door.
The man lounged back, spread his arms out on the back of the couch and half-smiled. “I am Youhenna Diab Mudsin Husain Mahdi, the all-powerful, all-knowing genie of the eternal magic lamp. But, you can call me Fred.” He nodded. “At your service. Blah, blah, blah.”
“Get out. This is a gag. Am I being pranked?” Kelly looked around. “Is this being filmed?”
Fred let out a long sigh and rolled his eyes. “Oh boy. Here we go again. Or should I say: here I go again.”
Kelly scowled. “What are you talking about?”
“I always have to go through this, and I find it tedious.”
“Go through what?”
“Having to convince you I’m the real deal.”
“Whoever is the current owner of the lamp. They can’t believe I’m a genie and we go through this back and forth until I manage to convince them that I am, in fact, a genie: magic, blue smoke, grant wishes and all that.”
Kelly stood upright and eyed the man suspiciously. “So, wise guy, can you prove who you say you are?”
Fred held out his arm, and a bunch of flowers appeared in his clenched fist.
“A magician’s sleight of hand: you pulled that out of your sleeve.”
The flowers disappeared. Kelly looked perplexed and held up his hand, a bouquet in his clenched fist. “Whoa!” He dropped the flowers and backed up a step. “How the hell did you do that?” He stared wide-eyed at the floor.
“Does a magician reveal his secrets? Where’s the magic in that?”
“This is a load of B.S.”
A snort sounded behind Kelly. He whipped around to find a horned steer standing in the middle of his kitchenette. The animal snorted again and defecated with a loud plop on the linoleum floor.
“Still think it’s a load of—”
“Whew!” Kelly winced and held his nose. “Okay, okay. You’ve made your point. Make it disappear.”
The animal was gone. “Hey! What about the manure?” Kelly pointed at the kitchenette. “For crying out loud. Get rid of that!”
Fred shrugged again. “Magicians and animal acts have their problems. If ya gotta go, ya gotta go.”
“Very funny.” He sat down in the easy chair. “So, you’re a genie.”
“You grant wishes and all that.”
“That I do. However, plural has been downgraded to singular.”
“I don’t grant wishes. I grant a wish. Just one.”
“What happened to three wishes?”
“Cutbacks. Inflation. Expenses have gone up.”
Kelly furrowed his brow. “I think you’re pulling my leg.” Fred gestured toward him, and an invisible force tugged on his right leg, pulling him forward on the chair. “Hey! What are you doing?”
“You said ...”
“I didn’t wish it.”
Kelly straightened up in the chair. “So, what do I wish for?”
“That’s up to you.”
“I can wish for anything?”
“Anything at all.”
“How about a ton of cash?”
“Sure. However, a ton is a ton, and when I drop it on you, you’ll be crushed.”
Kelly opened his mouth, paused, then shut it and leaned back in the chair. “What if I ask for gold?”
“That’s fine, but I’ll have to get it from someplace, and Fort Knox seems like a good choice. Of course, I’ll have to leave an I.O.U. with your name and address.”
“I’m a genie, not some petty thief. Geesh, do you think I’m dishonest?”
Kelly pursed his lips. “I take it that I have to be specific when making a wish.”
“What you say is open to interpretation.”
“A million bucks?”
“A million male reindeer.
“Okay, okay, a million dollars.”
“A one-dollar bill copied one million times: good for the charge of counterfeiting.”
“All right, I mean one million dollars all different and legitimate.”
“One million Zimbabwe dollars, currently equal to about twenty-eight hundred dollars U.S.”
Kelly stared at Fred. “You’re an evil genie, aren’t you?”
“I told you that what you say is open to interpretation.”
“Either you’re not too bright, or you’re mean.”
“No need to be insulting. How to win friends and influence genies.”
“You’re going to make this difficult for me.”
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
“How about ...” Kelly tapped his index finger on the arm of the easy chair. “How about making me the richest guy in the world?”
“I transport you to an uninhabited world. You are now the richest person, the only one, but the richest.”
“Doable. Although, you didn’t also ask for eternal youth. A hundred years from now, you’ll be a walking skeleton with the last remnants of flesh rotting off your bones.”
“Well, that sounds quite unpleasant.”
“You pay the price for your folly.”
“The folly of not being specific.”
“You’re catching on.”
Exasperated, Kelly waved his hand at Fred. “Why can’t you grant my wish? Why can’t you do something nice for me?”
“Be careful what you wish for.”
“There may be unintended consequences. Nothing in life is free, and nobody should be looking for the easy way out. True rewards don’t come from wishes; they come from desire, purpose, and hard work.”
“Are you a philosopher genie?”
Fred tilted his head in reflection. “I’ve seen a lot.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“A few millennia.”
“You seem kind of cynical.”
“I’ve seen people at their worst: egotistical, self-centered, greedy, power-hungry, a complete lack of compassion, no sympathy, certainly no empathy, and an ignorance about life that is astounding. They’re generally short-sighted and just plain stupid. It’s hard to believe humans are at the top of the food chain.”
“You seem jaded.”
“It’s hard not to be.”
“Is that why you interpret what I say so literally? Is that why you want to sabotage my wish?”
“Bad things happen to bad people.”
“I like to think I’m not bad.”
“Let’s say you’re not perfect.”
“Who is? Do I deserve to be punished for it?”
“Am I supposed to be all-merciful? Stuff happens. If you stick your finger in a light socket, you get electrocuted. Ignorance or stupidity is no excuse. In the theory of evolution, it’s a way of weeding out the weak and unfit.”
Kelly stared at Fred.
“This isn’t my lucky day.”
“Why not? You’ve found this nice apartment. Things seem to be looking up.”
“I was talking about you.”
“I’m here to fulfill your wish.”
“Now I’m wondering why the last tenant left your lamp behind.” Kelly pursed his lips.
“She wished to be happy.”
“Did you make her wish come true? Is she happy?”
“Very much so.”
Kelly squinted. “What did you do? How did you interpret her wish?”
“Forrest Gump was a happy guy.”
“At least, he wasn’t sad.”
“What do you mean?” Kelly paused. “Wait. Did you make her dumber? Did you give her an I.Q. of seventy-five?”
“I think she’s quite content now. Certainly, politics is of no importance to her. Besides, who can follow that stuff, anyway? It’s enough to wipe the smile off any face.”
“Just a second. She wishes to be happy, and your interpretation is to make her as dumb as Forrest Gump.”
“You make the wish; I interpret how to fulfill it.”
“Just doing my job.”
“I’m going to make a wish, and you’re going to royally screw me.
“Just doing my job.”
“And just what exactly is that job? You seem to be more of a bad genie than a good one. With a change of clothes, I’d be calling you the devil.”
Kelly glanced around, rubbing his chin.
“A penny for your thoughts.”
“I think I’ll ask you to go back in the lamp.”
“What about your wish?”
“I don’t trust you.”
“I’ll do exactly what you say.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Kelly picked up the lamp. “Do I rub a second time?”
“That would do it. And I’ll add that you’re making the right choice.”
“I wonder how many innocents over the ages have found themselves in undesirable circumstances?”
“They weren’t innocent, believe me.”
“I’ll take your word for it. I’ll get on with the rest of my life all on my own.”
“In the long run, you’ll have a better sense of accomplishment. Nobody values anything they get for free, but if you work hard, struggle even, your eventual success will be all that much more satisfying.”
“In that getup, I can see you as a spiritual guru, sitting on a mountaintop somewhere spouting wisdom to all those who dare make the pilgrimage.”
Fred chuckled. “Have a good life, Kelly.”
He rubbed the lamp, and the genie disappeared in a cloud of blue smoke. Kelly stared at the lamp for a moment, then put it back in the box. He rode the elevator down to the building garbage room and left the box just inside the door. Maybe another resident could make use of the items.
He put his hand on the door handle to exit and stopped. He took the lamp out of the box and tossed it into an industrial bin marked Garbage.
When Kelly got back to his apartment, a Chinese food delivery guy was knocking on the door across the hall. A flustered man answered, “Oh my God. I forgot about this.” He reached for his wallet. “Quick. How much do I owe you?”
Kelly opened the door to his apartment.
“Hey you, neighbor.” The man pointed at Kelly as he handed the delivery man several bills. “Do you want a free dinner?”
“Pardon?” Kelly said.
“My wife’s water just broke, and I have to get her to the hospital right away. She wasn’t due for another two weeks, but then Bingo! We’re off to delivery.”
The man thrust the large paper bag into Kelly’s hands and disappeared back into his apartment. The delivery man grinned at Kelly and headed down the hall to the elevators.
A man and woman came out of the apartment, and the man locked the door. “It’s okay, honey. We’re only about ten minutes away. I’ve already called the doctor, so everything set. They’re waiting for us.” The two of them went down the hall to the elevators.
“Good luck,” Kelly said after them.
He went inside and shut the door. Setting the bag on the kitchen table, he pulled various cardboard containers out, examining each one in turn. They all smelled appetizing.
At the bottom of the bag was a white slip of paper, the bill. Kelly picked it up and read down the list, twenty-four dollars in total. This was a pleasant surprise. He hadn’t yet figured out what he was going to have tonight.
Kelly turned the slip over. There, written in blue ink, was the message, “Dinner’s on me. Fred.” He looked in the direction of his apartment door. “Seriously?” He looked again at the message, chuckled and shook his head. He picked up a plastic fork and opened the first container.