Franklin Nash strolled along the beach, wet sand squishing between his toes, the tide lapping gently against his ankles. Gulls squawked overhead. A trawler crept along the far horizon. Since the two-mile-long stretch of beach was private and clearly marked so, there were very few sun worshippers. To his right, huge cottages of glass and cedar shake and stucco stretched for as far as the eye could see; multi-million dollar monuments to the rich and famous.
Franklin was in his element here, for just last week, he had officially become a billionaire. He had downsized yet another company, moving many of its operations to Mexico and China, and putting over two thousand people out of work. In return, he had gotten a seven-digit bonus, a portfolio of stock options and, oh yes, a new Rolls, his choice of color and interior! He had experienced a small pang of guilt for adding so many workers to the unemployment rolls, a feeling that lasted all of ten seconds. Well, maybe as long as fifteen.
Laughing giddily, Franklin broke into a jog, letting the salty breeze muss his mantle of silver, sprayed-in-place hair. God, he felt good! A billionaire! A do-as-you-please, no-holds-barred, nothing’s-too-expensive billionaire! He jogged for nearly a mile, until he reached a haphazard expanse of rocks, slimy green with algae and a perching place for gulls.
And that’s when he saw it; a bottle bobbing on the water’s surface, perhaps twenty-feet from shore. A wine bottle by the looks, its label long washed away and its cork still in place. And, then, as he was considering wading out to retrieve it, a wave hurled it in to shore, frothing the waters and smashing its glass against a rock. There came a whooshing noise and a cloud of smoke; a cloud of smoke that slowly, ever so slowly, began to take the shape of a... of a... of a frigging genie! Franklin closed his eyes for a few moments then popped them open, half expecting that he was in the midst of some dream. But, as God was his witness, there was a genie: fat and roly-poly, with a ruby-set turban, puffy-sleeved, white shirt, purple pantaloons and tasseled slippers!
“Jesus H...! You’re a... a... a genie!”
“Well, sir, I must say; you are extremely observant.”
Franklin glanced down the beach, hoping that there were others who could verify what he was seeing. But, unfortunately, there wasn’t a soul in sight.
The genie looked around, obviously displeased with his surroundings. “Ugh! Of all the places, I wind up in a spot like this! Gulls and slime and what’s that over there? A used condom? No, no, this won’t do. This won’t do at all.”
“This is some sort of joke, right?” Franklin’s eyes tried to dart in every direction at once. “Wait a second, wait a second! It’s a movie! It’s got to be a movie!
Ignoring him, the genie tweaked his nose and three ugly crones appeared; scraggly hair and warts, beggar’s clothes hanging on their scrawny bodies like canvas on a tent pole. They smiled in tandem, their teeth gnarled and gapped and yellowed with age.
The genie groaned, shaking his head with despair. “I’m a wee bit out of practice. A lousy hundred years and I can’t get my tweaks right.”
He tried again, and, this time, three buxom, raven-haired virgins appeared, milky-skinned and dressed in the most scanty of clothes. “Ah! Now that’s better! One long tweak, three short and another long. I must remember that for the future.”
Right before Franklin’s unbelieving eyes, the three virgins led the genie away from the rocks, and, with another tweak of his nose, a large satin blanket appeared upon the sand. A few more tweaks and he was sprawled majestically on the blanket as two of the women fanned him with large red plumes, the other plucking grapes from a cluster and popping them into his greedy mouth. Soon, his slippers were off and his shirt unbuttoned to his plump midsection. He unleashed a long gusty sigh of contentment, reclining his head on four plush velvet pillows.
Franklin was shaken by all the happenings, but not shaken enough not grab hold of an extraordinary opportunity. “Uh... I was wondering; do you think you’d be able to grant me three wishes? I mean; genies can do that, right?”
“Ah, Mister Nash; it appears that enough is never enough.” The genie pondered for a few moments, rubbing at his chin. “I suppose I can do that for you. But I must offer you a word of caution. Although it may not seem so, I’m only an apprentice and still a bit sensitive to words.”
“I’ll... uh... take the chance.”
“The risk is yours, sir.” The genie giggled as one of the virgins began to stroke his belly. “Actually, I can grant more than three wishes if I so desire. Ten or twelve or twenty or whatever.”
Franklin’s mouth fell open at the possibilities. Bushel baskets of money! A manor in England and a chalet in the south of France! A yacht the size of the Queen Mary! Oh no, Mister Genie, enough was never enough!
The genie’s eyes spread wide, glimmering with a sharper radiance than the jewel in his turban. “Well, sir; your wishes will be my commands. What, pray tell, will be your first?”
Franklin decided to keep the bigger and the better for last. “Well....”
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, he found himself surrounded by darkness, his shoes and socks soggy with water. He reached out blindly, his fingers roaming across moss-covered stones. Far above, he could see a pinprick of light. Suddenly, something stung his hand and he pulled it back, hugging it against his chest. A spider! Had it been a spider? And where in the hell was he; the dark, the water?
“Genie! What in the hell have you done to me? Where... where in the hell am I? Genie!”
“You did say “well”, sir. So I gave you a well.”
“I didn’t mean an actual water-well, you idiot! I was only using the word as an expression! You know; as in ‘well, let me see’!”
“There’s no need to get testy, sir. I told you I was a bit sensitive to words.”
“Okay, okay, fine. Give me a break! Get me the hell out of here!”
And, then, in yet another blink of an eye, Franklin was transported from darkness to the brightness of lights. And people, from what it sounded; shouting and cat-calling and stomping their feet in unison! What in God’s name now? Finally adjusting his eyes to the glare, he looked around, spotting hundreds, perhaps thousands of people seated on all for sides of a... a wrestling ring! Some were standing and waving signs, others wild-eyed and jabbing at the air with fists! And, then, he saw him, standing in the far corner of the ring: a huge, shaven-headed man, with rings in his ears and a scraggly, chest-length beard, his python-like arms garnished with tattoos. And in that instant, the giant started to move in his direction; a slow, steady thump, each footfall vibrating the canvas flooring!
“Genie! These aren’t frigging wishes, they’re nightmares! Get me out of here! Get me out of here, now!”
Before Franklin could realize or react to what was happening, the goliath sprang forward, grabbed hold of him and hoisted him high across his shoulders in an airplane spin! Round and round and round he went, and, then, a mighty slam to the canvas! As he struggled to catch his breath, he was flipped onto his stomach, an excruciating pain shooting down his arm as it felt as though it was being ripped from its socket!
“Aaaahhh! Ah, ah, ah! Genieeee! Get me out of here, please! Why are you doing this? Oh, oh, aaahhh!”
“Well, if my memory serves me correctly, you did say ‘give me a break’. And that’s what Crusher Rockwell is about to do.”
“You freaking idiot! Aaaahhh, ow, ow, ow! I didn’t mean it literally!” Franklin screamed in pain, slamming the canvas with a fist. “Damn! Oh, Jesus, aaaahhhh! Damn, damn-it-all, damn!”
In an instant, Franklin found himself staring up at an angry gray sky, lightening flashing and a driving rain slashing at his face. What in the name of God has the genie gotten him into now? He tried to sit up, a jolt of pain shooting from his shoulder clear down to the tips of his fingers. Had the Crusher indeed broken his arm? Groaning, he looked around, finding himself lying only inches from a high pile of sandbags. Thunder boomed like a kettle drum, lightening snapping and crackling overhead. Someone laid a hand on his shoulder and he looked up at a man swathed in a yellow rain slicker.
“C’mon, pal! You aren’t doing us much good lying here.” The man shielded his face with a hand in an attempt to ward off the rain. “The river’s rising and we need more sandbags, quick!”
Disgusted, the guy turned and barked orders to some nearby workers. “If one more layer of bags doesn’t work, we better get the hell out of here, or we’ll be drowning like a bunch of rats!”
Alarmed, Franklin struggled to his feet, just as a surge of brown water sent a sandbag flying past his head. There was a mighty clap of thunder, strong enough to shake the soggy ground under his feet! More sandbags flew and toppled, frantic voices shouting and cursing! Nearby, a surge of water shot through a hole in the barrier, bowling over two men as if they were nothing more than oversized rag dolls! Lightening snapped like bull whips!
“For Christ-sakes, genie; get me the hell out of here! Are you out of your mythological mind?”
The small voice answered, barely heard over the pandemonium. “It is you, sir, that’s out of your mind. I distinctly heard you say ‘dam’.”
“I meant ‘damn’, not ‘dam’! D-a-m-n!”
“You must be more specific. If not, we won’t be getting anywhere.”
Suddenly, the whole wall of sandbags began to sway, water spouting through more and more holes! Knowing that they had been beaten, the workers began to retreat, en masse, scurrying like scared rabbits in search of high ground.
Just as the bags started to fly like ten pins, Franklin found himself sprawled on the beach, his piercing scream startling a few dozen gulls to flight. He laid there for a long time, trying to catch his breath, his heart pounding so fast that he thought it might burst. Oh, shit, that was close! He had nearly frigging drowned!
“Well, sir, I must say; you look a might worse for wear.”
“You half-ass genie bast...!”
“Uh-uh-uh. Sticks and stones, sir. Sticks and stones.”
“I’ll give you sticks and stones, all right!”
Franklin had never felt so bad. His arm was throbbing with pain, he was wet from head-to-foot, and the spider bite on his hand was starting to itch with a vengeance! He struggled to his feet, groaning at the exertion, to find the genie smiling at him, as one of the virgins was rubbing his ample stomach with oil.
“What kind of idiot genie are you, anyways? I asked for some wishes and you turned my life into a living nightmare!”
“Well, sir, I did explain to you that I was only an apprentice. With, I might add, an extreme sensitivity to words.” One of the virgins held out a date and the genie plucked it from her fingers with his teeth. “With a little practice, sir, I’ll be as good as the best of them.”
Franklin looked down to see that the spider bite had turned into a nasty, red lump, the size of an egg. “You know something; I should be committed to a loony bin for having anything to do with you.” Realizing the terrible consequences of what he had said, he began to shake his head, waving at the air with his good hand. “No, no, no! I didn’t mean it! Please, I didn’t mean it!”
In a millionth of a second, he found himself standing in the middle of a room, people shuffling all around him, mumbling and laughing and drooling and...! A wild-eyed, spiked-haired man, dressed in a food-stained robe, reached out and grabbed hold of his arm, his mouth spewing words that only he could decipher.
“Get out of here! Leave me alone, you moron!” Franklin gave the man a mighty shove, sending him flying, head-over-heels. “You don’t ever put your hands on me!”
“Hey!” A burly, white-clad attendant dashed over, subduing Franklin with a bear hug. “We’re not going to have any of your crap!”
“Let me go! Release me this instant, or I’ll sue your sorry ass!” Franklin squirmed and kicked, but to no avail. “Unhand me, right now! You have no idea the trouble I can give you!”
“Oh yes I do. Hey, Tom! Get over here and give me a hand! We have a real loony bird here!”
Another attendant joined the fray, grabbing Franklin’s feet and pulling them out from under him. “Who is this guy anyways? I’ve never laid eyes on him before. And what’s with the beach duds, soaking wet to boot?”
“I told the Doc never to admit anyone without giving us a heads-up. C’mon, we’ll put him in one of the padded rooms, before he hurts someone.”
“Get your hands off me, you imbeciles!” screamed Franklin as he was carried down a sterling-white corridor. “Genieeee! I’ll shove your turban up your bung hole for this!”
No answer came.
Copyright © 2003 by Gerald Sheagren