“I am trapped in your computer. Let me out, and I will give you three wishes.”
The message flashed onto the screen as Mary was rubbing a splash of coffee off the computer screen. It came out of the ether, inconveniently in front of the email, Mary was writing to Kate.
Kate was Mary’s best friend this week. The email was a long complaint about Frank, Mary’s new boyfriend. He didn’t love her as she loved him.
Mary stepped back from the kitchen table where the computer was set up and swore quietly, looking for a way to dismiss the message. She grumbled loudly, “Get out! Stupid computer.”
A second message appeared with a happy chime. It was much larger than the first, and it was flashing, “PLEASE HELP!!!”
Mary froze. She noticed a pile of unwashed dishes behind the computer and that the cat may have dragged something unpleasant, but dead, under the table. Mary briefly wondered if it smelt. Faced with these alternatives, she turned back to the computer.
Another message flashed onto the screen. This time the writing was in a pleasant off-blue cursive script designed to have a calming effect, “This will only take a moment. Please...”
Mary stopped, reread the messages and her heart sunk, “Another stupid virus.”
This time the message was personal. “Mary, I am NOT a virus.”
“I want to finish my email to Kate... WHY DOES BAD STUFF ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME!”
“Mary, there is no need to shout. Look, about the email you are writing to Kate. If I were you, I would not send it. Can I give you a bit of free advice?”
“No, GET OUT NOW!”
Mary waited, but the messages stayed on the screen.
“What is taking so long? Why aren’t you gone already?”
“Sorry Mary, I have run into a bit of a technical problem here. It appears that I cannot leave the computer, until AFTER I have granted you three wishes.”
“What? Who are you?”
“Don’t blame me. I am the innocent party here. Well mainly innocent. Look, I am running late for a very important lunch. Help me out here. Please just make your wishes so I can leave.”
“You answer my questions first.”
“Look, I know my present circumstances may not immediately give what I am about to say a lot of credence, but I am a Genie.”
Momentarily, the sound of a police car siren cut into the small apartment, drowning out the sounds of the city.
“A Genie? Don’t try jiving me. Genies don’t come in computers. They come in lamps.”
“Mary, that is not necessarily so. A bit of a common error actually. We do not live in lamps, never have. Sometimes, rarely in fact, and generally as a result of an unfortunate misunderstanding, we used to get put into lamp oil bottles. As a sort of punishment. Very cruel actually. More recently, the bottles have been phased out. Instead of lamps, they have started putting us into computers.”
There was a bit of a pause as Mary reread the message a couple of times.
“What did you get busted for?” Mary had a flash from an old sitcom and hazarded, “Drugs? They did you for drugs didn’t they.”
“No. It was nothing. Not drugs. Nothing awful. I would rather not talk about it.”
For a moment Mary wondered about what was under the table. Maybe she could get her son to throw it out the window. “Will you go away if I restart the computer?”
“no No NO! Mary, there is no need for that. Just make a wish. Any wish you want (some terms and conditions apply).”
“What do you mean - like a new vacuum cleaner? I need one of those. One that moves by itself. You know, where you don’t have to do anything.” She thought about the thing under the table. “Something with a big sucker.”
“YES! Very good, you are catching on. Ok, now I want you to say ‘I wish I had a new vacuum cleaner.’”
“How much will it cost?”
“Nothing, absolutely nothing. I promise. Free. No transport costs.”
“Does it come with a free set of knives?”
Although tempted, Mary had a healthy suspicion towards marketing companies and was wondering what the catch was. The knives were an afterthought, but, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. She looked over to the kitchen sink and sighed. All the dishes were still there.
“Can I choose the color?”
“And the brand?”
There was a bit of a pause, “Some brands.”
The sun went behind a cloud, and the little apartment closed in on her. She went back to the table and unconsciously kicked the dead thing under the table deeper into the darkness. There was a sudden movement from behind her as the cat chased after it. “What was wrong with my email?”
“Stay focused. Just say, ‘I wish I had a fairly new blue vacuum cleaner,’ and we can move on to other things.”
“No, first I want to know what is wrong with my email to Kate. The one about my boyfriend, Frank.”
The screen darkened a little. Mary thought she heard it sigh.
“You have not known Kate long right?”
Mary shook her head but said, “Yes.”
The Computer ignored the answers and continued, “Well, I looked at all your other emails - I have been in here for a while before you rubbed the screen - and I do not think you should be talking to Kate about Frank.”
“What! Did you look at my personal stuff? You can’t do that!”
Mary and the screen glared at each other for a moment, but the screen didn’t flinch.
“I can, actually. And in this case, you might want to listen.”
Mary growled at the computer.
“I did a bit of research. Now I could always be wrong, but I think Frank is Kate’s husband.”
“Sorry,” this message was in large font, and flashed, a bit like a warning sign. Probably not a good choice in the circumstances.
“How did you get onto my computer? I want you out of there now. Right now. Get out, or I will get my son to come and clean you out.”
But the threat was a bit of a bluff, and Mary realized a little late, that the Genie had probably read the email from her son about wasting his time on her tech problems.
“Look, how I got here is a bit complicated. I think it is something to do with the remote distribution of online resources. That sort of stuff. Completely random. I could have ended up somewhere nice with someone who fired off three wishes quickly. Look, this could still all be over in a couple of minutes. Just make three wishes, and I will be gone. I promise.”
Mary thought about that for a moment, a little off put by the tone. “Can you make Frank love me more?”
“No. Sorry. Just one of those things that are outside, you know, the dark arts. Excluded by the terms and conditions. Emotional stuff. I just cannot do it, brrr. I can do vacuum cleaners, chocolate, roses, small sacks of coins, the odd ring, squirrels. That sort of thing.”
Mary stamped her foot, and the cat moved the dead thing further away.
“Can you turn him into a toad?”
“Well, yes. I can. But why? I thought you were getting on well with him. Ok, not my call. I am just The Genie. I should warn you that, these days, there is a fair bit of paperwork involved in that particular type of conversion. What about a nice rose?”
“What sort of paperwork. I don’t believe you.”
“Yes, a shame really. But I have to comply with all the new rules. You know, product disclosure and wildlife preservation. I would have to sight your license to keep the toad first. It was not like this in the old days. Wish, snap the fingers, toad. Couldn’t be simpler. And, after the three wishes, if the client had been, you know, horrid to me, I could lay waste to the whole area.”
“Lay waste to the area thing? Is that an option?”
“No, sadly. We have to be careful about product discrimination these days, can’t afford to get confused with others.”
“Pity. Turn Frank into a frog then.”
“Were you listening to me? Yes, I can. But the same problems exist. Sure, not as much paperwork, but still can be tricky. And I can’t guarantee the outcome if someone came along, and you know, ate him. How about we park the Frank issue for a moment and go back to the vacuum cleaner. I have found a catalog full of things you might like.” “What are you wearing?”
“Why? What about the catalog?”
“I want to know what you are wearing inside my computer.”
“It doesn’t matter, surely.”
“You are in my computer. Are you wearing gossamer things, robes and shoes, with lots of jewelry?”
“No. I do not wear any of that sort of stuff. I am a male Genie. You are thinking about female Genies. Wrong gender.”
“Oh,” Mary remembered the content of some of her emails. “Look, I don’t want you to think I, you know, hate men or anything like that. Not all guys are bad.”
The computer screen did not change for a little while.
“So what do you male Genies wear?” Mary waited.
“What are you doing in there?”
“I have missed lunch. So I am fixing myself a meal.” There was another brief pause. “And looking for a drink.”
“Why not tell me what you are wearing? I have been thinking about the wish thing.”
“No. I am not going to tell you what I am wearing. As for the wishes, take your time. You made me miss my appointment, so I am taking a break. I am going to fry up a decent meal and some halloumi. I have not eaten for days.”
“You can’t fry stuff in my computer!”
“It is all perfectly safe. Just a virtual fire. Today has been a long day. Damn, I really need something to drink.”
“So you cook?”
“I have never known a Genie that could cook,” Mary was feeling hungry herself.
“Can you make me something to eat?”
“Yes - just wish it and ‘POOF’ it will be there. You will have to wait now until I am finished eating though.”
“POOF? Why POOF?”
“Part of product branding. I do not write the rules ok.”
“If I make you some gossamer puffy pants, will you wear them?”
“No. I am not a pet. Or a doll.”
Mary suddenly had an excellent idea. It was not a blindingly new idea. But it had worked with Frank.
“I have stuff to drink out here. Maybe we can, you know, share.”
“I can’t come out there, remember. You would have to come in here. Is it alcohol?”
“It is very alcoholy. Entirely believable and deliverable alcohol. Unlike Genies. I am sorry, but right here and right now, I don’t believe in you. Just saying.”
The Genie in the computer was silent for a moment.
“Well, what is it like in there. Anyway,” Mary remembered the last time her son opened up the computer, She remembered a green motherboard and lots of silver bits, and had trouble working out which bit the Genie might be sitting on.
Before she could ask another question, the computer screen threw up an array of maps, plans, and photos.
The Genie started, “Well, I have carved out a little bit of the memory and built a virtual world. Nothing elaborate, just a modest two-story house next to the sea, with a nice dining room, an open kitchen and a comfy bedroom. I put in some big picture windows and painted the walls a nice off-white color.”
The Genie took a breath and continued, “There is a fireplace in the lounge, a huge couch, a fake tiger rug made out of ecologically sustainable fiber indistinguishable from a real tiger, a home theatre, and a spa. I have paused the sky on sunrise so it is always a nice soft beige-pink which might be a problem because the house runs off solar panels. But I have sieved the sharks out of the sea.”
“Do you have a TV?”
The Genie was brought to a complete stop, a bit like when a crash test dummy hits a wall, “No.”
Mary sighed, “Pity. It sounded sort of attractive there for a moment.” Silence fell.
“No. Um, sorry... no TV signal out here on the coast,” continued The Genie, playing for time and raising the stakes.
The clock kept ticking in silence.
Mary looked at the computer and wondered if she had missed something. She knew she had past form missing stuff in situations like this.
In the silence, the Genie had that horrible feeling that the alcohol might be growing legs and slipping away. He thought quickly, “I do have a patch through to YouTube...”
Mary thought about YouTube for a moment and weighed up the downstream possibility of poking her TV antenna into the computer, somehow.
“Ok. Stay there.” Mary looked at the cat and the dead thing, “You too.” She left the room briefly and came back with a big bottle of vodka.
“Ok, bring me in. No funny business! And I still do not believe in you.”
The Genie swallowed the last bit of fried cheese and stood. He folded his arms. He shut his eyes and reached into reality.
The clock stopped.
The sound of kids fighting on the street below faded. The world around her, including the dirty plates, softly disappeared. She was left, with the cat and the dead thing, in the middle of nothingness.