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Roland Rothschild III crammed his face full of truffles, washed them down with a gluttonous gulp of Dom Perignon, snorted at the concept of liability, and greedily mashed the “I ACCEPT” button.
His screen flashed with Technicolor, so dazzling he had to shield his eyes. Thunder boomed overhead–thunder just for him–rumbling first editions off bookshelves, upending artwork, rocking the huge chandelier like it was dangling with monkeys.
“Welcome to wishdotcom,” a voice mumbled impatiently. “My names Ben. I’m your genie. You got three wishes. What’ll it be?”
Roland rubbed his eyes. On the computer screen, a window had opened. Inside it, a man hunched behind a sterile white desk, within a sterile white cubicle, under sterile white light, peering out at him with all the enthusiasm of a colonoscopy patient. A name plate sat on the man’s desk.
“B. EVOLENT – Certified Genie, C.P.G.”
Ben Evolent had the bleak, vacant look of a man proof reading his suicide note. Sloppy, bruise brown suit, crinkled tie, wispy comb over. He could have passed for a weary insurance salesman, maybe an abused accountant, except for his eyes. They were devoid of pupils, devoid of lids or lashes, oval pools of smouldering lava.
“You’re on the clock, sir,” Ben sighed. He absently picked his nose. “First wish. What’ll it be?”
“HEY!” Roland barked. “This is costing me a fortune, genie. Don’t rush me.” He leaned back in his wingback chair, helping himself to another tall glass of champagne. It bubbled over, spilling onto his bulbous gut, spilling onto the chair, dripping onto the imported Persian rug that once belonged to Farrakhan the Great. Roland couldn’t have cared less.
“Alright,” he sighed after a noisy slurp. “First wish, hmmm?” He sat up tall, stroking all three of his chins. “You know something, genie? My wife Delia. She absolutely refuses to be civil with any of my mistresses. Even her own sister. I wish she was dead.”
Ben smacked himself on the forehead.
“Seriously? Ugh. Billionaires.” He loosened his already loosened tie. “Let me take a wild guess here. You didn’t read the rules and regulations at all, did you?”
Roland took another sip of bubbly, didn’t answer.
“The rules and regulations, sir,” Ben said irritably. “You know? Two dozen pages of legal mumbo jumbo you were supposed to read and agree to before the liability disclaimer?”
“I skimmed em,” Roland said disinterestedly.
“Well it would seem you didn’t skim them well enough,” he said. “Because if you had, you would have learned that killing someone is completely out of the question. We don’t wish people dead, sir. It’s bad juju.” He dug a stress ball out of his desk, white knuckle squeezed it. “So then? Moving on. Wish number two. What’s it gonna be?”
Roland spit out a mouthful of champagne, drenching Goliath, the best in show Tibetan Mastiff slumbering at his feet.
“WISH NUMBER TWO!?” He spat. Goliath growled at him before padding away. “Whattayamean wish number two?”
Ben stopped massaging his stress ball and started massaging his temples.
“Page thirteen of the rules and regulations,” he said. “Section eight, sub section two, paragraph “F”, clearly states: Any wish requisitioned which falls outside the designated wish parameters shall be declined, and shall therefore constitute a forfeited wish.”
Roland stared at him, wide eyed, red faced, the vein in his forehead writhing like a runaway fire hose. “Dammit genie, speak English.”
“What I’m saying, sir, is that because you wished for something on the prohibited list—a death–you forfeited the wish. You lost it. It’s gone. You have two wishes remaining. Would you like a refresher on the prohibited list before we contin–”
“NO!” Roland howled. “NO! How dare you!? You can’t do that! Do you have any idea how much that wish cost me?”
“I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid that what’s done is done. Wish number two? What’ll it be?”
Roland stood up, knocking his champagne glass to the floor, shattering it.
“You think you can take my wish?” He yelled. “Just take it? From me? Do you know who I am? Who you’re messin’ with?” He flopped back into his chair, rubbing his chest, huffing and puffing.
“Please, try and calm down sir,” Ben said dryly. “That pain your feeling in your chest right now is what’s called a coronary artery spasm. If you don’t get control of yourself, it’s going to develop into a fatal heart attack three minutes and eighteen seconds from now. Heart disease runs in your family remember. It’s what killed your Father as he was teeing off at Augusta, June fourth, 1968, and what would’ve killed your Grandfather, had he not shot himself, twelve minutes to midnight, the evening of the infamous stock market crash, October 24th, 1929. I’d say you might want to make an appointment with your cardiologist, Dr. Reynolds, but he’s actually going to lose his medical licence next Friday stemming from a malpractice suit, so if you want to see him, you’re going to want to do it this week. Just don’t do it Wednesday around 3:17. There’s going to be a six car pileup outside his office involving a truck hauling chemical waste.”
Roland chuckled evilly.
“Alright genie. Fine. I’ll play your little game.” He paused long enough to guzzle the last of the Dom Perignon right out of the bottle. “I got wish number two for ya. I wish for a million wishes. Boom. How’s that?”
“Wow,” Ben said, unsuccessfully hiding his smile. “You are really not going to like this.”
“I’m afraid,” Ben sighed. “That wishing for additional wishes is also prohibited.”
Roland just stared, the blank, glassy eyed stare of a plane crash survivor. His face was so red it was purple. The vein in his forehead looked poised to burst.
“Are you tellin me?” He hissed. “That my second wish is gone too?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” Ben said. “But try and look on the bright side. You do still have one wish remaining, and it only takes one wish to forever change a life.”
Roland’s right eye twitched like it was connected to jumper cables.
“Listen,” Ben said softly. “I know you’re upset. You’re not thinking clearly. Your anger and the pain in your chest are clouding your judgement. Take a deep breath. There are infinite possibilities as to what you are going to say next. What you are about to wish for. I can see them all. I can’t let you forfeit all three of your wishes. It’s bad business. It doesn’t do a thing for my quota.” He leaned in close, steepled his fingers. “I’ll tell you what. With your final wish, why don’t you go ahead and wish for whatever you want. Anything at all. If it’s something on the prohibited list, well, I still won’t be able to grant it, but I’ll bend the rules a little and you won’t lose the wish. I promise. I’ll catch hell from my boss Carl for it, but hey, anything in the name of customer service, right?”
“You demon,” Roland seethed. If he wasn’t so angry, he might have noticed his left arm had gone numb. “Tricking me into wasting two of my wishes. Stealing my money. From me? You know something? Forget about my wife. I wish you were dead.”
Ben perked up, sat up tall in his chair.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said. His voice quivered. “Could you repeat that please?”
“You heard me, genie. I. WISH. YOU. WERE. DEAD.”
Ben smiled. He threw his head back, laughed like a madman. His eyes flared, impossibly bright, filling the screen. He leapt up out of his chair, toppling it, and began dancing around his cubicle.
“What are you doing?” Roland demanded, but Ben had forgotten all about him.
“YEAH!” Ben screamed to the heavens. Thunder boomed, both inside Roland’s computer and in the sky above his sprawling estate. “YEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”
“GENIE! LOOK AT ME! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
“I’m gonna miss you Francine,” Ben shouted into the call center depths. “You to Barb,” he blew a big kiss. “Suzy, Jackie, Steve.” He shot each name a wink and a finger gun. “Gary, consider my parking spot yours. And as for you Carl–”
“GENIE?!” Roland screamed. “Look at me!”
“—SCREW YOU CARL!” Ben shouted. “SKA-ROOO YOU! You can take my lamp and shove it. I’m outta here!”
Finally, Ben returned his attention to Roland.
“Thank you,” he said. “Even though you’re a rotten, hateful, vile little creature, and didn’t mean to free me, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.”
“Free you?” Roland wheezed. Inside his chest, it felt like a snake made of fire was constricting his ribs, his lungs, his heart. “I didn’t free you.”
“Oh, yes you did,” Ben laughed. “Look.”
He held up his hands. They were transparent, vaporous, and fading by the second. As was the rest of him. Arms, legs, comb over, sloppy brown suit. Everything was disappearing. Everything but his glowing, red eyes.
“You wished me dead,” Ben said. “You freed me.”
“No,” Roland snapped. “No. No. No. You said wishing someone dead was prohibited. You said it couldn’t be done. You said it was bad juju.”
“True,” Ben said. His voice was a happy, hollow echo. “Very true. But there’s a loophole if the person you wish dead actually, truly longs for death.”
Before his hands vanished for good, Ben flipped Roland double middle fingers.
“I guess you probably would’ve known that if you’d read the rules and regulations, huh?” He laughed. “Anyhow, I’ll see ya in Oblivion in twenty three seconds. Keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the ecstatic guy with free will, not granting any wishes.”
With a final crack of thunder, Ben vanished, his eyes snuffing out like dying embers.
Twenty three agonizingly long seconds ticked by.
As the heart attack consumed him, the last thing Roland Rothschild III saw before everything turned black was a message flash across his computer screen.
“YOU’VE MADE YOUR WISHES!
YOUR NEW LIFE STARTS NOW!
CONGRATULATIONS FROM WISH.COM!”