Copyright Oggbashan May 2003/October 2013
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
Reginald was a nerd, a geek, a wimp. He was the man who had sand kicked in his face; who lost the girl; a real mummy's boy.
Except no one would have bothered to kick sand at him. He would never have had a girl to lose. His mother pushed him out at 18 and told him to find his own place to live.
Apart from being a nerdy geek or a geeky nerd, Reginald had been successful. He qualified as an accountant and was a partner in the business. He owned his four-bedroom house with double garage,
stabling and paddocks. Not that he used the stables or paddocks.
He was scared of horses but that hadn't stopped him from renting out the stables and paddocks to the local riding school. Money is money after all.
His hobby was beachcombing. He had an expensive metal detector and had an exclusive agreement with a local landowner to search the couple of miles of private beach. Apart from the few weekends when the landowner had houseguests the beach was Reginald's.
The beach was a disappointment to Reginald. He liked to have it all to himself but that was also the problem. The beach had been private for hundreds of years so the public had not dropped coins, jewellery or even litter. There was little for Reginald to find unless it had floated. Anything that floated ashore was obvious. It didn't get buried because the beach was made of large stones.
Reginald enjoyed walking along the beach at weekends in the winter and mornings and evenings from spring to autumn. His leg muscles were well exercised on the uneven surface. His slight frame was much more muscular than he looked. If he wore swimming shorts he might look small. Reginald never wore swimming shorts. Even on a hot summer's day he would wear a baggy jacket and long trousers.
That Sunday Reginald came to his beach early. Friday night and all Saturday there had been a fierce storm and heavy rain. Now the storm had passed leaving watery sunshine breaking through a light sea mist. The tide would be low in about an hour. If anything could shift the stones on the beach the recent storm would have done it. Perhaps, just perhaps, there might be something new to find.
Being Reginald he worked systematically. He walked from one end of the beach to the other swinging his metal detector. The storm had rearranged some of the beach and he was rewarded with a few metal fittings from fishing gear. At the far end of the beach he turned to sweep the part newly exposed by the tide.
There was a loud pinging from the detector. Reginald dropped to his knees. Nothing to see. He pulled at the stones. A couple of layers down he saw the neck of a metal sheathed bottle. He had to dig around it for half an hour before he could lift it from the hole. He handled it very carefully because it looked something like a carboy for acid, about two feet in diameter. Whatever it was, it was not modern. The metal sheathing was elaborately decorated with geometric patterns. The seal of the same metal was inscribed in a strange script.
Reginald carried the carboy carefully above the tideline. He sat down looking at his find. What was it? What should he do with it? Was it dangerous?
The sun had burnt through the sea mist and was now shining brightly. It glistened on the glass revealed by the decorative holes in the metal sheathing.
Reginald peered closely at the inscription on the seal. It seemed much less distinct than before. He touched it tentatively with a finger. The metal crumbled to dust and fell away exposing most of the neck of the bottle.
Reginald scrambled away as fast as he could. He retreated up the beach and to the edge of the trees. He got out his binoculars to peer from behind the thickest trunk that he could find. As he watched the metal sheathing shrunk visibly. Within ten minutes it had gone leaving a pitted glass surface.
He sat down with the trunk of the tree between him and the beach. He poured tea from his Thermos flask with shaking hand. He decided to wait at least half an hour. If nothing had happened by then he would go back to the bottle.
Half an hour seemed a long time. It passed too quickly. With just a few minutes left Reginald was panicking. Should he call for help or just walk away? With a minute to go he decided. He would not wait. Whatever happened the waiting was intolerable. He left his pack, his metal detector and his Thermos and strode towards the bottle.
The bottle was still sealed by a thin wafer of metal. Reginald touched it gingerly. It popped and a wisp of smoke started to rise from the open neck. He retreated a couple of yards upwind and watched. The smoke thickened to an impenetrable cloud about six feet in diameter. It did not flow with the wind but remained above the bottle. Gradually it took a semblance of a human shape.
"Fuck me!" said Reginald.
"If that is really what you want, that can be arranged." replied a bass voice.
"What!" squeaked Reginald.
The form became distinct. The person standing before him was richly dressed like an illustration of a Prince from The Arabian Nights.
"Who?" Reginald's voice was still squeaking. He tried to control it.
"Who or what are you?"
"I should have thought that was obvious. I'm the genie of the bottle. You released me from my centuries of imprisonment so now I have to grant you the usual three wishes."
Reginald sat down hard on the stony beach. The genie started a complicated series of exercises that looked like a variant of Tai Chi. Reginald watched, rubbing his eyes from time to time.
"That's better," said the genie. "It is cramped inside a bottle. Now I suppose I had better explain the conditions applying to your three wishes. We genies have had a bad press because humans have made such poor choices for their wishes. Are you ready, Reginald?"
"You know my name?"
"Yes, Reginald. I know too much about you. I have been watching you for the past few years. You were my only realistic chance of release because no one else was likely to dig on this beach. So, I ask again, are you ready to hear the conditions?"
"I suppose so."
Reginald pinched himself. Surely he was dreaming. Genies didn't really appear now or ever. They were myths. He was talking to a myth. Accountants didn't believe in myths. They were as unlikely as sympathetic taxmen.
"I'm not a myth, Reginald. I am here. Feel."
The genie held out his hand. Reginald touched it. It felt real.
"Back to business. You have three wishes. The wishes can only affect you, yourself. You cannot wish for world peace or famine relief. You can have riches or health or a new talent but they are achieved by changing you not others. Follow me, so far?"
"Yes. But this doesn't sound like the traditional form."
"It isn't. We genies have changed the contract after complaints from disappointed humans. This is the twenty-first century version. We have built in a few safeguards. You have twenty-four hours to decide what the first wish will be. Each wish has a one week long trial period before it becomes permanent. If you survive the week and then decide that the wish was not what you wanted you can have another one. You can undo any wish instantly but then that wish has gone forever. All three wishes must be made within four weeks. You must make three wishes that will be permanent. You cannot stop at one or two wishes. Do you understand?"
Reginald was doubtful. This wish business sounded dangerous.
"Can you advise me about my choices?" he asked.
"If you want. Whether my advice will do you any good is a matter of opinion. You can ask."
"So, hypothetically, if I were to wish to become attractive to young girls, what would your advice be?"
"There are several errors in that hypothesis. You might become attractive but could find those you attract are not attractive to you. If a plain girl or a girl who had traits that you detest were to be attracted to you, what would you do? Unwanted attention can be painful. Then there is the plural "girls". Would you want say twenty girls chasing you? The final error is the adjective "young". What is a girl? One definition is a female younger than a woman. With the onset of puberty happening so early, a girl could mean a pre-pubescent girl. Add the word "young" to that and you might become attractive only to females under the age of what? Seven years old? Is that what you want?"
"No. I thought..."
The genie sighed loudly. "You didn't think. That is the problem with humans and this three-wish contract. In the old days I would have given you your wish and you would have ended up like the Pied Piper walking around your town followed by an embarrassing procession of seven year old girls. Have you any ambition to start teaching at an Infants' School?"
"Then start thinking. You have until this time tomorrow morning.
I'll be here waiting for your decision on your first wish. Now I want to make contacts with other genii. There is a Jeanie with light-brown hair I haven't seen for hundreds of years. If she is still available I'm willing. See you tomorrow."
The genie vanished in a puff of smoke. Reginald stood up and walked across to the abandoned bottle. It still looked old and interesting but very empty. He left it lying on the beach, collected his equipment and walked back to his car.
In the car he sat still. Had it been a dream? Was he having hallucinations? Assuming that the genie was real, then the three wishes would be as well. How could he use them? Who could he talk to? He had a few friends but he thought most of them would laugh at him. Who wouldn't?
He could think of only one person who wouldn't laugh at him. That was his secretary Hermione. She understood him more than anybody. She had to. It was part of her job. Could he ask her for advice on a Sunday? He picked up his mobile phone and speed-dialled Hermione's number.
"Hello, Reginald. What can I do for you on a Sunday morning?"
"Hello, Hermione. I need some advice and I don't know who else to ask. Are you free for lunch today?"
"I suppose so. Is this work?"
"No, Hermione. It's not about work. I need advice from a friend, please."
"Then I'll come as a friend. Where and when?"
"One o'clock at The Red Lion. That OK?"
"Yes, Reginald. I'll be there."
She was. She walked into The Red Lion exactly at one. Reginald bought the drinks and they ordered lunch. Reginald's brain was working overtime. This was the first time he had asked Hermione to do anything outside work. He found her efficient, professional and detached at work. He knew that she was attractive and unattached but he had never been anything but her employer. Now he had asked for her advice as a friend. She had responded immediately. What had he done? What must she be thinking?
"Well, Reginald?" Hermione asked, "What advice do you need that is so urgent?"
"It's difficult to explain..."
"We have the whole meal, and afterwards if necessary. Would it help if you started from the beginning?"
How could Reginald say he had met a genie? He panicked. What had he done? He had asked Hermione to give him advice but how could he explain? He gulped before starting to speak.
"This morning I was out with my metal detector on the beach. You know the one..."
"It was an exceptionally low tide early this morning and there had been a storm..."
Hermione nodded again.
"So you found something. What is it that needs my advice? It must be unusual."
"It is. I don't know how to put this without seeming insane."
"Just assume that you are asking hypothetical advice for an unnamed friend, Reginald. We'll know that the question isn't hypothetical or that the friend is you, but it might help you to say what you need to say."
"OK. I think I follow that."
Reginald took a swallow from his glass of lager.
"This imaginary friend found a glass bottle rather like a carboy that is used to store acid. It had a metal closure that eroded when exposed to the air. The friend was worried that the contents might be dangerous so he retreated up the beach and watched the bottle through binoculars until the metal was almost gone. He walked back to the bottle and touched the thin piece of metal left. It broke and a cloud came out of the bottle."
"What sort of cloud?"
"A very odd cloud. It didn't move with the wind."
"Did you, sorry, your friend, breathe any of the cloud?"
"No. I, er he, had retreated upwind of the bottle. The cloud formed immediately above it and stayed there."
"This is the difficult bit, Hermione."
"I thought it might be."
"Perhaps my friend was hallucinating, seeing things..."
"Perhaps he was. Let's assume that he saw things. What did he see?"
Reginald took another swallow of lager.
"He saw a genie."
"A genie?" Hermione's tone was completely non-committal and flat.
"An Arabian Nights type of genie?"
Reginald nodded again.
"And he offered you, sorry him, three wishes in the traditional form?"
"Yes, Hermione. Actually no."
"What does that mean? Were there three wishes?"
"Yes but not in the traditional form. Genies have changed the rules because of complaints."
Hermione smiled. It wasn't a 'you are being ridiculous smile' but a genuine smile of enjoyment.
"I like the idea of a modernised genie. What has changed with the three wishes?"
At that point the starters arrived. Conversation was stalled for a few minutes and then Reginald repeated everything the genie had said. Hermione laughed outright at the mention of 'the Jeanie with the light-brown hair'.
"I'm enjoying this meal and the conversation, Reginald," she said. "I wouldn't have believed it possible had someone told me on Friday that I would be in the Red Lion with you discussing genies. You invited me to give you advice about your three wishes. Is that right?"
Reginald nodded slowly.
"OK, Reginald, I'll play along. It doesn't really matter whether the genie is real or not. The three-wish gambit is an elaborate game. The wishes can be misinterpreted if that is possible and the outcome can be far from the intention of the wisher."
"Yes. I know that the three wishes usually go wrong, disastrously wrong. I want to avoid that and I need your help to criticise any possible choices I might make. You often save me from errors at work, Hermione. I appreciate that. You defend me from angry customers, remind me of tasks that must be done, deadlines that must be met. I couldn't be as effective as I am without you..."
"I know, Reginald. Your reports on my work are embarrassingly fulsome. I'm not perfect. I am a human being just like you, and I too can make mistakes..."
"I know that you can. Do you remember Don José?"
"That was a big mistake, wasn't it?"
"But it didn't matter. You thought he was our Spanish Divisional Manager. You treated him as if he was. He was actually an exchange student earning some money as the substitute cleaner. He too thought it was a good joke."
"How about getting back to your current problem; the three wishes?"
"Do you believe that I actually saw a genie?"
"It doesn't matter whether I believe or not. You asked me for a friend's advice. I didn't expect that. I'm here, Reginald, as your friend. You think you have a problem. I'll try to help."
Hermione's hand reached across the table and squeezed Reginald's. He squeezed back.
"Thank you, Hermione. What wishes do you think I should make?"
"The conditions are that the changes can only affect you and no one else; the first wish must be made within twenty-four hours of this morning; each wish has a week's trial and is then permanent; and all three wishes must be made within four weeks. Is that right?"
"Then you need to think what you want to change about yourself, Reginald. Is there anything?"
"I am lonely sometimes..."
"I'm not surprised. You don't have a social life. You work and you walk an empty beach with a metal detector -- alone. Who do you talk to apart from colleagues at work?"
"You need to change that. You should meet people and interact with them. Why don't you?"
"I find it very hard to chat, to make social conversation, to mingle..."
"Perhaps if you tried it wouldn't be so hard. Being here with me isn't difficult, is it?"
"No, but you're Hermione, someone I know very well..."
"...and I know you very well, possibly too well. We spend eight hours a day in frequent contact during the working week."
"So what about your social life, Hermione? I've never heard you make an appointment except for those with professionals, the doctor, the dentist, the hairdresser -- those sort of people. Who do you chat to?"
"I'm as bad as you are, Reginald. My hobby is sewing. I make most of my own clothes, make clothes for my young nephews and nieces and spend most of my free time in my workroom when I'm not going for long walks in the countryside, alone. In the winter, I just sew."
"We are a boring pair, aren't we?"
Hermione looked at Reginald.
"But the genie could change that for you. What would you wish for to change your loneliness?"
"It's hard to put it into words that can't be twisted into something I don't want. I would like companionship and perhaps something more, someone who I could share my life with and start to develop wider social contacts. I'd feel better about meeting people if I had a friend by my side."
"You have me. I came here as a friend."
Hermione's hand reached out and touched Reginald's. He looked at her hand and then held it. He lifted Hermione's hand and looked at it as if he had never seen it before.
"Yes, Hermione, you did. Thank you for being a friend."
"Can I have my hand back, please, Reginald?"
"In a second."
Reginald lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. He let the hand go. Hermione returned her hand to the table.
"What was that for?"
"Just because I wanted to. I hope you didn't mind."
"No..." Hermione didn't sound convinced.
Their main course arrived. While they ate they discussed possible ways that Reginald could make more social contacts. Their suggestions became more and more extreme as they competed to make them most unlikely scenarios. When they had completely finished their meal they were laughing openly.
"What do I do about the three wishes, Hermione? We haven't come to a decision yet."
"A decision? I think we have, Reginald. Not about the wishes, but about us."
"True. I want to see more of you, and not just as my secretary."
"That is simple. You ask me for another date."
"Tomorrow lunchtime? After I've seen the genie?"
"Yes. I want to know what happens, Reginald."
"Then why don't you come too? To meet the genie?"
"I might. But what is your first wish going to be?"
"I have decided."
"I have decided not to have any wishes at all."
"Is that allowed? Even from a 21st Century genie?"
"We'll find out."
They didn't part after lunch. They went for a walk, holding hands. As dusk fell Reginald took Hermione back to her flat. They kissed each other. Hermione seemed reluctant to let go of him but eventually they parted, having arranged to meet tomorrow morning to go to the beach.
In the morning, Hermione was waiting outside her flat as Reginald drove up. She got into the car and reached across to kiss him. That kiss went on and on. When their lips parted they were both short of breath.