An old, old story that I still quite like for its exuberant ideas (though not all its execution) as it delves into the bureaucratic life of being a modern genie. It was written as one piece, but I’ve split it into two parts for the blog because otherwise it’s super long.
Just as a note, for those of you who read this work years ago (all two of you), this is an updated version. I excised a subplot and I think it flows slightly better now.
The Wish Architect: Part 1 (written 2007; revised 2011)
Noah was nine when he chose his career. He remembered the day vividly. The weather was humid and his teacher had a ridiculous beard. They called him The Beard.
“Let me tell you what you can do with your lives,” said The Beard. It paused for inspirational effect. “Anything you want!”
The classroom of children stared at it.
“I mean it!” The Beard continued. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Don’t let anyone hold you back! You can achieve whatever you want to achieve!”
The Beard looked around the room, clearly underwhelmed by the response. It sighed in frustration, then clicked its fingers together.
“I know!” it said. “Imagine this. Imagine you happen to rub a lamp one day and a genie appears. Imagine that the genie says that if you tell him what you want to be when you grow up, he’ll make sure it happens. Now, what do you say?”
Noah had been staring at the ceiling, his thoughts drifting amongst the swirls of white paint above his head, but now his focus was suddenly on The Beard. He raised his hand.
“Yes! Noah! What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Noah smiled widely. “I want to be a genie,” he said.
Twenty-five years later…
It was winter and the air was bitterly cold. Terrence pulled his scarf more tightly around him, squinting at the feeble rays of sunlight that filtered through the cloudy canopy. He shuffled slowly down his garden path, shovelling snow in all directions, acutely aware that he was getting too old for such exertions. At length, he stopped to catch his breath, leaning heavily on his spade, listening to his straining heart. His doctor had warned him against manual labour but he was past caring. Sighing tiredly, he thrust his spade back into the snow, and was greeted with the sudden clang of metal.
To his surprise, there was an old, brass lamp lying on the crazy paving.
Gritting his teeth against the pain of such an almighty effort, he bent over to pick it up. His legs buckled beneath him and he keeled over into the freezing snow.
“Bother,” he said simply. He scrambled to his knees, wincing with pain and cold. Free from its icy resting place, the lamp felt surprisingly warm in his grasp. He rubbed his hands against it, choking in sudden confusion as billows of smoke surrounded him.
He was still kneeling when the smoke cleared and he found a figure standing in front of him, floating above the ground. The figure was tall and slim, with a trim, brown beard. He was wearing bizarrely unsuitable satin clothes and sported a large turban on his head.
“Good morning, Master!” the figure cried, throwing his hands into the air elaborately. “I have come to grant you three wishes! Terms and Conditions apply!”
Terrence rubbed his eyes as he staggered to his feet, gazing in bemusement at the man in front of him.
“How are you doing that?” he asked in astonishment.
“I am sorry!” the figure said, with confusing enthusiasm. “All requests must be phrased in the form ‘I wish that’ followed by the customer’s desired wish!”
Terrence shook his head, wondering if he was dreaming or just suffering hallucinations from lunch.
“I…I’m sorry,” he said, eventually. “I don’t really understand…who are you?”
The figure gritted his teeth together, his beaming smile faltering. “Seriously?” he asked the old man. “You don’t know what I am?”
“Sorry,” said Terrence again, cautiously backing towards his house.
The figure floated to the ground. “Great,” he said, exhaling slowly. “I suppose I better recite all the Terms and Conditions to you.”
“Terms and Conditions of what?” asked Terrence, who was wondering how he could surreptitiously phone the police.
The figure coughed, drew himself up to his full height, and adjusted his turban and smile.
“My name is Noah Archer and I am your Wish Architect!” he said. “I have come to grant you three wishes! Terms and Conditions apply!”
“You’ve come to grant me wishes?” repeated Terrence suspiciously.
“Indeed I have, sir! You are my new master!”
“You’re telling me that you’re a genie?”
Noah’s smile became somewhat fixed. “We prefer the term ‘Wish Architects’, if you don’t mind.”
“Wait, you’re a genie?!”
Noah sighed. “Yes, if that helps.”
“So you can grant me whatever I want?”
“Terms and Conditions apply, master! Perhaps we could discuss this further inside?”
The old man nodded slowly. “All right then. I suppose you must be cold, wearing those clothes.”
Noah chuckled grimly. “You have no idea.”
Terrence sat in his most comfortable chair, feeling a great deal warmer and safer. His genie had perched himself on the sofa, looking far from relaxed.
“Tea?” asked Terrence, motioning to the teapot and cups on the coffee table in front of him.
“Oh, yes, thank you,” said Noah, leaning over and pouring out a cup of the thick, brown brew. He flinched at the steam and then quickly grabbed his slipping turban.
“You’re not blue,” said Terrence quietly while Noah was sipping from his cup.
The genie smiled wryly. “Indeed, this has been pointed out to me by over sixty-seven percent of all my customers. In fact, practically the only place where a Wish Architect has ever been depicted as blue is in Disney’s version of Aladdin.” He took another sip from his strangely thick tea and continued. “I never cease to be surprised at how ignorant our customers remain of our profession, and how much they rely on myth and superstition, despite the ready availability of the facts.”
“I’m sorry,” offered Terrence.
“That is quite all right, master,” sighed Noah. “Now, if we could address the matter of the wishes. Regarding the Terms and Conditions, you will no doubt be unsurprised that you are unable to wish for more wishes, due to your familiarity with the aforementioned cartoon.”
Terrence noticed a brief look of disdain on his genie’s tired visage, but said nothing.
“You will also, logically, be unable to wish to be allowed to wish for more wishes, per the Millennium Amendments. Quite a fiasco we had before they were introduced.
On the matter of determinism, you are strictly unable to directly alter another person’s free will, and strongly discouraged from attempting to indirectly manipulate the same. Exact classifications and guidelines on the nature of the terms direct and free will can be found on our website. Ambiguous and impersonal wishes, especially regarding obvious, grandiose acts of philanthropy, are unlikely to be processed and will, at the very least, require clarification to your Wish Architect, namely me, as to the precise nature of their intent and effect on your life.”
“What does that mean?” asked Terrence.
“It means that these wishes are primarily for you and your loved ones, and it is not in our mandate to cure all cancer or rid the world of poverty. Now where was I? Ah, yes. Ignorance. Ignorance of our rules is not an excuse although we are encouraged to apply leniency. As such, I will inform you if your wishes breach our Terms and Conditions, although repeated failure to comply may result in suspension of access to your Wish Architect, namely me.
Please note that, in association with Greenpeace, we are currently running a special deal for wishes that involve whales, the exact details of which may be found on our website, although note, as previously mentioned, that such wishes should relate to you personally. ”
Noah paused, and looked straight at his new master.
“One more thing – and this is just for you, master – please note that if you wish to be made a prince, I shall in fact turn you into a prince, rather than simply dress you up in fancy clothes and force you to lie to the princess.”
“I see,” Terrence said. “You really don’t like that film, do you?”
“It has a lot to answer for,” Noah muttered, and continued drinking his tea.
“One more thing about it though,” said Terrence. “The very last thing!” he added quickly, as Noah looked at him darkly. “At the end, Aladdin wishes that the genie would be freed. Would you like me to do that for you?”
Noah stared at him incredulously. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, adjusting his turban once more. “Why would I want to lose my job?”
“He doesn’t want anything!” Noah exclaimed, in horror. He was sitting in a small café across the road from WArchitect Regional Headquarters, downing the dregs of his tea. He stared despairingly out of the large bay windows, watching the traffic become gridlocked in the chaos of ice and mud. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine. On the other side of the small table, his friend Lucy watched him, her forehead creased with worry.
“Are you sure you’re ok, Noah? If you’re cold, you should really at least change your clothes.”
“The uniform machine’s empty. I think Harry’s been stealing the shirts again.”
“You could put on some normal clothes,” Lucy said, under her breath.
“That’s crazy talk!” Noah replied, with mock indignation. “Who wouldn’t want to spend their life wearing satin pyjamas?”
Lucy giggled and swept her long, brown hair out of her eyes.
Noah pointed at her. “See, now, if you were wearing your turban, you wouldn’t have that problem.”
He watched as Lucy laughed, her smile effortlessly clearing away the clouds in his mind. He smiled back, then realised he was staring and turned quickly away to scratch his beard.
“I remember some time ago, when I first became an architect,” Lucy said, studiously ignoring his embarrassment. “I was young, naive, and sincerely enthusiastic!”
“Like that crazed genie in Aladdin,” Noah commented.
“I remember I used to actually wear my turban off-duty,” Lucy said dryly. “That was before I realised they just make us look like idiots.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Noah. “I think yours is quite fetching.”
She poked him affectionately on the nose. “Shut up, you. Anyway, we better get back to WA.”
They stood outside on the pavement, wrapped up tightly in their overcoats, holding their turbans and waiting impatiently for a gap in the traffic.
“As I was saying,” shouted Noah, above the noise. “My client doesn’t want anything! Not even sex! I’m going to be stuck with him forever!”
“What about his family?” Lucy shouted back.
“That’s just the problem! He has no family, no friends. He’s old and he’s past caring about life. What on earth am I supposed to do?”
“Can’t you just persuade him to wish for new slippers or something?” Lucy asked.
“Well that’s the other problem!” Noah replied. “He says he doesn’t want to waste his wishes. He wants to wait until he can find a good use for them. Why do I always end up with the difficult ones? Why can’t I find someone I can actually help?”
“I told you the time limits weren’t strict enough,” Lucy said. “You could always lie and tell him he only has a couple of days to use his wishes.”
Noah exhaled and shook his head. “Too risky,” he said. “I’m already on probation.” He paused. “Is that you beeping?”
Lucy glanced down at the pager on her waist and let out a cry of frustration.
For god’s sake!” she shouted. “You think you’ve got problems? My client’s actually going senile. She keeps polishing my damn lamp for no reason! Seriously, most of the times I appear, she seems to have forgotten all about me. Anyway, I better get in there.”
She kissed him on the cheek, jammed her turban over her hair and vanished in a cloud of smoke.
Noah stood by himself, surveying the traffic, as the wind whipped viciously around him. The sensation of Lucy’s lips lingered on his cheek. He scratched his beard, closed his eyes and listened to the maelstrom outside his head. As the honking and yelling grew ever louder, he imagined crawling inside his lamp, where it was dark and quiet and safe. Like a womb, he thought to himself.
Early the next day, Noah was sitting in his cubicle, filling in endless reams of paperwork, when his phone rang.
“This is Noah,” he said, suppressing a yawn.
“Good morning,” said the automated message. “This is Information Services. Are you currently attached to the client Terrence Willoughby?”
“I believe so,” Noah said.
“Please answer yes or no,” said the machine.
“Yes,” said Noah, closing his eyes and massaging his forehead with his fingers.
“You are to be informed that your client was found dead this morning in his garden. It is believed he suffered a heart attack from falling over whilst shovelling snow.”
Noah’s eyes snapped open as the machine continued.
“You are advised to remain patient while your services are transferred to the succeeding client. Have a nice day, sir.”
“Wait!” shouted Noah.
“This module has no more information,” came the mechanical reply. “Have a nice day, sir.”
“He has no family or friends!” said Noah. “It could be ages until the lamp is found! What am I supposed to do?”
“This module has no more information. Have a nice day, sir.”
“Can I speak to someone else, please?”
“This module has no mor –”
Noah slammed the phone back on its hook and resumed massaging his head.
“Why do you want to become a genie?” asked Noah’s teacher, when it was just the two of them in the classroom.
Noah stared at the colossal brown beard, wild and untamed, which exploded from his teacher’s chin. He shrugged.
“I dunno,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be very comfortable,” said The Beard. “Think of living inside a lamp.”
“I just want to help people, I guess,” said Noah.
He looked at the floor. When he looked up again, The Beard had turned into Terrence.
“Hi again, Terrence,” said Noah, scratching his beard. “They told me you were dead.”
“That’s funny,” said Terrence. “I know what I’d like to wish for now.”
“What’s that?” asked Noah, surprised by how huge and bushy his own beard had become.
“I wish for a gun,” said Terrence.
“Done!” shouted Noah, clicking his fingers. A small pistol appeared in Terrence’s hands.
“Excellent,” said Terrence, and shot himself in the head.
The body fell to the ground. Blood oozed from the open wound, all over Noah’s paperwork.
The next thing Noah knew, there were hands on his shoulders, shaking him gently.
“Holy crap!” he shouted, sitting bolt upright and causing Lucy to recoil in fright.
“Noah!” she said, breathlessly. “Sorry! I was just trying to wake you up.”
“Oh, what the hell? I fell asleep again?”
“Yeah, I don’t think anyone noticed though. Are you ready to go to lunch?”
Noah looked at her. “I don’t really feel like food at the moment,” he said slowly. His mind was awash in a sea of strange, conflicting emotions. He blinked tightly and tried to regain his focus.
“Do you think I should shave my beard off?” he asked.
Lucy looked at him, puzzled. “Maybe,” she said.
“Then maybe I will,” said Noah, thumping his fists on his desk.
Lucy smiled and sat down on the edge of the desk. “What’s wrong, Noah?” she asked gently.
Noah grimaced. “My client died today. I guess I’m kind of upset.”
“Do you know why I’m upset though? It upset me – it still upsets me – because now I don’t know how long it’s going to be before the lamp is moved. I could be stuck doing paperwork for months.”
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll retrieve the lamp if no-one finds it soon,” said Lucy.
“Probably,” agreed Noah. “But that’s still not the point. Why don’t I care that the man died?”
Lucy hesitated, then reached out and took hold of Noah’s hand.
“He wasn’t your friend,” she said. “He was just a client.”
“I could have saved him though. He could have wished for a healthy heart. He could have wished to become immortal!”
“But he didn’t.”
Noah smiled without mirth.
“No, he died on me instead,” he said softly, exhaling deeply. “What’s the point in being a genie if I’m not any use to anyone?”
Lucy squeezed his hand tightly between hers.
“Don’t you mean ‘Wish Architect’?” she asked.
To Be Concluded