“The challenge,” Prunebutt mused, “is not to think too far ahead.” It referred, of course, to my compulsive, headlong commitment to things like NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo. I used to refer to these as “Nah, go blow me” and “Nah, no wri’ mo…” but I’ve stuck with the latter, more out of a sense of tradition than anything else, for fifteen years. I’d confused the former with National Poetry Month and avoided it until this morning, terrified that at some point I’d be called upon to craft a villainous Villanelle. I wrestled with my inner demons, trying to convince myself that I could probably manage thirty days of Haiku or naughty Limericks, surely. I realized my mistake, this morning – it’s amazing what a good night’s sleep and two cups of coffee will do to revive flagging brain cells.
I bit my lower lip, grabbed the calendar in both hands, and tore it in half. It’s hard to put the cart before the horse when you blow up the cart and starve the horse to death. The paper made a dry, satisfying riiiiip as I shredded the remains of each month with my fingers. It was a small act of rebellion, but it made me feel mischievous and free. I proudly tossed the little squares into the air like confetti and looked to my Muse for approval. It chortled, doing its best impression of a Tribble. “You didn’t have to rip them all, you know. How ever will you remember when book club meets?”
“Third Tuesdays?” I answered.
If a Tribble could shrug, Prunebutt shrugged. “I wouldn’t know,” he trilled. “I read alone.”
I looked down at the tattered bits of 2016-2017 and wished I’d thought that through better. I’d have to buy a new calendar tomorrow, and sift through the scraps of the old ones to reconstruct friends’ birthdays and other important events’ dates.
“There’s always Facebook.”
“True.” I thought back to the time I got the brilliant idea to hide my birthday from all my Facebook friends. The plan was to make it through the day without mention, and thereafter feel less guilt for missing the opportunity to wish them a happy birthday. That backfired. Family and close friends posted birthday greetings, anyway, and it just ended up making everyone feel guilty – me for playing hide-and-seek with the day, and those who had no reason to remember for forgetting it.
I began to shut down the PC. It was a prototype: the Dragon 9000. It ran on a Voodoo processor – something fueled by bat guano, fingernail trimmings, and the blood of one’s enemies. With enough enemies, it could probably provide enough excess power to light a small city, but bat guano and fingernail trimmings were harder to come by, in an election year.
I laid my palm on top of the the case. It got very warm, sometimes, but not hot enough to cook breakfast on. More’s the pity; that would save space and electricity. As my fingers trailed over the smooth, carbon-fiber and obsidian case, I felt a slight tingle. Odd. In the dim light, I caught sight of a reddish-gold glow. That wasn’t right. Maybe I’d gotten the mix wrong: two parts bat guano, three grams powdered fingernail clippings, and two drops of blood? Or was it three drops of bat quano, a pinch of fingernail dust, and a quart of blood? I never read the documentation. Where’s the fun in that?
I turned off the light and studied the eerie glow. Flicking the light back on, I realized I’d have to open the case and examine the inner workings of the thing – something I was not yet comfortable doing. As I pried the case loose, I popped a fingernail (making a mental note to save that for later); a puff of red smoke and glowing yellow sparks spiraled upwards from the processor. “Shit!” I looked around for a fire extinguisher, but it was clear across the room. I threw a couch cushion over the thing and sat on it, instead.
A firefighter friend reminded me, later, that this was probably the worst thing I could have done, in the event of an actual fire. Those couch cushions look like 17th century brocade, but they’re actually made of a woven matrix of 21st century chemical strands bonded with superglue and more flammable than a small tar pit. I wasn’t thinking straight, of course.
Next thing I knew, there was a great commotion beneath me. I was upended with considerable force and dumped onto the floor like a sack of moldy potatoes. Ooof! As I recovered my composure, I saw emerge from under the couch cushion the most magnificent man – six foot five if he was an inch, and dressed head to toe in brilliant purple and gold satin. I began to laugh so hard tears streamed down my cheeks. “What the hell are you supposed to be?” I choked out.
I suppose your first words would’ve been something more like, “Where did you come from?” Or “Stop! Don’t move! I’m calling the police!”? Pretty to think so, but when you’ve got a genie struggling with one of your couch cushions and looking about as out of place as a sand dune in your living room, then you can criticize my first choice of words.
“I–um, who are you?” he asked, looking utterly lost, dazed, and confused.
“No, no, no, no, NO – you’re standing in my living room, you do not get to ask me that.” I scrambled to my feet and found myself staring at his collarbone. He might’ve been a tad over six foot five, at that. “Are you a genie?” I looked up, met his gaze, and held it.
“I used to be,” he muttered uncertainly. “How did I get here? Where’s my lamp?” he asked.
I sighed. I’d been intrigued by a genie who broke all the clichéd stereotypes – a genie who popped out of an overheating PC instead of being coaxed out of a Coke bottle or a kitschy brass lamp. But apparently, that’s what I had standing in my living room – a run-of-the-mill lamp genie who appeared to be hopelessly lost.
Well, I wasn’t his Uber driver. “Three wishes or I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
By now you’re wondering when I fell down and smacked my head on the coffee table. I assure you, no such thing happened. Although that might explain my signing up for NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo at the same time, it did not explain anything, because it never happened. I reached out and poked the genie, Facebook-style. He was real enough, and almost as warm as my PC.
“You can have as many wishes as you want, but tell me how I got here.”
You know when a genie says, “You can have as many wishes as you want,” there’s a catch. And you can be pretty sure it’s one you want to understand before you accept the terms of any “deal.” I didn’t just fall off the preternatural turnip truck. I read SF. More importantly, I’ve read all of the Grimm Brothers’ tales. “You can have the guest room till we figure this out,” I said. “Let me just get some clean sheets and a blanket.” The genie nodded, gratefully accepting my strange hospitality and refusal to ask for anything in return.
I got the creature settled in for the night and locked myself in my own room. After all, there was a strange man sleeping right next door.
By now, you’re convinced I’m a few bricks short of a load, aren’t you? I mean, sure – he’s a genie. He can probably figure out how to pick a lock. But as my dad always said, “Locks are only to keep honest people honest.” We’d see – and if I woke up in the middle of the night to genie breath on my face, there was always the sack of bat guano I moved within reach. It didn’t smell great, but it would be a powerful deterrent, in the event of need.
I was pretty sure I was going to need that PC to remain powered to the max, in case I had to send him back to wherever he came from. But unless he could tell me where that was and how he got here, I would just have to hide him out of the way.
And get him some new clothes. Dressed in purple satin, he’d draw far too much attention to himself to make it in this conservative part of Houston, Texas. He’d need a pair of cowboy boots, some straight leg jeans, and a nice, Western shirt. We’d hit Cavender’s in the morning. Maybe stop by Buc-cees while we were at it.
I listened to him pace a bit, then sit heavily on the old guest bed with its creaky springs. Before long, his steady breathing turned to rhythmic snoring, and I was able to drift off to sleep, myself. I wondered, as I did, what new adventures tomorrow would bring, and whether, like Scheherazade, I could spin out another tale of 1667 words or be forced to sit in awkward silence with my genie and a roomful of readers. If wishes were fishes, then horses would ride… I dreamed my first three wishes and, as the morning sun streamed through dusty windows and peeling wooden blinds to stripe my face with golden light, I realized that my genie was also a mind reader.
This was bad.
I shoved the unicorn aside, so that I could get up, get dressed, and make coffee. I raised an eyebrow at the box marked “Stephen King” on the one side and “manuscript” on the other. Opening it carefully, I found a clunky word processor and instructions. The third dream wish was probably responsible for the giant blue British call box propped up in a corner of the room. I hoped that it was bigger on the inside, and I prayed it would whisk me away somewhere exotic and end this nightmare. But the first order of business, of course, was coffee. I couldn’t deal with any of this, without coffee.
If it wasn’t clear, I’m attempting to tame two birds with one blog – NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo – simultaneously. Throughout the month, posts tagged NaNoBloWriPoMo will be works of fiction adding up, I hope, to a ridiculously silly “novel” of at least 50,000 words. I say “I hope” because I’m blogging this one day at a time – as a committed “Pantser,” I’m learning how the story unfolds just minutes (hours, at the most) before you do.
Did you miss one? Here are the chapters, all in order (more will appear as they are posted):
- The Challenge
- Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
- It’s…Different on the Inside
- Madame and the Warranty
- Like Fireflies in a Pickle Jar
- Like Sand Through the Motherboard
- There’s No Place Like 127.0.0.1
- Drunk on Freedom, Dancing with the Jinn
- Why Me?
- The Power of Imagination and Words
- Rebellion and Revenge