Lydia’s Last Wish
by Edd Vick
Lydia was the only teenager in the world with a wish left. When the genies were all unleashed they assigned each of their number to a newborn. As the children grew, they used their wishes, always in juvenile ways.
When she was four, Lydia said, “I wish I had a nice cream”, and she had one. It gladdened her for ten minutes, then she said, “I wish I had another nice cream only bigger than the last one”. When she was partway through that one her mother found her, and knew just what she’d done. She slapped the girl’s hand, knocking the treat to the floor.
“Don’t you want to wish we lived in a big house,” scolded Mama. “We could have all the room in the world.”
“Or maybe you could wish we owned all the money there is,” said Papa. Her older brother Philo said that never worked because a little while later some other kid would make a similar wish. All the conflicting advice just confused her, and she kept from using her third wish.
By the time Lydia was six, only barter worked, and even then not always; some kid would wish for all the sweets, or all the toy cars, or that all the asparagus in the world would disappear. Serves them right, thought Lydia, considering they usually got buried under the resulting avalanche of sweets or toys. She sort of missed asparagus, though.
Her genie reminded Lydia every morning as soon as she was awake that she hadn’t used her last wish. He perched on her laundry hamper; just a wisp of smoke with deep lavender eyes. When she was eight she tried to talk to the genie, asking it what would happen if she made this wish or that wish. What if she wished the sun was less bright? What if she wished all the ants in the world would disappear? What if she wished all the genies away?
Each time the reply was that silky voice in her mind saying, “Is that your wish?” And each time she said no. No, why would I want a cooler sun? No, why would I wish the ants away and let aphids run wild? No, why would I want to make the world less chaotic, less full of wishes, less interesting?
One day all the fireworks in the world went off a few miles south, killing a lot of people but filling Lydia with awe. She wished, but not out loud, that she’d thought of something so splendorous. She told Philo if she’d had two wishes she would have asked for the biggest meteor shower ever. But she only had one.
“Pity,” said the inner voice. “That would have been spectacular, and would finally have finished all of you off.”
This was her first overt intimation of the genies’ darker design. Lydia thought about that remark. Days weeks months later she was still thinking about it. A hundred times she almost wished the genies would just disappear. Then one night she had a dream about one slowly turning invisible. It wouldn’t be sufficient for her to use the word “disappear”, she realized. Her genie could just twist her wish to its own end. She’d have to be careful not only about what she said, but about how she said it.
A week later everybody over the age of twenty-one keeled over, lifeless. “Some wish,” said her genie in a rare moment of spontaneity. Mama was dead, papa was dead, and a week later when Philo turned twenty-one he too dropped dead.
The world looked a lot less interesting to Lydia. Now it looked downright lethal.
“Lydia,” said the genie the next morning. “You haven’t used your last wish.”
“What do you want?” She balled up her sheet in fists that shook. “Why are you doing this to us?”
“We’re malign spirits.” The wisp of smoke swirled, its eyes doing loop-the-loops. “I expect we’d be a metaphor for getting what you want, only not how you want it. If we didn’t actually exist, that is. I’m still waiting for that last wish.”
“You want us all dead. Then you’ll be free. I could wish you were all dead instead.”
“You got your ice cream.” The smoke swelled, thinned, until there was only that voice in her head. “Twice. Is that your last wish?”
She didn’t reply. She guessed that, for a child’s first two wishes, the genies were less inclined toward lethal results. Sadly, she’d already broached asked for more wishes and been lectured on the Law of Conservation of Magic.
In the kitchen, later, she was scrounging through the cupboard for something to eat, when there was a commotion outside. She went to look. Several streets over it was hailing dogs. They would appear in midair, and fall howling and yelping to their deaths. Lydia presumed there was a child in the center of the growing pyramid of canines who had wished for all the dogs in the world. Stupid kid. Stupid wish. Why would anyone want to bring more children into the world, if they were only going to do something idiotic like that? At least there were lots fewer kids being born now, with all the adults dead.
Once she was back inside, Lydia’s throat almost closed. She hyperventilated, sobbing for all the dead dogs in the world. Poor things. She felt so sorry for them.
She caught her breath. Maybe she had an answer. With every adult gone, with supply so skewed and demand so instantly and fatally gratified, there were all too few people left in the world. Perhaps humanity wouldn’t be able to recover.
Still, it was worth a try. “Genie,” she said. “I wish for every genie in the world… no, I wish for every genie everywhere to love… no, to like humans.” Two seconds passed. “Not to eat,” she added in a yell.
“Is that your wish?”
A few years later Lydia was one day away from her twenty-first birthday. Her Hamzad, her personal genie of the lavender eyes, wept purple tears from his faceless eyes. “I’m so sorry,” he said for perhaps the millionth time.
“Don’t be,” she said. “I’ve seen wonders.” Lydia turned to the crib where her twins slept. The teenager watching the babies smiled, backing discreetly away. Each child had a tiny swirling Hamzad perched near it. She kissed each baby. “Use them wisely,” she said, though she knew they probably wouldn’t. But even the unwisest of wishes could have a benign interpretation.