There were over ten thousand of them today, with more coming by the hour. They waited outside, eager and frantic, holding cameras and cell phones, ready for the anticipated moment when he would finally make his appearance.
William paced inside the mansion, trying to ignore the muffled chorus of voices chanting his name.
The jinn hovered three feet above the floor. “Are you well, Master?”
“This has gotten out of hand. I never wanted any of this. Do you see what’s happened to me?”
“See what, Master?”
“It’s only been two days now. Two days. How could everything turn into… such a mess?”
The jinn hovered closer. “Are you saying you regret your wishes, Master?”
“I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.”
William had found the lamp while rooting through a dumpster in search of a blanket. Winter was coming and his coat was too thin. When he found the lamp he couldn’t understand why someone would throw away something so precious. It reminded him of the lamps his grandmother used to keep on her mantel long ago, back when he’d actually had a family and a warm bed to sleep in.
Several strange symbols were engraved into the lamp, covered in dirt. William rubbed the dirt away. Seconds later a strong wind forced its way through the alley, and when William turned he saw a large man floating above the pavement.
“What — what are you?”
“Your humble servant.” The large man bowed his head. “And you are now my Master.”
“So… what are you supposed to be, a genie?”
“I am a jinn.”
“Does that mean I now get three wishes?”
The jinn smiled. “If it so pleases you.”
William had shaken his head as if to clear it. He knew he was dreaming. But still he said, “I wish I was the richest man in the world. And I wish I was the most famous.”
Standing in that alleyway, William had closed his eyes for an instant, and when he opened them again he found himself in the largest mansion on the planet.
Now, pacing about that mansion, he remembered the cold hard night in the alleys when he dreamed what it would be like to have all the money in the world. He’d lost his grandmother when he was very young and never had anyone else, but he knew having money would help change that. He prayed day in and day out for money, for just some miracle that would make his life better.
But here he was, a prisoner in his own mansion, his own fantasy. He wanted to go away and be alone, but knew that even then the people would find him.
“Master? What is wrong?”
Outside, the chanting grew louder. Thousands of people who hadn’t even known of William’s existence two days ago demanded to see the world’s richest and most famous man. He was everything they wanted to be, and because of that they loved him.
William knew his only way out was his remaining wish. He’d been hoping to save it, to bring his grandmother back from the grave, but it was too late.
“Master, tell me what is wrong.”
Now he only wanted to be nothing again, just a lonely bum living on the streets of the big city, where people walking by would show him pity with whatever spare change they had in their pockets. They would toss him money, even when he didn’t ask for it, just because they felt sorry for him. He despised those people more than anything else for the way they treated him. Now he had all the money in the world, was able to do anything he wanted, but he no longer cared. He wanted his old life back, no matter if it meant living in a world where the same people tossed him the occasional quarter or dime.
“Master, the people outside — ”
“I hate them.”
“You dislike them, Master?”
“No,” William said, his teeth clenched, “I hate them. Every single one of them.”
Before William could reply, one of his servants rushed into the room.
“Sir, they’ve broken down the gate. What should we do?”
His body went weak. His stomach churned. He closed his eyes and put his hands to his face. The time had come to make his final wish that would change everything back. He would never see his grandmother again. Would never hear her sweet voice. Would never feel the warm protection of her arms around his body.
“Sir?” the servant said.
Outside, the chanting changed into unintelligible shouting. Growing even louder. Closer.
“Master — ” the jinn began.
“Sir! They will –”
“ — you hate all — ”
“ — be here — ”
“ — people?”
“ — any moment!”
William opened his eyes, dropped his hands. He turned suddenly, his mind lost to the threat of the oncoming mob. He barely heard his servant’s voice but could hear the jinn’s clearly enough. The words struck home.
“Yes!” he shouted. “Yes I hate all people! I wish they would leave me alone! I wish they would just die!”
He stopped suddenly, his eyes wide, his mouth open, the realization of what he had just said slamming into him full force.
The shouting was inside now, echoing through the mansion.
The jinn said, “You wish all people would just die?”
“No,” — he quickly shook his head — “no, I don’t.”
“But that is what you said.”
The shouting grew even louder.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. That wasn’t my third wish. That was my fourth. The fourth doesn’t count.”
“Why, Master,” the jinn said, smiling as it appeared to grow larger, stronger, “they all count.” It leaned forward and leered at William. “And your last wish is the one wish I have waited an eternity to grant.”
Robert Swartwood‘s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, ChiZine, Postscripts, Space and Time, Wigleaf, PANK, among others. He is the author of several novels and the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer.