By Paul Carlson
The man turned slowly, gazing across the desert. Flowers bloomed there, and small creatures darted between scraggly creosote bushes.
Behind him, in a tight, uncomfortable clump, stood a group of immaculately dressed executives. His coworkers, though they never fully regarded themselves as such. None of them perceived the longing in his eyes.
At last, the man stirred, and asked his companions to wait while he stretched his legs a little. He walked uphill toward a jumble of reddish sandstone cliffs. A gust of wind ruffled his short brown hair. White dust soon coated his fine leather hiking boots, but he didn’t really mind.
Before long, there was no one else in sight. Something clinked underfoot. Looking down, he saw bronze metal sticking out from the rocky hillside. He’d inadvertently kicked it, exposing the tip of a sharply curved object.
Curious, he bent and tugged, and a small lamp came loose from the soil. It looked like something from the fairy tales of his youth.
On a whim he rubbed it, and to his utter astonishment, a puff of smoke emerged, whirled, and coalesced into a genie. The genie stood about seven feet tall and wore all the necessary accouterments: turban, beard, deep tan, colorful robe, and pointed slippers.
“Hey, watch where you’re going,” the genie said. “A few more kicks like that and my lamp is gonna get seriously dented.”
“Sorry,” the man replied. “I didn’t see you. I was looking up at those beautiful desert hills.”
The genie sighed. “It always happens like that. Shall I call you Master?”
The man decided to play along. He was quite familiar with Virtual Reality, and he figured this couldn’t be much different.
“Matt will do fine. This is a democracy, you know.”
“Then Matt it is. I know the situation, believe me. I haven’t been inside all that long. So, what is your wish?”
“Wish? As in singular? Don’t I get three?”
“Look, it’s kind of complicated.” The genie peered at the sky. “Moon phases, cosmic energy— takes too long to explain. Let’s just say that I’m having a bad day.”
“What if I wish for more wishes?”
The genie glared, and Matt smiled ruefully, hoping to defuse the situation.
The genie grinned in response. “My friend, you have no idea how old that line is. It’s against the rules.”
“You have rules?”
The genie reached into the lamp and extracted a parchment scroll. It was covered with tiny Arabic script.
“See here?” He jabbed at the scroll. “Before you ask, I can’t bring about world peace, or convert you into another genie.”
“So the wish has to be more personal. Hmm…”
As Matt considered this, he began to walk, the genie at his side. They reached the crest of the trail. Las Vegas came into view, filling the wide valley beneath them.
The genie whistled. “Looks like you mortals have really been busy. The place wasn’t nearly that size back in the nineties.”
“So it’s been, what, thirty years since you’ve been out of that lamp?”
“Yeah, and that lucky fella did get three wishes.” The genie squinted at the city. “I see he owns several of those impressive casinos down there. Glad to know he’s been careful with his money.”
“Good for him,” Bill commented.
“Your wish?” the genie prompted. “Sorry, but you, ah, interrupted something.” His gaze drifted to the lamp.
Matt shook his head. “I wouldn’t dream of keeping you from… I won’t even ask. You know what I want? A cabin. A little wooden cabin, like the old-time prospectors had, up on that hill.”
Matt pointed to a mountain that loomed to the north.
“Make it so I have all the permits and stuff, and that people won’t usually see the place or the trail that goes to it. Put in a nice modern kitchen and, oh, a level place out back, big enough to land a helicopter.” He gave the genie the name of a dummy corporation to put down as the cabin’s owner.
The genie couldn’t quite hide his surprise. “That’s it? You’re sure?”
The genie pronounced an incantation, waved his arms, and a cabin appeared in the distance. He handed Matt a manila envelope. “All your paperwork is in here. I learned to handle bureaucracies during my time in the Ottoman Empire.”
“Thanks,” Matt said.
“Same to you,” the genie replied. “No dithering. I like that.” He began to dissolve. Swirling, colorful mist poured into the lamp.
Just before he vanished entirely, the genie’s head popped back out. “I gotta know,” he said. “Everybody else wishes for the big stuff. High stakes poker winnings, jackpots, maybe the Irish Sweepstakes. This being 2020, I expected the Megabucks jackpot or the Powerball lottery. What gives?”
Matt got a business card from his wallet.
A hand slipped from the lamp and took it. Then, with a final wave, the genie vanished within. The lamp trembled and buried itself in the desert soil. Inside his palatial lamp, the genie read the card: Matthew Vijay Chen, Founder, Cincocyber Networks, Inc.
The richest man in the world began his trek down the hill.