Wishful Thinking by Catherine Keegan! -#ReverseATrope Contest Winner
Catherine Keegan is the winner of our #ReverseATrope Writing Contest.
Here is her submission, Wishful Thinking. Great job Catherine, we loved your story!
By: Catherine Keegan Jen stood frozen in the doorway. The museum’s storage room was where old exhibits came to die. Fluorescent lights illuminated file cabinets and boxes that were stacked six feet high. The room smelled of stale dust. She couldn’t help but wonder what she did to piss off the universe so much. The sound of shuffling feet echoed behind her. Jen felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped. A tall woman with dark hair stood behind her. “You can stare at it all day, but that won’t clean it up, sweetheart.” “But mom, it would take a lifetime of weekends to clean this room. Shouldn’t museums be more organized than this?” Jen’s mother took a moment to survey the room. “Unfortunately, this is an underfunded museum and most of these artifacts are from decades old exhibits. Some go as far back as the fifties.” She put her left arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “And boy am I lucky to have such a good helper in my teenage daughter.” Jen looked at her out of the corner of her eye. If only she had decided to go to Florida with her father and his step-brats, then she wouldn’t be staring into the pit of hell. Her mother said something about not breaking anything, and backed out of the room. There was nothing left for Jen to do, but roll up her sleeves. She put in her earbuds and started up her playlist. Cleaning to the music of Swan Lake helped to make the process less painful. The room became a grand theater and she was the prima ballerina. Jen twirled as she dusted and pirouetted with a box in her hands. There were leaps and pliés. Before Jen knew it, two hours had passed and it was lunch time. She turned to twirl her way out of the room but ended up tripping on her shoelace during curtain call. It was a graceful fall as she spun to the floor with boxes raining around her. “I guess I’ll be taking a late lunch,” she muttered while massaging her twisted ankle. The falling boxes left the room in a cloud of dust that wasn’t settling. Jen limped to the open window. The light breeze outside wasn’t making a dent. Instead, the dust collected in the middle of the room. Jen tried to scatter it with her hand, but it only went through the cloud. After a moment she thought the dust looked more like smoke. Looking around the room, she tried to find the source. The smoke grew thicker as she backed into the door. Her foot stepped on pieces of broken pottery that spilled out of a fallen box. Jen worried she had hit her head. The smoke seemed to be forming into a shape…a human shape. She sunk to the floor as the shape turned around and opened its eyes. “Who are you?” It asked. “Huh? What are…please tell me I’m dreaming!” Jen’s hand pressed into the pottery shards. She took a closer look at them and saw it used to be some kind of bottle. Understanding hit her at the same time the creature spoke. “I am Samara, controller of time and granter of wishes. You may know me as a genie.” Jen stared at the unsettling, and beautiful, being. Its body was made up of a solid steel grey smoke. The eyes were a piercing almond-shaped onyx. She watched the genie pace around the room and stick its head out the window. “I haven’t been out of that bottle in almost sixty years. Some scrawny archeologist opened it and was so terrified he tripped and hit his head. So tell me, what’s your name?” Her mouth felt dry. “Jen.” “Tell me, what has changed in the last half-century Jen?” asked Samara. She tried to find her voice. “Umm…man landed on the moon.” “Fascinating. What was on it?” “Just a bunch of rocks, I think.” She felt like a complete idiot. Sixty years and the only thing she could think of were moon rocks. “How are you possible?” she asked. “Centuries ago people came to beings like me all the time. But after a few mishaps and ill-advised wishes, we were deemed dangerous demons. We’ve been forced to live in bottles until some small person, such as yourself, opened it.” Samara returned to looking out the window. Jen tried to wrap her mind around the fact she had a living genie right in front of her. No one would believe her if she said anything. “Tell me, do people still like to dance?” asked Samara still taking in the fresh air. Jen wondered if genies could breathe. “Yeah, there’s a whole genre of music dedicated to it,” she said. “Do they still dance the twist? I loved that.” “Not exactly. People twerk now.” Jen cringed just thinking about it. Samara turned around with her dark eyes pressed in together. “What is…twerk?” “People shake their…you know what, it’s not important. So, is it true you have to grant me three wishes or is that just a movie thing?” The genie glided across the room and perched herself on a tall box. “I’m in a bottle for sixty years and we’re already discussing business. Alright then, here are the rules: Only three wishes, no time travel, this is your only chance to use your wishes (they can’t be saved for a later date), and you only have until sundown before I have to go back into the bottle or I will cease to exist. Are we clear?” Jen looked down at the clay pieces by her feet. “But your bottle broke when I fell.” “I can fix that.” Samara crossed her legs and rested her chin on her hand. Jen’s brain was moving at the speed of light. All the wishes she could think of passed through her mind like they were on a roller coaster of thought. Should she ask for money? No, that would be too obvious. Her car was having problems. But what car should she ask for? There were too many options and she wanted to be smart about her decision. She looked at Samara, who was yawning and felt self-conscious. “Well, I’ve always wanted to be an amazing ballerina, and I could use a new car. Paris would be amazing. I guess those are good wishes. Aren’t they?” The genie got up and smiled. “Of course they are, but I have a counter offer for you. It has been too long since I’ve been out in the world and had any new experiences. I would like you to grant three wishes of mine before I grant yours. Do we have a deal?” “But I’m not a genie.” Samara laughed. “I’m not talking about wishes a genie would grant. I just want you to show me some new things. I want to hear, see, touch, smell, and taste new things.” Jen thought it over. What could a genie possibly want from a teenager? She figured it couldn’t hurt to show Samara something new, in fact, it could be fun. “Only three wishes, right?” “Of course!” Her bounciness was a little annoying to Jen. “We have a deal.” Samara started dancing, what Jen assumed was the twist, and went back to the window. “I can’t wait to eat something new. There must have been some new food creations?” Jen wracked her brain for an idea. The genie wanted to experience something new for all the senses. There was only one place where a person could enjoy lots of new things in one place, and that was the LA County Fair. She smiled. “I know exactly where to go. But first, we have to get you something to wear.” It took fifteen minutes to get Samara into the car. She kept wandering to the trees and swaying in the breeze like a flower. Jen felt that just being outside should count as something new for her. The whole drive Jen tried not to think about how angry her mother would be. She knew there was a slight chance she was insane and would be committed when she got home, but in the passenger seat sat a genie regardless of her level of insanity. “Is this trench coat and hat necessary?” asked Samara. “Seeing as you are a ball of smoke in the shape of a person, yes. The only way we’re going to pull this off is if we tell people you have a condition that makes you severely burn in the sun.” It was the only thing she could come up with last minute. By the time they reached the fair, it was two p.m. That left them with five and a half hours to get back to the museum before sundown. The fair seemed like a genius idea to Jen at first, but seeing all the people filing inside made her nervous. Staring at all the people and booths, Samara’s eyes became big black tennis balls. “Alright Jen, wish number one. I want to feel something new.” Jen wracked her brain for an idea. “You want to feel something?” A wet dog smell wafted under her nose. “Have you ever touched an animal?” “I granted a wish for a few ponies, and a camel, but I’ve never touched them.” They made their way to the petting zoo. Samara didn’t know which one to pet first. She spent twenty minutes just staring at them. Jen couldn’t help laughing when Samara jumped after a goat tried to take a bite out of her coat. All the animals were mesmerizing to the genie that had only experienced the products of wishes, but never anything of its own. Samara looked back at Jen with a big smile on her face. “Chickens are odd little things, but their feathers are so soft.” “Yes, they are. Do you have wish number two?” asked Jen, checking the time on her phone. “I think I would like to eat something new.” Jen dragged Samara away from the animals and in the direction of the best smelling air in the world. Fairs and carnivals were home to some of the best and weirdest foods on the planet. If the genie wanted to eat something new, they were in the right place. After wandering through booths and food vendors for almost an hour, Jen found something worthy of a genie. She held out a paper tray of food out in front of her. “Alright Sam, you wanted to taste something you’ve never tried. I give you… the deep fried Oreo.” Samara put the whole cookie into her black hole of a mouth. Her eyes scrunched together. “It’s disgusting and amazing at the same time,” she said. Jen laughed. “Yes, it is. What’s last on your wish list?” Samara looked around. People stared as they walked past, but she didn’t seem to notice. Jen hoped no one tried to look at her face too hard. It would be too hard to explain why Samara’s eyes were all black like a demon’s. As if she was trying to draw attention, Samara started to twirl through the crowd. “I wish to see everything!” Jen tried to stand back a bit as people stared. “What do you mean by everything?” She smiled and continued to dance her way through the crowd. They spent several hours eating more food and watching people make things. Twice, Samara had them go back to the petting zoo. Jen tried to come up with an idea that would help her to see everything, but nothing came to mind. The wind was picking up. It whipped Jen’s hair around her face. At first, the breeze felt nice on her sweaty skin then it worried her. She glanced at Samara weaving in and around the crowd, and to her horror, saw she didn’t have her hat. No one noticed except for a little boy who was tugging on his mother’s coat. Jen raced to Samara and steered her behind a game booth. “Your hat’s gone!” Samara shrugged. “I know.” “Well, we need another one,” said Jen. “You could wish for one.” Jen watched as a group of people passed by. “I thought I had to grant your wishes before I could make any.” The genie smiled. “I’ll make one exception.” Jen thought a moment. It was just one wish. She would still be left with two. She took a deep breath. “Okay, I wish for a hat like the one we lost.” In the blink of an eye, a hat covered Samara’s head. Jen’s jaw dropped. “That was awesome.” Samara didn’t seem impressed. Her eyes appeared to sparkle at the sight of a stuffed animal. Jen considered trying to win one but thought about the time. It was running out. The sound of laughing children caught her attention. Towering over the fair like a gentle giant, the Ferris wheel was unloading its cargo and preparing for another round. It was perfect. “So those seats go around to the top?” The concept fascinated Samara. “Yes, and you will be able to see everything from there.” They got in line and Jen kept an eye on the time. She figured they would have just enough time to ride the Ferris wheel, drive back to the museum, have Samara grant her wishes, then watch the genie go back into her bottle. They took their seats on the wheel. Samara was practically bouncing. The closer they got to the top, her smile grew. Jen had to admit that even she was having a good time. She saw just how much she took for granted being next to someone who had never experienced anything for herself. When they reached the top, Samara froze. “It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” She turned to Jen. “Thank you for giving me something no one else has ever given me. I’ve asked others the same request, but it was always denied. I just got to grant their wishes and go back into the bottle.” Jen chose not to voice her irritation that she didn’t know she could turn the genie down and just have her wishes. “Hey, what’s going on?” said a man’s voice below them. Jen looked around to see the other people on the wheel staring at the ground. It was a minute before she realized why. The Ferris wheel should have been moving, but it was stuck with them at the top. “Something must be wrong,” said Jen. Samara seemed to be pulled out of her deep thought. “Oh, nothing’s wrong. I’m holding the Ferris wheel in place. I want to stare at this view as long as I can.” Jen looked at her phone. “Well, if we don’t get this thing moving, this view will be the last thing you see. We have to leave or we won’t make it back to the museum before sundown.” “You could always wish us back. I’ll make another exception.” The wheel started back up and they finished their ride. Jen and Samara sprinted back to the car. After realizing they wouldn’t make it in time, Jen thought about what the genie said. She accepted that only getting one wish was better than getting none if the genie disappeared forever. “Okay… I wish we were back at the museum.” Without any kind of feeling or sounds, the two were sitting in the museum’s parking lot. It took Jen a minute for her mind to wrap itself around what happened. She then dashed to the entrance and met a security guard who informed them that her mother was furious. Jen muttered something about an appointment and ran. Once safely inside the storage room, Samara took off her terrible disguise and looked more comfortable as she stretched her smoky arms around. Jen scooped up the broken shards of the genie’s bottle and laid them on the table. “Can you really fix it? There are a lot of pieces.” “Easy,” said the genie was a slight smile. Samara snapped her fingers and the pottery was re-fired before her eyes. Jen picked it up and inspected it. There were no cracks or chips. The bottle looked brand new. She wondered if anyone would believe it was almost a thousand years old. Jen smiled. “So is it time for my wish?” Samara looked out the window at the setting sun. “I’m sorry, but our time is up.” “What?” “I must leave you now, but thank you for everything. Your generosity will never be forgotten.” “But wait, what about my wish?” Jen’s brain felt like it stopped working. “There isn’t enough time. I hope that someday you come across another genie who can grant all your wishes. I, on the other hand, wish you good luck and good bye." Samara gave a big smile and started to spin in circles. Her smoke body dissolved into a tornado. Then, as if by a vacuum, the smoke was sucked back into the bottle. Jen stared at the item in her hands. There was a fresh seal on the top, and it felt warm to the touch. Unable to move, she looked out the window as the sky turned black.