The Jean genie. A short story by Grant Harbison
The metamorphosis is happening, so I’d better get started. What I have to say might sound like the utterings of a raving lunatic, and believe me, when the insanity had started, I had questioned my own sanity. Whether you believe what I’m about to tell you or not is entirely up to you, but I can assure that it is entirely true. Thank goodness I still have an old cassette recorder and a few blank cassettes that I’d bought at a jumble sale a few months before he’d turned my world upside down. I do have this proclivity for collecting out-dated items such as these. What I’d never imagined was how useful it would turn out to be. As usual, my wife hadn’t been impressed, and who could have blamed her. Just more clutter to add to the existing junk that I had stored in the garage. Well, that’s all gone now. Apart from an old mattress, a million or so Monopoly notes that I have packed in boxes, a blow up doll and a matchbox toy Ferrari, the cassette recorder and cassettes are the only items that I have left in this world. Even she has gone. She’d left shortly after the madness had started. Even friends had stopped coming by, and having been raised in an orphanage, I have no other relations that I know of. I suppose I’d better hurry this along. I’m shrinking at an alarming rate and very soon my voice will be no more than a barely audible squeak. So, let me tell you how everything had started.
It’d been Christmas last year and also my thirty fifth birthday. My wife and I had invited friends over to celebrate and she’d prepared the traditional feast. Afterwards we’d all exchanged gifts. Nothing expensive; more the ‘it’s the thought that counts’ kind of gifts like alcohol and chocolates. It was the gift that my friend, John, had given me that’d had me intrigued.
Knowing how much I enjoyed a good red wine, and having been on a recent trip to France with his wife, Patsy, I’d kind of guessed what it would be before I’d unwrapped the present. It wasn’t the 1996 Bordeaux that’d fascinated me, but more the unusual spiral shape of the bottle. I’d thanked him and had put it in the rack with the rest of my collection.
It wasn’t until months later that I’d decided to open the bottle. Stephanie and I had chosen to have a quiet meal at home to celebrate our tenth anniversary, and after we’d finished preparing the food, I’d taken the bottle out of the rack and two glasses from the cupboard. That’s when it had all started. For when I’d removed the cork with a corkscrew, a thick vapour had emanated from the bottle, hung in the air for a few moments, before floating out of the room. Not only that, but the bottle had felt much lighter than when I’d taken it from the rack, as if there was nothing inside it. Confused, I’d tilted the bottle to fill the glasses, but as I’d surmised, the bottle was empty.
“Is there something wrong, love?” Stephanie had asked when she’d seen the look of amazement on my face.
I’d been too flabbergasted to speak.
“Robert?” she’d said with a look of concern.
“There’s nothing inside,” I’d managed to blurt out.
“What do you mean there’s nothing inside?” she’d asked. “I know John has a liking for practical jokes, but giving an empty bottle as a Christmas present, would be pretty inconsiderate, even for him.”
“But that’s just it,” I’d said. “The bottle wasn’t empty. It was full when I took it from the rack.”
I’d gone on to tell her about the strange vapour that had exuded from the bottle when I’d opened it, but she’d just shaken her head and sent me out to buy another bottle. I’d returned with a bottle of claret, and we’d settled down to a delicious prawn curry.
Afterwards, we’d gone to shower, made love and drifted off to sleep. It’d been around two in the morning when I’d heard the noise. It was a scratching noise that had come from inside the wardrobe. At first I’d thought that I was imagining it, but when I’d heard it again, I’d got up to investigate. When I’d opened the wardrobe doors and had seen the miniature person pop out and scurry across the room, I’d fallen backwards to the floor in alarm. The noise had immediately awoken Stephanie and she’d been up like a shot.
“Robert, are you okay?” she’d asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“The man,” had been all I’d been able to say.
“What man?” she’d asked, looking very perturbed.
“A little man,” I’d replied.
“What little man?”
“He ran out of the cupboard,” I’d replied as I’d looked around the room.
“I think you’d better come back to bed, love,” she’d said. “And I think it’s time that you considered taking some time off work.”
“Yeah, you may be right,” I’d responded as I’d picked myself up from the floor.
I’d taken her advice and had put in for a week’s leave. For the first two days, everything had been normal and I’d managed to get things done during the day that she’d been nagging me to do for months. On the third day, having completed all my tasks, I’d grabbed a beer from the fridge, and watched some music DVD’s that I hadn’t seen in ages. During a song by David Bowie, I’d felt a presence behind me, and when I’d turned around, I’d screamed when I’d seen the huge man behind me.
“Monsieur, do not be alarmed,” he’d said in heavily accented English.
I’d stared at the monstrous figure unable to speak. It should have been hilarious, as he’d had that look of the stereotypical Frenchman with the jersey, thin moustache and beret. All that had been missing was the string of onions around his neck.
“Who are you?” I’d managed to stammer.
“I’m going out of my mind,” I’d yelled and rubbed my eyes, thinking that I’d drifted off to sleep and was experiencing some kind of bad dream.
“No, Monsieur, you are perfectly fine. You have freed me and now it’s time for me to grant you three wishes,” he’d told me with a huge grin on his face.
This can’t be happening, was what had being going through my mind at that particular moment.
“Pardon, monsieur, I know this must be a shock for you, but I’m duty bound to grant you those three wishes.
Somehow I’d managed to gain some composure, and had decided to humour him. I hadn’t seen any harm in it as I’d still been convinced that he was all in my mind.
“Okay,” I’d said. “Give me tons of money, a beautiful brunette, and a very expensive car.”
“Merci, monsieur,” he’d said. “Tomorrow when you wake, your wishes will have been granted. But I must warn you that all wishes granted must be granted to someone else when the change has happened.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I’d responded, thinking that I should have an early night and sleep as long as possible.
The following day I’d woken to Stephanie’s screaming, and when I’d come to my senses, I’d seen the enormous amount of board game money on the floor. That hadn’t been the worst of it, as in between my wife and I had been an inflatable doll, and next to my pillow I’d spotted a matchbox car, similar to the toy ones my father had once had.
“What is all this?” Stephanie had yelled.
“I’m not sure,” I’d answered. “I can only assume that it must have been the genie.”
“The genie? Have you gone stark raving mad, Robert?’
“I thought I was, but…”
“I do think that the man has a sense of humour.”
“What man?” she’d yelled.
“The little man I told you about,” I’d answered. “He’s pretty tall now.”
“Robert, you need help,” she’d said and picked up the inflatable doll. “And what’s this? Am I not good enough for you?”
I’d tried to explain, but the more I’d spoken had just made it worse. Within three days, she’d left, taking most of the house contents with her. He’d appeared once again three days later.
“I suppose you find this bloody funny!” I’d shouted at him.
“You are not pleased with your wishes?” he’d asked innocently.
“Of course I’m not pleased!” I’d responded irately. “That wasn’t what I asked for.”
“Oh, monsieur, that was exactly what you asked for,’ he’d said and chortled. “Maybe you should have been more specific.”
Feeling an anger that I’d never felt before, I’d rushed towards him with arms outstretched, aiming to grab him by the throat, But as I’d gotten closer, he’d disappeared. Moments later, he’d reappeared in the corner of the room.
“The change will happen soon,” he’d told me. “When the time is right for you to enter the bottle, I will be here to seal it. Au revoir, monsieur.”
“Wait!” I’d cried, but he’d disappeared into thin air.
At first the change had been very subtle. One inch every few days. But now it is happening faster and faster, and soon I’ll be smaller than my pinky finger. All I ask is for you to listen, and open the bottle when you find it, whether you believe what I’ve said or not.