The Wishing Stone By Matthew Zepf It had been the perfect afternoon for a barbeque. Too bad the party had been scheduled for later that evening. The Freemont Piano Movers bowling team was used to such setbacks. Against the local meteorologist’s prognostications, their captain, Karl “Turkey” Peterson, had doggedly gone ahead with barbequing, only retreating from his deck when the sky above broke with a thunderclap and released the deluge. Karl scrambled to retrieve the feast: chicken wings glazed in olive oil. “Miserable,” muttered Ben as he stared through the patio doors. Beside him, Karl and Marcel grunted in agreement. “Ah, you guys are never happy,” quipped Gerard. “That’s because nothing ever goes right,” Marcel grumbled. “That’s because you guys never want the right things!” exclaimed Gerard. “Is it really too much to ask for a nice barbeque?” Karl said wistfully. They watched the barbeque; its charcoal maw spit at them. They turned from the patio doors. The half cooked meat was taken by Mrs. Isabelle Peterson, who absconded with it into the recesses of the kitchen while the other ladies processed the men through the eating area into the living room. They then barred the kitchen to them with their wide lower-middle class backs. Karl closed the folding doors against them as a token rebuttal. The men, twice bested by the elements, shuffled into the living room. They milled about the room aimlessly, still in barbeque mode, with their shorts, polo shirts and long-necked beers. “Hey what’s this thing here?” Ben was inspecting the cabinet above the TV. “Oh. That.” Karl took a swig of his beer. “I think that’s what’s called a samovar.” “A what?” “It’s a Russian cremation urn,” Marcel remarked. Karl put down his beer and slid back the glass door. “We inherited it from my wife’s great aunt. I think it makes tea or something.” Karl pulled the samovar down and placed it on the TV. The men regarded it disinterestedly. “Makes tea you say?” Ben asked. Karl nodded. “Yeah.”
“That all?” Karl nodded. “Guess so.” They all nodded with him. “Needs polishing.” Marcel finally noted Karl nodded again. “Yep.” He took a swig of his beer and reached to touch the samovar. “My wife always bugs me about that…maybe I’ll get around to it the next time I’m polishing the station wagon with brass cleaner.” The men laughed and Karl absently ran his thumb back and forth along the samovar’s lid. There was a mighty flash and with a seething hiss a great cloud of thick white smoke issued into the room. The startled men spilled back into the couch. The smoke glowed with a frosty blue light, gathering itself, and then out of it reared a pair of shoulders and a head. The men sat agape. The genie looked about itself for a moment and then down at its prison. “What! They made it into a samovar?” “Wha…what?” Karl stammered. The genie explained: “Several centuries ago I had a lamp – any respectable genie did – and I served the great sultans and rulers of the desert oases. It was all petty conflicts, being lost and found, until the Mongol hordes came and raided the great treasuries of the Persians. A Mongol chieftain gained my lamp, got his three wishes and then dismissed me. Apparently he had my lamp melted down and recast…I suppose it was a common enough fate at the time.” The genie glanced down disapprovingly. “But a samovar?” The genie bent low and examined where it was emanating from the tap. “Dear!” Isabelle called from the kitchen. “What are you boys doing in there?” Karl scrambled over the couch and braced the doors with his body. “Uh, we’re looking at what’s on TV…Honey!” He shouted through the seam between the doors. “Tell Marcel he can’t smoke in there, and turn it down! Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.” “Right.” Karl turned. The men were still staring at the genie who, resigned to the new manifestation of its dwelling, was watching him. “Well then, Master, I suppose you will now want your three wishes?” “Wishes?” Karl repeated. “Wishes!” Marcel snapped out his awe. “Yeah…yeah! We want the wishes!”
“But there are four of us.” Gerard set his beer down so he could gesticulate with his hands. “Can we get four wishes?” asked Ben. “We genies have been around now for how many centuries? And you humans still don’t know the rules? Look, the cosmic charter dictates you get three wishes, only three. I can do anything you want, with the sole restriction being that I cannot perform anything that violates the free will of another entity…although,” the genie leaned in close to Karl, “contrary to popular belief genies can kill at your command.” The genie winked. The men stood silent for a moment. “Well, look guys,” Karl strolled in front of the genie, beer in hand, and faced his friends, “it’s my family’s precious antique samovar, so…it’s only right I get the wishes.” “No way!” Ben became angry. “We’re going to split em!” Marcel vehemently asserted. “Come on! How do you split three wishes four ways?” “You just wish for four of each thing.” Gerald quickly answered. “What if I don’t want what you’re all getting?” Marcel retorted. “You can sell it.” “Karl!” Isabelle called from the kitchen. “Dinner!” Karl sprinted across the room. “Coming!” he yelled through the crack. He turned to the others. “Look guys, we gotta figure something out here.” “A wishing stone.” Everyone looked at Ben. “One that will grant us unlimited wishes.” The genie frowned. “Uh, Ben, I’m pretty sure we can’t wish for more wishes,” Marcel observed. “You can’t,” the genie frostily confirmed. “No wait, think about it –” Ben scooted forward on the couch, motioning with his beer “we aren’t wishing for more wishes; we are wishing for something that gives us more wishes.” Now the genie was not all pleased with this development and if it had not been for the cosmic charter restraining genies from enacting their own wishes something tragic might have happened to Ben. The men were hesitant at first, refusing to believe they had stumbled upon such a momentous loophole, but their killer instinct was engaged; they began to bully the genie.
“He’s right you know.” Marcel casually took a swig from his beer as he and the other men left the couch and crowded the genie. “Let’s have it: a wishing stone.” The genie folded its thick arms and glared. “You cannot wish for more wishes!” “We all know that,” Karl smiled, pointing at the genie with a finger from his beer hand, “but we all also know we aren’t asking for more wishes.” “We wish for a wishing stone…” Ben articulated. “…yeah, whoever holds it can make a wish…” Marcel enjoined. “…and we want it to have unlimited wishes!” Gerard practically sang the words. The genie bristled, but there was nothing for it: a loophole had been found. Its expression melted into despair. “This is your wish then?” “Yes!” The four men cried in unison. “Karl!” Isabelle called. “We’re coming, dear!” Karl shouted back. “Well I wish you would hurry up!” she shot back. Karl yelped. He turned to the genie. “That one didn’t count, right?” The genie compressed its lips into a line. “I am required to say no…” The men all exhaled. Recovering its dignity, the genie squared its shoulders and with a flourish of its hands produced before it in the air a polished blue orb about the size of a baseball. “There is your wishing stone.” The genie remarked gravely. “Take it then.” Karl gingerly plucked it from the air. The others crowded around him. ‘Why is it blue?” asked Gerard. “Yeah, I would have preferred red, or even orange,” commented Marcel. “We can paint it,” Ben nodded. “You still have two wishes left,” noted the genie, “you could use one of them…” “Hey, that’s right! We’ve still got two wishes with the genie!” Gerard exclaimed. “Well, there’s no need to be greedy…maybe we should give them over to the ladies?” The men glared at him. “No, we’re not going to be doing that” Marcel uttered in an undertone. The genie held up its hand, “if it is all the same to you, my fiendishly clever masters, I would prefer that you use your remaining wishes that I may be released from bondage to you and thus go on with my cheapened existence.” “Sure, why not?” chirped Ben. A euphoric mood had possessed the men.
“Uh, guys my wife’s gonna have me sleeping on the couch if we don’t get in there for dinner – we can wish for stuff later.” “We need to hide the stone,” Ben interjected “No, no, we need somewhere to the hide the stone,” corrected Gerard. The men looked at each other, suddenly suspicious. “Look, we can just keep it at my house,” Karl remarked, anxious to obey his wife. “No way!” the others refused as one. “Right – it has to be somewhere where all of us can get at it, but where no one else can!” Ben postulated. “Karl?” “I’m coming!” Karl stamped his foot and yelled in frustration. Gerard pulled at his bottom lip. “We’ll make a safe with four locks and each one of us shall have a key!” Ben beamed. “Yeah…yeah, that’s good!” “But it can’t be in one of our homes,” Marcel pointed out. “Why not?” Karl asked slightly hurt. “Karl!” They could hear footfalls approaching the living room. Karl pressed the stone into Ben’s hands and sprang to the door, bracing it with his posterior. “Izzy, we really want to see this thing through to the end!” “No! You turn off that TV off come out here this instant!” “But the boys…” “But nothing! You…Karl, are you blocking this door?” Karl winced as his rump reverberated with her assault upon the door handles. The other men, however, had continued without him and had come to a decision. They now stood behind him, quite ready to acquiesce to their hostess’s demands. Karl looked at them in surprise; the genie was gone and everything was normal except that, for some bizarre reason, Ben had balled up the comforter from the sofa and was hugging it to his chest. “What’s going on now?” Karl mouthed. “We got a great idea!” Ben exclaimed. “We’re going to the bowling alley!” “The bowling alley? Now?” “We’re gonna hide the stone there!”
“What!?” “Just open the door.” Karl acquiesced in amazement. Mrs. Isablle Peterson was standing outside looking quite cross. She retreated a few steps though, disarmed by the men, who, now courteous to a fault, passed her, apologizing profusely for their tardiness. Ben followed last with the balled up comforter; he walked after his comrades with the gravity of a priest in procession, not even flinching when the trails of his monstrance clipped the salad bowl and tossed the contents about the floor. Karl glanced back at his wife and received a scathing look of reproof. The procession weaved its way through the eating area. The annoyed looks from their wives turned to astonishment as the men walked out the front door into the drizzling rain. “Where are you going?” Isabelle called. “Beer. We need more beer. We’ll be back in…soon!” Karl called. The men piled into Ben’s van and they drove off leaving their wives on the porch in amazement. “My wife’s gonna kill us all.” “Would you just forget it?” “Yeah man, cool it. Heck, you can wish for her to forget the whole thing!” The men giggled, realizing the endless possibilities for domestic emancipation suddenly open to them. The van circled around to the back of the bowling alley. They disembarked from the vehicle and Ben threw off the comforter. Karl dutifully rescued it from the soaked asphalt. “Guys, my wife – !” “You can get her another comforter!” “You can get her a house made of comforters!” “Heck,” Marcel winked suggestively, “you can get a new comforter period.” “I love my wife.” Karl balked as folded the comforter into a heap. He looked over at them. “You brought the samovar?” Ben smiled. “Of course!” “Where’s the stone?” Karl asked as he stuffed the comforter back in the van. “I put it in the samovar!” said Ben shaking the container. Marcel struggled to lift the lid; it would not budge. One by one the men tried. Panic and anger swept through them like wild fire.
“The lid won’t come off!” Ben cried in horror. The men strained until their efforts reached such desperation that violence to the samovar seemed imminent. “How did you get that genie to appear again?” “Here.” Karl took the samovar and rubbed it. The genie appeared. They glared at it. It smiled faintly. “My gracious masters, how may I serve you?” “The lid to the samovar is stuck.” “Is it really?” the genie mused. “Yeah, and our stone is in there.” “Oh, bad luck! Why don’t you wish it out?” “Oh, that’s nice.” Ben stuck his tongue in his cheek. “You…” Karl exhaled in anger. The genie bent forward. “Is there a problem, diminutive master?” Karl glared but leaned slightly in towards Ben. “What’s “diminutive” mean?” Ben shrugged. “I wish I kn–” Marcel’s hand clamped over Ben’s mouth. They all looked at the genie. The genie cocked an eyebrow. “He didn’t say it!” Marcel gasped. Karl stamped his foot. “Don’t think we don’t know what you’re doing – you want us to use our wishes to get back the stone!” “Really?” Marcel picked up the samovar and shook it. “You’re cheating! You’ve sealed our samovar!” “My samovar,” Karl corrected. “Hardly – unannounced you deposited your stone into the dwelling of a genie,” the genie related indignantly. “Besides, it is technically my samovar. And what is one wish in comparison with recovering an infinite wishing stone?” “Yeah right, one wish; what’s to stop you with from pulling another fast one?” “You know we should have just used the wishing stone in the first place…” “Shut up, Gerard!” The men growled. “Are you questioning the integrity of the great genie of the seven deserts?” Lightning flashed in the genie’s eyes.
Karl boldly took the samovar from Marcel. “Either you loosen that lid or I’ll melt down your genie suite here into a brass chamber pot!” “I don’t think your wife is gonna go for that…” Ben began. Marcel smacked Ben in the back of the head. “Shut up!” he vehemently hissed. “We’re making a threat!” “I’ll do it!” Karl held the samovar aloft. The genie was abhorred; obviously it had not anticipated a reaction of this kind. It removed the lid to the samovar and the stone popped out – as if flung – and was caught by Karl. “That’s better! Alright now, we want a secret vault right under here,” Ben stamped the sidewalk with his foot, “under this exact slab of sidewalk. The vault door will have four locks and the stone will be safe within.” “Uh, why aren’t we using the stone?” Karl pointed to it where it rested in the palm of his hand. “And the vault door will be facing up!” Gerard added. “Nice save!” Ben nodded. “Yeah, you got that, Smokey?” “Guys…the stone?” Karl asked uneasily. “This is your second wish?” The genie replied in a toneless voice. “Guys!” Karl cried in alarm. Ben and Gerard looked at each other and nodded. “Yes,” they said in domino unison. The genie flourished its hands. Karl cried out in alarm. “The stone! The stone’s vanished!” The men swarmed the genie. “What have you done with it?” “Nothing save what you requested, my eminent masters.” The genie bowed and folded its hands in supplication over the crown of its bent head. “The stone is safe, within the vault, as you requested.” “You idiots!” Karl accosted Ben and Gerard. Marcel fell to his knees and after a confused moment the others joined him. They succeeded in flipping the slab of sidewalk. Underneath was the vault with four locks. “Hey how do we open this?” The men became frantic. “Where are the keys?” “Keys, master? You never wished for keys.”
A great horror came over the men. Slowly they stood and faced the genie. Karl was trembling with rage. “Well look, I think it’s pretty obvious that our last wish is that you give each of us one of the four keys that fits the keyholes…” “Wait man! – make sure you word it correctly!” Marcel’s voice cracked with fear. Karl stopped and bit his lip. The men gathered into a huddle. With the precision and patience of lawyers they beat out their sentence and again faced the genie. “Our third wish is that you give to us each one of the four keys that fits…” “Opens!” The men cried in alarm. “Opens! Opens!” Karl quickly corrected. “Oh my God that was close!” He gripped his brow. “Yes, that opens each of the four corresponding locks.” “So...your third wish is that you each be given one of the four keys that…opens each of the four corresponding locks. Is this your wish?” “Open,” corrected Gerard, “each of the four keys that open the four corresponding locks.” The men nervously licked their lips and exchanged glances. “Yes.” Karl said in a dead whisper. “My good master, are you sure?” Karl looked at the others. They looked at him. None dared breathe a word. Karl sucked in a breath and held it. His eyes went wide and his brow furled. “Yes!” he exclaimed as if in pain. The genie nodded and flourished one of its hands. Turning over the hand, the genie fanned out four keys and presented them. Timidly each man approached and chose a key. “Well that concludes our encounter. You were a very clever bunch of masters and let us hope that was to your advantage.” The men looked up at the genie. “Now, if you would be so kind, please throw my…samovar into a storm drain that it might drift along, be lost for a thousand years, and find a new master.” With that the genie clapped its hands and retreated back in through the tap at the base of the samovar amid a melodrama of smoke. The men tried their keys. They worked and the vault door swung open. To their utter joy the wishing stone was within and, to test its authenticity, they wished a collective request, and that was for a storm drain. It appeared in the asphalt. Ben immediately lifted the grate and Karl, with a vindictive but ceremonious punt, sent the samovar on its way. They then made
another collective wish and immediately set out for the party that they had abandoned. Sure enough their wives had each received a dozen roses and the song their improvised barbershop quartet had selected came out flawlessly, thus acquitting them of ruining dinner.
The men were the happiest of creatures then. Every Wednesday after bowling they would meet behind the alley, have a beer and end the night with each taking a turn with the wishing stone. Their policy was only one wish a week; they did this reasoning that if they wished for everything they wanted all at once, people would notice and there would be questions. Slowly the men began to accumulate their heart’s desires. They rarely told each other their wishes as they took great delight in showing off the result or having it noticed. A few fluke lottery wins and inheritances from long lost relatives later and the men found themselves quite wealthy. But something was wrong. It started with their bowling night. They were undefeatable and it was miserable. Gerard didn’t consider it sporting and so had never magically enhanced his skill, but the others had. How novel it had been at first to be able to throw a gutter ball and watch it make a mean curve into the pins for a strike. The reaction of the opposition was always hilarious, especially after a dozen of such throws, but the game began to lose its luster. It was like this for all their plans; somehow things never turned out exactly as they wished. The weeks passed, and the months, and each man became sadder save one: Gerard. Gerard was always happy. The others grew increasingly jealous of his happiness. Finally, they began to grow resentful. One night they gathered to watch him leave for home. “What d’ya think he wishes for that makes him so happy?” Karl asked. “It’s not happiness, I tried that one,” nodded Ben. “It became unbearable, always smiling and laughing at the worst times…my wife nearly divorced me!” “It’s not women…” Marcel grumbled. “My God…” “It’s not success either,” Karl frowned. “I own several companies now and I’m either bored to tears or have too much work to do.” “And I find I have to lie to people…” added Ben. They looked at him. “Success is all about keeping other people happy, not myself…”
“Gerard’s found something and he’s holding out on us!” Marcel fumed. “And he knows it – he knows how unhappy we are!” “Yeah, he must have a secret – he never invites us over, never shows anything off…he must have wished for something he doesn’t want us to have!” Ben bared his teeth. “Then here’s what we’re going to do,” said Karl. “Next week, we’ll follow him home and see what he has!” “We’ll use my helicopter!” Ben slammed his fist into his palm. “Your helicopter?” Karl arched his eyebrows. “I wished for one tonight!” “And do you know how to fly it?” Karl asked incredulously. Ben paused and eyed the pavement. He looked up; a smile crept across his face, “I will next week!” “Don’t be stupid,” Marcel said bitterly. “We’ll follow him in my car. Until then – not a word to him! We can’t let him know we’re on to him!” The week passed and as agreed, after bowling, the men followed Gerard. Gerard walked to an adjacent lot from the bowling alley and climbed into his car. “Isn’t that his same car from before we got the stone?” whispered Ben. “It is! It’s the exact same one!” Karl hissed. “He’s clever!” exclaimed Marcel. “He pretends to be the same old Gerard so that people don’t get jealous of him – he’s got it all stashed away at home, you’ll see!” Carefully they tailed him home. As they drove, the men traded speculations about the great riches, technologies, and secret things Gerard had squirreled away at his house. To the men’s consternation, Gerard drove up to a raised bungalow – the same raised bungalow he had lived in for almost 15 years. They parked across the road and gaped. They watched him enter his house. They watched him help his son with homework and finish washing dishes with his wife and hold her in front of the sink. They watched him crossly separate his two young ones and put them to bed, and then pay some bills before retiring for the night. Nothing seemed remarkable. The men were dumbfounded. They drove back to the bowling alley in silence and separated without a word.
The next Wednesday the men waited in the adjacent lot for Gerard. Gerard’s beaten up car pulled in and they surrounded him as he got out. Karl didn’t hesitate: “what do you wish for, Gerard?” “Yeah, out with it,” demanded Ben. “It’s time you told us,” agreed Marcel. Gerard looked at them each in turn; he had been discovered. “Well I’ve only ever made one wish…” “Only one? What was it?” the men cried in amazement. “That I might have my health and enjoy the blessings of being with my family.” The men stared at him. “That’s it? That’s the whole wish?” Marcel sputtered. “Yes. That’s the whole wish.” “But you already had those things!” Karl exploded. “Well yeah…and I got my wish.” Gerard looked at them before moving to his trunk and retrieving his bowling ball. “So, are we going inside? I’ve been working on my split!” The men were despondent. “No, wait.” Karl stopped Gerard. He turned to the others. “This wishing stone has brought us nothing but trouble. I think we should get rid of it.” “We can’t do that! What if we need it one day?” Marcel objected. Karl shook his head. “It’s too tempting.” “Let’s put it to a vote.” Gerard suggested. “Has to be a majority!” Marcel ruled. “A tie rules in favour of keeping it!” “Fine, but that means which ever way the vote goes, the other side must accept it.” Karl countered. “Fine!” snorted Marcel. “Well, I vote we wish it away.” Karl nodded gravely. “I vote to keep it!” countered Marcel, looking at the other two encouragingly. “It’s brought me no good…” Ben reflected. “Let’s get rid of it.” The men all looked at Gerard. He sighed, “I’m sorry, Marcel, but I say we get rid of it.” Marcel threw up his hands and punched Gerard’s car. The men somberly processed behind the bowling alley and lifted the slab. They unlocked the safe with their four keys and extracted the wishing stone.
“Let’s have one final wish at least,” Marcel pleaded. Karl hesitated. He looked at the others. They nodded. “Ok, fine. One more wish each. Make it a good one.” Marcel took the stone first. “I wish for four billion dollars in gold bullion to be in my basement.” The stone glowed, indicating the wish had been granted. “Well, that leaves you well off!” exclaimed Karl. Marcel passed the stone to Ben. Ben mused. “I wish my cousin was cured of his cancer, and that I might be a best selling author.” “That’s two wishes,” Karl noted as Ben handed him the glowing stone. Ben shrugged. Karl stared at the stone and then at Gerard. “I know my wish. I wish that all the things I have done to make me unhappy were put right, and that I might have good health with my family.” The stone glowed again. Karl held the stone out to Gerard. “Do you even want to make a wish?” Gerard nodded. He took the stone in his hands and closed his eyes. From between his fingers the blue light emanated. Gerard held out the stone. Karl clapped his hand on top of it. “Now then, let’s all wish the stone out of existence!” Ben added his hand and, with reluctance, so did Marcel. “We wish this stone to be…” Karl paused. “Annihilated,” suggested Gerard. “Oh! Good word!” Ben nodded. “…annihilated!” Karl finished. The stone trembled in their hands. It flared azure blue before imploding into itself and disappearing with a faint pop. The men’s hands fell to their sides. “Well,” Marcel exhaled. “I guess that’s that.” “Yup.” Ben nodded. They replaced the slab of sidewalk and walked back towards their cars. Karl caught up to Gerard. “Gerry, what did you wish for this time?” he asked. “Hmm?” Gerard looked at him. “Oh me?” he smiled. “Nothing I haven’t wished for before!” Karl smiled. “Ha! I knew it.” He slapped Gerard on the back. “I’ll see you in there!” Karl moved off to his car.
Gerard unlocked his trunk and removed his bowling bag. He thoughtfully put his hand into his pocket. “Gerard! Hurry up already!” Marcel called from the entrance to the bowling alley. “Coming!” Gerard shouted. He removed something from his pocket and examined it. It glowed brightly for a moment. Gerard placed the object in the trunk and turned to the bowling alley, smiling.