The Genie

My name is Dr. Buckminster Ourman, Ph.D., MA, BFA, MS, JD, LLC, TP, WC, MGM, WTO, IDIOT, pronounced “Ourman”. I’m the Anders Flanders-Sanders Professor of Comparative Correlation at Flotsam University. I was relaxing one Sunday morning with my coffee and a copy of the Big City Tribune Gazette Times Post News Sun Journal. Having read the Violence, Corruption, and Sports sections, I moved on to the classified ads. Let’s see.

“For sale: Slightly used coffin in good condition. All stains and odor removed professionally. Glad Uncle Dave is well, but need to recoup costs of remodeling his home into a combination strip club, casino, and wing joint. Interested parties respond to this ad. Uninterested parties come to Terry’s and get saucy!” Hmm, every part of that sounds risky. What else?

“Missed connection. You: attractive woman, 30s, blond. Me: roguish man, hirsute, fun-loving. I saw you on the subway and tried to say hi. You had headphones in, so you must not have heard me. I waved, but your book was blocking your face. I tried signalling my intentions with crude hand gestures, but you happened to turn to face the window. I tried yelling what I’d like to do to you and thought I saw you react with a flinch, but you must have just had a chill because you made no response. Reply to What’s Personal Space? c/o this newspaper.” Gross. What’s this?

“For sale: Dirty old pair of men’s underwear. Could have been owned by famous celebrity or powerful business tycoon. Found in a puddle near the airport, so anything is possible. $1200 OBO.” Intriguing! I might come back to that one. Ah, this looks interesting.

“For sale: Various genuine cursed objects. Come on down to Honest Sal’s Emporium of Darkest Mystery. Palms read, fortunes foretold, animals disemboweled and guts used for augury.” Now this sounds like a good way to spend my Sunday!

I came on down to Honest Sal’s. I got out of the car, looked down, got back in the car, went home, and put on pants. I came back on down to Honest Sal’s and went inside, confident in my attire’s perfect attendance.

The shelves and cases were filled with spooky totems, cracked idols, and mysterious papers. I was looking over some maps of uncharted lands and books written in forgotten languages when Sal came out from the back room.

“Hello, my friend!” he said. “Interested in something dark and powerful, are we? Might I interest you in the favorite eyeball of Nostradamus? Or maybe the lost raiment of King Hadz-na-Kloom is more your style? Or — and I don’t offer this to just any customer, but you look like a serious fan of the occult — maybe the mystic toenail clippings of Aleister Crowley?”

“Oh, I dunno. I’m just browsing.”

“Tell me, what sort of item are you looking for? Something to increase your luck? Or maybe you’re looking for a way to have more vigor?”

“Really? No! No, no. I guess I was just hoping there’d be something here that would really make me question reality and everything I thought I knew. Do you have anything like that?”

“Ah. A connoisseur. Take a look over here.”

He led me to a back corner and moved a pile of boxes out of the way, revealing a door with several locks on it. He unlocked them one by one and mumbled something in a strange, guttural language unspoken by humans. Then, as he gripped the knob, said, “This is one of our best sellers.”

He opened the door and I found myself staring into a psychedelic wormhole in an otherwise black void. An eye opened in the middle of it and a booming voice asked, “Who dares disturb my slumber?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Sal closed the door and locked it. “Well, it doesn’t look like it’s my day. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.”

I thanked him for his time and left the shop. I then went into the store next door, Spooks & Things. There, next to a basket of discounted monkey’s paws with only one or two wishes left, was a rusty old oil lamp with a sign that read, “Inside! Real Live Genie! Fool Your Friends!” I paid the clerk my fifteen cents and took the lamp home.

I rubbed my hands with excitement. Nothing happened. I read the instructions again and realized my problem. I rubbed the lamp with excitement and this time it began spewing mysterious smoke mysteriously! The smoke condensed into the form of a giant man in a turban. The genie!

“You’re a real genie! Wow!”

“Well, I should hope so,” he said. “Otherwise I’d be in trouble with the FTC for false advertising. What can I do for you, my master? You have three wishes.”

“I wish for infinite wishes!”

The genie paused and put a finger to his chin. “Hmm. You know, in my thousands of years in the Genie Corps, no one has ever thought of that. Consider it done. You now have infinite wishes.”

“Fantastic! Well, let’s get the big ones out of the way. I’d like a billion dollars, a fully furnished enormous mansion, and world peace.”

“Done, done, done. Come on, give me a challenge.”

“Wait. You didn’t grant them through some trickery, did you? You didn’t bring about hyperinflation and make a billion dollars the price of a loaf of bread or something or end war by killing everyone on Earth?”

“Nope, nothing like that. Your billion is worth just as much as it would have yesterday and no one died. The mansion isn’t on a sacred burial ground or haunted or anything like that. You’re all good.”

“Wonderful! I suppose I should think long and hard about how to use my other wishes. Mr. Genie — um, do you have a name?”

“Yes, Fred.”

“Okay. Fred, take a break. Relax. Help yourself to whatever you put in the kitchen.”

Weeks passed. I wished for an end to disease, no more poverty, and for all the answers regarding morality and religion to be known and available to everybody. The world was a utopia. No more suffering. No more quarrels over beliefs. Enough food and money for everybody to be comfortable. Everything seemed perfect.

One day, I felt so pleased with my world that I decided to leave the mansion and take a stroll downtown to witness everybody’s non-stop joy firsthand.

“Oh, Fred!”

“Yes, master?”

“I’m going to take a stroll downtown to witness everybody’s non-stop joy firsthand. Do you want to come?”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea, master.”

“Why not? I think it will be delightful.”

“Oh, no. It’s such a bother. Wouldn’t you rather stay here and just watch videos of happy people on the news?”

“I’ve done enough of that. I want to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells of a happy populace! Be back later!”

I got into the car, but it wouldn’t start. I tried the other 38 cars, all three planes, and the jet pack, but none of them would work. I ran to the gate, but it wouldn’t open. I began to suspect something was amiss.

I climbed over the gate and headed downtown. When I found a busy neighborhood, the people didn’t look any different than before. I found someone waiting for a bus and asked, “Isn’t it nice to be free of poverty, war, and all those other problems?”

“I wouldn’t know, bub,” he said. “Everything’s pretty screwed up as far as I can tell.”

That didn’t sound right. I investigated further. I checked a newspaper. War, disease, theft, violence. Nothing was solved at all!

I returned to my mansion and demanded an explanation.

“Well, it’s like this, master,” Fred began. “Solving all those problems without it causing some unforeseen bigger problem is, like, really hard. But changing all the information in here to say it’s been fixed is really easy! You’re rich and happy, so mission accomplished.”

It made a lot of sense, aside from being completely wrong and bad.

“You foolish twerp of a genie! I demand that you grant my wishes as I ask them from now on! Now, what do I want for my next wish? Ah, I know! Seeing as ending violence and fighting is too much for you, I wish to be more powerful than any army.”

“Sure thing, bro.”

Fred snapped his fingers and I immediately felt…well, exactly the same, really. “Did you do the thing? Am I powerful?”

“Yeah, of course! I made you a writer!”

“What!?!? Do you not understand me? Maybe English is your second or third language.”

“It’s my eighteenth, but I understood perfectly. Haven’t you ever heard that the pen is mightier than the sword?”

I blinked a few times. “I guess so, but that’s just a saying. It’s not literally true.”

“Sure it is! Here, I’ll prove it.”

Fred snapped his fingers again and a fearsome knight stood before me. He raised his sword and cut me in half.

Fred looked up from the dictionary. “Ohhhhhh, that’s what ‘literally’ means. My bad.”

With me dead, Fred was masterless and free to do whatever he wanted. He used his powers to take over the world and reigned over centuries of peace and prosperity that formed the foundation of humanity’s expansion throughout the universe. It was the dawn of a truly utopian era with no end in sight. So he can do all that but doesn’t know what “literally” means and he can’t make me survive one fight. Some genie.

The Mystery of the Stolen Grand Canyon

It was the most infamous crime of the early Mesozoic era: the mystery of the stolen Grand Canyon! Early one morning, tourists lined up along the canyon rim to marvel at nature’s splendor, only to find it had all been filled in with dirt. What happened to the empty space that used to be there? The Arizona state police were scratching their heads. After a few rounds with medicated anti-lice shampoo, they got back to work investigating the theft, but to no avail.

That’s where I come in. I’m Detective Lennie Ourman, Grand Canyon Village Police, Special Wonders of Nature Unit, and I had a theory. I believed the canyon was stolen by…thieves. But I had no proof! So I went to vacation police camp. After 43 years of hard work, long hours, and bribing my superiors, my superiors began to take notice.

“Congratulations, Ourman,” the chief said. “You’re being promoted from Detective to Grizzled Detective.”

“Thank you, sir! Now gimme a black coffee stay out of my way.”

“You’re way out of line, Ourman! You’re a loose cannon. Some day you’re gonna get someone killed!”

“Fine. Then I’ll take a cappuccino. Extra foam.”

The station barista backed up a cement mixer and began pouring the foam into my mug. “Say when!” she said.

I like more foam than most people, I guess. It took me eleven years to dig my way out. Not only had the crinminyal’s trail gone cold, but my wife had remarried and I owed $600,000 in overdue library book fees. Things were getting desperate. I decided to try a dangerously unorthodox method to find the crimninalles. I would go to the scene of the crime! I started at the drab flatlands where the Grand Canyon once sat and begin sweeping the area. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so I fanned out across northern Arizona and eventually came to Phoenix.

I checked anywhere someone might hide a giant hole. The University of Phoenix Stadium hadn’t gotten any deeper. The Agua Fria River didn’t have any new waterfalls. None of the surrounding mountains had become volcanoes. The crimininiminals hadn’t come this way.

From Phoenix, I circled back through Arizona and north to Las Vegas. For weeks, I resisted the temptations of sin and focused solely on my investigation. Then, weakness took hold. I could no longer fight the siren song of base pleasure. Dear reader, I’m ashamed to say it, but I abandoned my duties as an officer of the law. For the next eight months I slept all day and spent all night going to magic shows! Oh, the cheap thrills! The dramatic dance music! The awful puns! I had reached a new low.

I knew I’d hit rock bottom one morning as I awoke in a stranger’s hotel room surrounded by interlocking rings and levitating rope, my palms reeking of lighter fluid. I checked myself into a rehab center for magic addicts and began the hard work of learning to live an unprestidigitated life. I came out of it feeling healthier than I had in years, but wary that the lure of magic was something I would always struggle with.

Las Vegas wasn’t showing any results, so I took my investigation in the opposite direction, back through Arizona and into El Paso.

20 seconds later, I turned around and went back to Vegas. Wheeeeeeee!

Fourteen magic-addled months later, I pulled into a Los Angeles motel with no recollection of whose car I was driving or how I got it. All I knew was there were sequins on the floor and a wand in the glovebox.

I checked into the motel and immediately got to work. I talked to local police, food truck drivers, delivery people, bartenders, and geologists. No one had heard of any new large empty spaces in town, but they all pitched their screenplays to me. That gave me an idea.

I rushed to a studio and sold the movie rights to my investigation. We had a lot of great meetings and got Idris Elba attached as the lead, but it stalled out in development over the producer’s fears that there wasn’t enough action to make money in China.

As I signed my NDAs and left my contact info around the studio, the seventh screenwriter to take a pass at the script approached me. She was a sharp, warm woman of color who was getting ready to be a showrunner on a network drama and insisted on an inclusion rider. Hey, that’s awesome! Good for her.

“Hey, Ourman. Too bad about the movie. Most projects never make it to production, though, so don’t let it get you down. Incidentally, you know what’d be a good twist, is if the police, city council, and National Park Service were taking the canyon’s empty space as bribes from a rival canyon organization who filled it in to crush the competition. That’s the direction I would go. Anyway, see you around. Take care!”

I rushed to the airport and bought a first-class ticket on the next kayak back to Arizona. Six years of paddling later, I got back to Grand Canyon Village. I paid a visit to my old partner, Hannah Meyers.

“Hannah! How’s tricks?”

“Why, Lennie! I can’t believe it’s you. You’ve been gone so long, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“I know, I know. I’ve been busy on this Grand Canyon case.”

“Still? Oh, Lennie. The canyon’s history. You’ve got accept it. The whole town has moved on. Whoever filled it in is long gone.”

“I know, but it’s just not right. And I might have it worked out. It’s loose, but it’s a theory. I think a rival canyon’s owners filled it in and paid off some locals with pieces of the hole to keep them quiet.”

“That’s ridiculous. No one would ever believe that. You’re crazy. You’ve been working this case too long. You’re obsessed. You need a break.”

“You really think so?”

“I really do. Hey, why don’t we grab a drink later and catch up? It’ll take your mind off this wacky theory of yours.”

“Maybe you’re right. I’ll, uh…I’ll call you tonight. See ya.”

She closed the door and I started walking the shambling, sagging walk of a defeated man. I was back to square one. I must not have been watching my step because my foot slipped into a gopher hole and I twisted my ankle. As I sat down and rubbed it, I noticed more gopher holes in Hannah’s yard. Hundreds of them.

I leaned over and picked one up. I immediately recognized the striations. These holes all came from the Grand Canyon! It was awfully clever to cut them down to gopher size. But who better than a cop to know how to hide evidence? She’d almost gotten away with it.

I stuck the hole in my pocket and got in the kayak. I rowed straight to the police station and went into the chief’s office.

“Chief! I’ve got a lead on the Grand Canyon theft! I think it’s– Say, has your office always had a 300-foot chasm in it?”

The chief stammered. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the fact that he was now 83 years old. “Oh, um, you, ah, probably never noticed it before. We repainted 26 years ago and it really complements the chasm that’s always been here.”

I peered out the window with my handheld digital peer. “And those sinkholes next to City Hall. Those didn’t used to be there. And that gorge near the ranger station! I recognize that empty space! That up-and-coming Hollywood player was right! Whoever stole the Grand Canyon gave pieces of it to all of you so you’d keep quiet!”

“Ha ha! Oh, Ourman, that’s absurd,” the chief said. “What would I ever do with…I mean, how do you think we…You know, it’s…All right! Put your hands up!”

He stood up and pointed his gun it at me. He was remarkably quick for an 83-year-old. I didn’t even notice him taking the flintlock musket off the wall, loading the muzzle with powder and a lead ball, and stuffing it all down with a ramrod before aiming it at me. “I think we’ve had just about enough of your investigation, Ourman.”

I held my hands up and tried to reason with him. “It’s all over, chief. Why don’t you put the gun down? It’s probably all rusty anyway. If you shoot, it could backfire on you.”

“I’m not falling for that old trick!”

“All right, well, how about this old trick?”

I grabbed the hole out of my pocket and threw it as I ducked behind the desk. He fired, but the hole swallowed up the shot and most of the musket. I pulled out my sidearm and aimed it at the chief.

“I hate to do this, sir, but you’ve got the right to remain silent.”

“I know, I know.”

The chief, the town council, half the town’s police officers, and dozens of park rangers were all sentenced to 40 years for theft and mutilation of a national park. The holes were taken into federal custody and a team of specialists was brought in from the US Geological Survey to reassemble the Grand Canyon. A few pieces had been melted down and sold on the black market, but work has begun to remove the remaining pieces of dirt hovering in the air.

As for me, I’m now the Commissioner. We rooted out the corruption and established an amnesty program where anyone can return stolen pieces of the Grand Canyon, no questions asked. Things have quieted down and I spend most of my time walking around downtown, saying hi to the local business folks and petting nice dogs. I admit, I do enjoy a coin trick now and then, but I avoid the hard stuff. No birds or people getting sawn in half.

I was practicing forcing the three of diamonds one day, when Sergeant Nguyen came into my office.

“Sir! Something’s up at the Meteor Crater!”

“That’s Winslow’s jurisdiction.”

“They’re asking for your assistance, sir. The crater…it’s missing!”

Welp, here we go again!