Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Loopy Looper Looped by Isaac Yu


It's not easy being a genie you know.

I mean sure you get the power to grant wishes, yes you are technically immortal, and occasionally you are called upon to do a catchy song and dance routine. But other than that it's mostly monotony.

Have you ever tried living in a teapot?

Meph (pronounced like the crystal) was one such genie, although 'genie' was a bit of a misnomer. See when you're Mephisto: Lord of Lies, Grand Deceiver, the Prince of Promises, Mister Underverse 1066, you tend to have an awful lot of time to yourself. Hell was a fairly dull and boring affair. There were only so many times you could laugh at Sisyphus before it became a chore and DEATH wasn't any fun to be around ever since he quit smoking. So like all other devils and demons he'd snuck out to the mortal realm. He hadn't started off as a genie. Actually Meph had no idea what a genie was, but that German doctor was rather insistent and before he knew it Meph found himself to be a granter of wishes.

Now there is an art to this wish giving business. A whole load of pomp and ritual and unwritten rules. You couldn't just give them whatever it was they asked for: that was so passé, so unrefined, so last season. Instead you had to lead them along, pre-empt their wish and make it seem as if it was their idea the whole time. You had to give them something, something grand and wonderful and make them happy, because in order to take one must first give. Then when they think all is fine and dandy you pull the rug out from under them and give their wish a slight twist. Well you didn't have to, I mean there were plenty of genies that did act as wish dispensers and oversaw long happy lives but where is the fun in that? Eternity is a very long time and there are only so many books you can read.

So it starts the same way all genie stories start: with our dashing young rube.

Paul stepped out into the glare of a nine o’clock morning and took a sip of his coffee. His beanie was free trade, his jacket came from a thrift shop and his coffee tasted terrible. Soy chai latte or whatever it was that came from beans. He was an alright enough fellow from a distance with his wavy blonde hair and the carefree expression of a surfer who hadn't yet realized he was in shark waters. It was only when you were closer that you started to notice something different. It wasn't the free trade clothes or the arty shoes, it wasn't in the casually slung bag laden with books, it wasn't even in the terrible coffee made out of poor defenseless plants. You see Paul was the rarest type of person stumbling around at nine on a Friday morning. Paul was a man with a plan. And one without a raging hangover, but we'll chalk that up to Dunedin. Binge drinking is a crippling societal problem you know.

You see Paul was in the top 2% of his class in both Law and in Environmental Studies. He was class rep with a near impeccable string of A's on his transcript and a strong extracurricular background in both sports and the arts. But more importantly people: that being his professors and parents, seemed to think he knew what he was doing. Paul was destined to graduate valedictorian and swoop onto the political scene. He was the rising star that would rain down meteorically onto the foundations of the old and sweep them away in a firestorm of impassioned change and revolution. The hero Gotham would have liked to have if they hadn't blown up the other one.

Paul finished his terrible coffee and conscientiously tossed it into the paper recycling bin. The paper recycling bin, having never been used before and not quite too sure how to react, gave a surprised yell. Paul raised one of his eyebrows. His last surprise party hadn't been much fun.

"I said ow." the paper recycling bin echoed.

Paul, who was an otherwise rather intelligent and world experienced person, continued to raise one eyebrow higher.

"Oh you're no fun."

Meph rose out of the paper recycling bin with dramatic flair. He'd been practicing that one all week. It was a little bit off.

Paul now gave a startled yelp and took a few steps back before recovering his composure.
"What are you?"

"The ghost of Christmas Past," Meph fired back, a bit put off by Paul's matter of fact tone.

"I don't celebrate Christmas."

"Seriously?"

Paul remained deadpan, "Yep."

"Hanukkah?"

"Nope."

"Kwanza?"

Paul raised one of his eyebrows again.

"Easter?"

The eyebrow remained firmly raised.

"Black History Month?"

Paul took out his phone and glanced at the time.

"Man," Meph muttered, "and I thought Faust was a killjoy."

Paul tapped his foot impatiently.

"Okay fine I'm a genie okay, happy now?"

Armoured in rationality Paul refused to let the penny drop.

"None of this ringing a bell?" Meph was getting more and more flustered, "three wishes, anything your heart desires, Aladdin?" Meph still hadn't the faintest idea what a genie was but Disney had a bit of a monopoly in Hell as one would imagine.

"Prove it."

Meph contemplated lighting the insolent mortal on fire. The proof after all is always in the pudding.
"Tell me what you desire and I shall make it so." Meph worked hard to keep a subservient tone.

Paul paused to consider this, decreasing his chances of winding up as a long pork pudding.

"World peace," he said with an earnest and sincere face. A lesser demon would have burst out laughing and ruined the illusion. Meph launched into a coughing fit to disguise the tears streaming down his face. He never claimed to be great.

"Your wish is at my command," Meph snapped his fingers together and vanished in a puff of smoke.
Paul remained unimpressed. "This proves you're a genie because...?"

A voice echoed out from the paper recycling bin, "It's world peace mate not a bloody mountain of gold, give it time."

Paul shrugged and walked off to attend his 10 a.m. law lecture.

Over on the other side of the globe strange things were taking place.

The men, women (and robots) standing watch at the Korean DMZ all let out a gasp (except for the robots which hadn't been given gasping capabilities yet). The 38th Parallel was usually home to stern faced men with guns and sterner faced explosives buried in the ground. While the latter were still there the scary looking Communist soldiers had thrown down their guns and instead were out picnicking. There would be the occasional explosion as the would-be picnickers found themselves stepping on a mine but that did not appear to stop them. The forward observation posts were overwhelmed by midday.

Captain Richards was the tough no nonsense sort of soldiering type the brass loved to throw at tense situations like this. He had seen action in Panama, Grenada and in both of the Gulf Wars without raising a sweat. The men under his command hadn't been so lucky. He had a long illustrious list of medals and commendations including the silver-star for his bravery under fire and a purple heart for accidentally being run over by a humvee. His wife had also eloped with a doctor and taken all of his life savings but he didn't know about that yet.

"Sir," a fresh faced GI ran into the command bunker, "we have reports that the Communists are mobilizing."

Captain Richards had spent hours in the mirror perfecting such an expression for this occasion. Jaw firmly clenched, eyes blazing, lips drawn tight together. He liked to call it the Bismarck.

"How many?"

"It appears to be a complete mobilization." The fresh faced GI was too busy thinking about his lack of facial hair. The other privates all called him baby-face. He was hoping to go to war with at least the slightest hint of stubble.

"My God."

"Sir the rest of the report also indicates that... uhh..." he cut off, embarrassed.

Captain Richards turned with sufficient slowness to add more gravity and tension to his glare.

"The enemy appears to be picnicking sir."

"Picnicking?" He made it sound like a death threat.

"Yes sir, picnicking."

Captain Richards took in a deep breath. He had anticipated human wave attacks. His reports had briefed him on the fanatic soldiers of the Democratic People's Republic and the devastating power of the massed bayonet charge. He had nightmares of their artillery lighting up all at once and raining hell fire from the skies. The professors at West Point had drilled into his head the lessons of the First Korean War and the importance of fluid defensive lines. Nothing had prepared him for this.
His voice rang with graveled brass tones, "Contact Subway."

 <><><>

Paul stepped out of his law lecture with the niggling feeling that something wasn't quite right. That strange sensation that maybe you were about to walk into a darkened room and everyone would jump out and yell surprise! There could even be balloons and cake and a little banner. Paul hated surprises. A gaggle of his fellow students were clustered around one of the information computers and were all talking excitedly.

"Kim Jong Un has stepped down."

"It's about damn time!"

"The Syrian government is letting the UN intervene."

"There's even talks about outlawing drones."

Paul paused to knock on wood. He tried pinching himself as well for good measure. More and more students were walking over to see what all the fuss was about and the excited snippets of conversation only grew louder. Gone were the thoughts of legal case studies and the piles of homework he'd have to do for his assignments. His free trade beanie struggled to contain his superluminal thoughts racing out a thousand miles a minute. He could change the world. Scratch that, he HAD changed the world. He was the lucky individual who had brokered peace between every nation. He was a hero, a historical figure to be forever immortalized. Look upon my works ye mighty and have a nice day. Paul excused himself from the excited group of students and did what no person in the history of man has ever done. He ran toward the paper recycling bin.

Meph sat alone inside a paper recycling bin and hummed a little ditty while he waited. There wasn't much else to do inside a paper recycling bin so Meph had taken to coming up with song parodies. His latest hit was inspired by Buble:

I know some day that it won't turn out
Cuz I'll work to work you up
And I promise you kid that I'll take so much more than you get
Mmmm, I'm just not a Mephhead yet.
Ooooh promise you kid that I'll take so much more than you get mmm.
I'm just not a Mephhead yet.

Meph had an unspoken agreement with DEATH to get him Buble's autograph when he finally croaked. He hadn't been so excited for a musician's early demise since Sinatra. Little did he know WAR had already called dibs on Buble. There were talks of reforming slavery in Hell but nothing had gone through yet.

There was the unpleasant sensation of having a paper coffee cup unceremoniously dumped on top of him but Meph wasn't too fussed. He was still stumped on figuring out the lines for his next great work. Schutzstaffel was a tricky word to rhyme.

"H-hello?" Paul whispered to the paper recycling bin, "Are you still there?"

It must have made an odd sight for the average person strolling by. Meph decided to savour just how awkward it must have made him feel. Schadenfreude is one of the small pleasures in life.

Just as Paul was turning to leave and recall his senses, Meph sprang up from the paper recycling bin with a lot of pomp and flair and the odd whizz-bang thrown in for good measure.

"We meet again it seems." Meph was determined this time to keep to his persona of the mystical aloof genie.

Paul looked up at him excited. Meph wasn't too sure why the mortal was scowling at him.

"You're real, you're really real." Two generations of Paul's English born ancestors turned over in their graves at this butchering of the Queens. The third had been buried in unmarked graves in the Somme and were a bit annoyed at the mori part of the whole dulce et decorum est thing.

"I'm glad you have established this," Meph boomed, waving his hands around.

After recovering from his initial shock, Paul's legal trained mind kicked in, "So what are the limitations of these wishes?"

"Anything you desire, apart from more wishes or for a wish to be reverted." Meph did his best to hide his grin. The trap had been baited and set, all it needed was for a little piggy to wander over and take a bite.

"Actually could I get back to you on those other wishes?"

Meph's suppressed grin dripped off his face like the remnants of Paul's terrible coffee. That was the third shirt in two weeks he'd gotten ruined by hiding in bins. Maybe lamps were the future.

"When you have decided, simply call out my name."

Paul being the rather rude sort, hadn't even bothered to shake his hand or ask for his name. "I'm sorry and that is?"

"Call me Meph (Lord of Lies, Grand Deceiver, Prince of Promises, Mister Underverse 1066, and Genie).” Meph stopped to wonder if he should get around to printing business cards.

Without so much as a by-your-leave or a goodbye Paul turned on his heel and walked off. Meph found himself thinking that life would be so much easier if you could just light people on fire.

 <><><>

Captain Richards glared down at the caterers from Subway.

"You call this a picnic?" He growled.

The lead caterer, who only knew enough English to politely ask where the bathroom was, as well as a lot of inappropriate things he had done with your mother, nodded enthusiastically.

Captain Richards looked over at the tables of soft drinks and sandwiches neatly arranged and sighed. Deep down in his bones he already missed the good old days of shooting your enemy instead of serving him refreshments. He could see the appeal of a shooty-stabby war. What his men thought about the situation was completely irrelevant.

"Alright let them in." He made a violent hand gesture to private baby-face who rushed over to issue orders that all men stand down and report for tea.

The surviving first wave of Communist picnickers gave a triumphant war cry and proceeded to goose step into the mess hall single file. Somewhere in between the first and second level of Hell Josef Stalin woke up in his seventeenth century chateau in a cold sweat.

 <><><>

Paul strode with a new-found sense of confidence. He'd always looked down on the swaggering of all the self-proclaimed 'yoloers' and the cocky strut of the male scarfie. They were so undignified, so crass and crude, what had they done with their life that merited such confidence? Paul instead decided to lead by example and walked with his head held high and not making eye contact with anyone that passed. A busker smiled at him as she played the ukulele. Paul walked past her without acknowledging her presence and heard the sounds of a scuffle coming from the parking lot. While usually not the sort to intervene in the day to day affairs of petty street crime, the fact that it had occurred after he had just established world peace ground against his sensibilities. The worst case scenario was he'd perform a citizen's arrest and write off his good deed for the week. Reality and expectations have a tumultuous relationship at best.

Stepping into the parking lot, Paul saw the culprit pointing a knife at a middle aged woman. Raising his voice as loudly as he could Paul summoned his courage and walked over.

"Hey!" He yelled, a few decibels above his inside voice, "Cut that out!"

The culprit, who aside from this isolated instance of civil disobedience was an alright enough fellow, turned over in surprise. He didn't really want to do this. After all his parents hadn't raised him for eighteen years for him to turn out to be a petty thief. They would have at least expected him to be in some form of organized crime. We must have standards after all.

Paul spread his hands out to show his palms. "Let's just put down the weapon."

The culprit (whose name was James, thank you very much for asking) pointed the knife away from the middle aged woman (who ran as quickly as her varicose veins would let her) and pointed it at Paul instead.

"You look like you've got some money, hand over your wallet."

Paul grimaced, and wished the middle aged woman a minor inconvenience throughout her next few days for dragging him into this. He was a little passive aggressive just in case you hadn't noticed.
"If you put down the weapon we can both just walk away," his voice had returned to its normal volume. "No one will have to press charges and we can just write it off as poor decision making on your behalf."

James didn't quite like Paul's tone. It wasn't his place to judge him (it was the judge's, also Jesus if you were into that) or to look down on him. He was just a not so average Joe down on his luck. For all Paul knew he could be mugging him to buy cancer medication for his dying mother. His mother was fine for the record but that was irrelevant. It was all about the what ifs and the unknown factors and how things are not always what they seem.

"How about you hand over your wallet and then we both walk away?"

Paul disregarded the agitation in James' tone and looked at him with cool contempt. "You realize what you're doing will land you with a prison sentence right?" His earlier fear at the situation had been overwhelmed by the culprit's stupidity. "In fact there is a security camera in the corner watching us."
James didn't quite like people who looked down on him. In fairness most people disapproved of this but James was particularly adamant about it. A man can only take so much before the urge to do something stupid overrides his good sensibilities. Paul, believing that no man in his right mind would stab him in broad daylight, started to move and broke a camel's back. James lunged across the distance and drove his knife deep into Paul's stomach. A great lot of diabetic blood spurted out everywhere, and James left the knife sticking out of his unfortunate victim and sprinted off without looking back. Paul finally understood why people were so annoyed when he walked past them in the same fashion. Blood continued to leak out of him and formed a messy puddle by his feet. Diabetic blood isn't much different from regular blood, just a lot more tasteless. Paul was starting to see little bright spots of light appearing in his vision. There was supposed to be some kind of tunnel as well but there was a lot of road-working going on lately. With one of his precious few breaths Paul gazed up at the ceiling and whispered, "Meph."

Meph, who had actually been watching the entire thing from the security camera, appeared in a flash of smoke. He still couldn't think of anything that rhymed with Schutzstaffel but he felt he was getting there.

"You rang?"

Paul gurgled a lot of blood and tried to form words. "I... don't... want to..." he gave a spluttering cough and blood dribbled everywhere, "die..."

Meph smiled and snapped his fingers.

A great deal of blood continued to exit Paul's body in one form or another. He looked up pleadingly at Meph.

"Your wish has been fulfilled." of course Paul didn't mention anything about not feeling pain. Being stabbed is rather unpleasant for both sides involved and is generally something to be avoided. But I'm sure you know all about that already.

"You didn't mention anything about not feeling pain young master, only that you didn't wish to die."

If Paul hadn't lost several standard drinks worth of blood he would he applauded the genie for his legal sensibilities. Of course when one is experiencing a great deal of pain these finer details tend to get lost in translation.

Meph continued to smile. It wasn't so much that he was a sadist, well maybe only a little bit, it was more about the lesson. Sometimes if you aren't nice to people you can get stabbed. It probably wouldn't match up to an after-school special but it was close enough.

Paul who had found himself cursed with immortality with a knife sticking out of him racked his brain for options. The pain was still there, just as loud and as attention seeking as it was before, but he'd summoned up the last vestiges of his willpower for this. He would not be defeated, there is always a loophole after all.

"Make me..." blood bubbles continued to spill out of his mouth, "make me a genie..."

Meph clapped his hands together, magicked a teapot, and scooped Paul's soul into the teapot. Meph still hadn't the faintest idea what a genie was but he knew it involved being stuck inside a very small object for a very long time.

Paul gave a scream of anguish and rage that made the teapot rattle around. Meph put the teapot into his pocket and strolled down the road to the nearest thrift shop, whistling a little ditty as he walked.

 <><><>

Captain Richards took another bite of his sandwich and gave a deep sigh. All around him the men and women of the 38th Parallel were hobnobbing with the enemy. He was at least glad the robots were still on his side. Long lost cousins and family members hugged and shed tears at their reunification and the room was filled with joyous singing. He'd never been one for small talk. In his eyes small talk was for small people, he was a soldier and a patriot dammit! He was destined for great things and to write his name into the history books with the ink of glory. Peace was for suckers and hippies who would go on unnoticed. One of the long lost cousins came to the realization that the reason they were estranged was because the other was a bit of a dick and threw a BLT. Private baby-face took a Communist sandwich to the face and went down in a storm of lettuce and tomato. There was an uproar of raised voices and in moments bits of food were lobbed across the room like hand grenades. Someone tossed a paper cup toward Captain Richards and he snatched it out of the air, crushing it in his fist. Furious at how few casualties sandwiches made compared to bullets he stomped over to the paper recycling bin and deposited the crushed cup.

"Ow." The paper recycling bin yelled.

Meph materialized in front of Captain Richards with a malicious grin.

It had been a while since he'd incited a war.




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