This question, so innocuous, definitely produced a response from the genie ahead of me. He stopped dead, spinning around to glare at me. His eyes were wide, and his look was so intense that I took a half-step back before I caught myself.
“Want to be set free??” he repeated, nearly screaming. “Are you freakin’ mad, man?”
Faced with this onslaught, I cowered back. “I saw it in a movie!” I stammered, too terrified to say anything but the truth.
For a moment later, the man glared daggers at me. Then, he took a deep breath, clearly attempting to calm himself. “Ahhhh,” he sighed as he let out the breath slowly. “No, please, please, for the love of God, do not set me free! And don’t even joke about that!”
I was confused. “Wait, you don’t want to be set free? Why not? Isn’t this a burden on you?”
The genie opened his mouth to reply, but then paused, wagging a finger at me. “I’ll tell you after you make a wish,” he replied.
Right. A wish. I had three, right, so it was okay if this one wasn’t perfect? I racked my brain. But something made me pause. “What about phrasing?” I asked. “Are you going to always grant it in some twisted way?”
The genie threw up his hands. “No!” he all but shouted. “Just wish! I just want them over and done with – I’m not going to waste time screwing them up for you!”
I didn’t know if I could trust the man, but what other option did I have. “Okay,” I began. “I’d like to never have to worry about money again. Just have, like, a trillion dollars someplace. No one knows, but I can just pay for whatever I need without ever thinking about it.”
“Oh, you humans,” the genie chortled, more to himself than to me. “Always thinking about money.” He raised his hand and snapped his fingers. “Granted.” And a moment later, he handed me a black credit card.
“Okay,” I said, after tucking the card away carefully. “Now, why don’t you want to be free?”
We had come to a bus stop, and the genie took a seat on the empty bench. He looked up at me for a second, waiting until I sat down next to him. “Look, this isn’t my world,” he said. “And I don’t even know all the details of this whole ordeal. Our universe is entangled with yours, or something like that, so occasionally we get yanked over from ours to yours. And not to put too fine a point on it, but yours sucks.”
I wasn’t sure if I should be offended at this slight to our universe. I mean, it wasn’t terrible! But the genie was still talking.
“And anyway, when we come over, we’ve got a bunch of energy buildup, that we figured out we can discharge through wishes,” he continued. “So that’s where the wishes come from.”
“But you don’t want to be free because…”
“…because if you wish that, it discharges all the energy – but uses it to bind us to this universe!” the genie finished my sentence, a little heat in his words. “And really, all I want to do is get home.”
I nodded. I could understand that. I felt as though I’d been trying to get home for far too long.
After a long minute of silence, the genie clapped his hands down on his knees. “Anyway,” he said, finally breaking the quiet.