“You have one wish left.”
Charlie looked around, bewildered. He remembered the beach. He remembered finding the bottle and … he remembered the genie. “One wish?… left? … What do you…?”
The genie smiled politely. “You are entitled to three wishes. You have used two wishes. You have one wish left.”
“…” Charlie opened his mouth, as if to speak.
“And…” The genie continued. “One of the conditions is that you will not remember what you have wished for. After this wish you will be returned to your life uncorrupted by the experience of gambling with a genie, though with all the benefits you have bestowed upon yourself.”
Charlie took a moment to mentally digest this.
The genie was very patient (as genies tend to be – they have aeons of practice).
“So… I can’t know what I’ve already wished for?”
“What you know is what you know.” Replied the unflappable genie.
“But how… what should I…?” Charlie waved his arms as though weighing up invisible options.
“That is entirely up to you.”
“But how do I know what I’ve already wished for? What if I wish for the same thing? What if I already wished for the same thing twice?”
The genie smiled. “Wishing for something twice will not negate it.”
“But… I would have wasted a wish. Maybe I will have wasted two wishes! If I only get three wishes I want them to count!”
“Consider it this way. You now have one wish. You get one wish. Whatever you wish for will be realised. Please make your wish.”
“How can I if I don’t know what I’ve already wished for?”
“Isn’t one wish enough? It must be better than none.”
Charlie stared at the genie but couldn’t read anything beyond his charming exterior. He nodded solemnly. “What would I have wished for? What could I have wanted? Would I have realised when I began wishing that I wouldn’t remember?”
“I explained the conditions to you at the outset. You told me you understood and proceeded to make your first wish. Prior to your second wish I again explained the conditions. Again, you indicated that you understood.”
“If only I knew what I had asked for. Could you tell me?”
“Is that your wish?”
“What? No! What good would that do? I’d know and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.”
“I assure you, the condition is there for your own benefit. You will not want to remember. It is the end effect that matters, not the process whereby you achieve it. Please make your wish.”
“Ok. Let me think.” Charlie sat down in the sand and placed his chin in his hands. The genie continued to float and smile abstractly.
“So what should I wish for? I could wish for money. That’s an easy one. They say money doesn’t make you happy, but I’d like to give it a try.” He looked at the genie for feedback. The genie just remained in mid-air and smiled. “But money can be spent. Not everything can be bought. And I only get one wish. Health is more important. What about immortality? Is that… can I even wish for that?”
“But that’s not my wish! Not yet. I’ll tell you when I’m ready.”
“Of course.” The genie gave no indication of being in a hurry.
“But would that end up being a curse? All these stories you see with miserable immortals. And what if you still deteriorated but couldn’t die? I don’t know, it seems risky. What about superpowers? Could I wish to be able to fly? Or be incredibly strong?”
“But I still don’t know what my first wishes were. Maybe…” Charlie frowned, pushed his hand out in front of his face and concentrated. Nothing happened. “No. Maybe, if I worked this out before, maybe I knew that to make the most of the three wishes I would have to wish for three different things, so I would have worked out what the three most important wishes would be and then wish for them in order. So I should go for the third most important wish now.” He looked up at the genie who just smiled serenely back.
“But I don’t know what those are. So I probably wouldn’t have known then. If only I’d come prepared. You know, have a list of wishes numbered and ready to go, just in case. But I reckon only crazy people do that. Or people with too much time on their hands. … How about time? Can I control time, like time travel?”
“If that is your wish. You had best be specific though.”
“Yeah. I’m a bit worried about being tricked here. I don’t know whether to trust you or not.”
“I assure you, I am merely a facilitator. You are in charge of your decisions.”
“A facilitator? What do you get out of this? Can you grant your own wishes?”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“Would you like to?”
The genie gave a broader grin. “I do not have the same drives or desires as you. I cannot explain. I have no need of wishes.”
“Could I…” This time Charlie broke into a broad grin, his eyes sparkled with triumph. “Could I wish for more wishes?”
The genie did not react.
“Is that against the rules?”
“No. However, there would be conditions.”
The sound of the last word caused Charlie to shiver. “Why conditions?”
The genie floated a little closer. “There are certain limits at play here, not rules per se, but certain practical restrictions that we cannot transgress. For instance, if you wished the extinction of the universe it would be so, however in the same instance the paradox would resolve itself and reality would resume with but one unremarkable absence.”
“… You mean me?”
“That is correct.”
“So, what I try to do gets done to me?”
“That was a very particular case. There is a balance to be maintained but you can certainly benefit from your wishes.”
“So what would happen if I wished for more wishes?”
“You would get more wishes.”
“And the conditions?”
“You would be forced to respect the limits. But this is also true of three wishes, or one wish.”
“And by ‘forced’ you mean…?”
“Any wish is enacted immediately.”
“And I wouldn’t be able to remember what I wished for?”
“That is a condition.”
Charlie stood up. He paced up and down the beach, staring at his feet as he walked. And at the footprints in the sand.
After a moment he stopped and looked up at the genie. “How long have I been here? … Have I…? …Am I trapped in an endless loop?”
Charlie gave a sigh of relief.
“You – have only existed for 3 minutes.”