The dynamics of regular genies in contrast to their masters was much simpler than how Eugene functioned.
Genies had started off as people without any sort of magical abilities, who wandered absently around until a magic-wielder from one of the powerful magic families, like the Katayamas or the Millers, approached them with the strangest job offer they were destined to ever receive.
Being a genie was different from being a magician. Genies weren’t born magicians, with godlike powers running through their veins and a lineage tracing back through the centuries. If they accepted becoming a genie (ten hours a day, five days a week with two weeks off a year) the magician would conduct a ceremony in which most of their power was transferred into the genie. But as a mark of the contract, genies were given two heavy gold bands to wear on their wrists, ankles, ears, or neck. Eugene knew a girl who had fashioned herself a hoop skirt, one ring at the top and the other at the bottom.
It was a way of sharing power to keep a magician in check so they couldn’t harm anyone. Eugene knew the horror stories, had been there for some of them-- a girl in Yugoslavia who killed nearly four hundred at once in a psychic episode she hadn’t realized she’d had until she was staring at their bloody corpses. A boy in Russia who had been responsible for the wildfire that blazed through most of Moscow a few decades ago. Eugene had met the Miller girl whose panic attack caused one of the biggest earthquakes in California’s history. The list went on, as most tragedies do.
So they kept on genies to do their magic for them. Each genie was given a talisman that was carved with the seal of their magic-wielder, the talisman almost always a small gold statue of some sort. The magic-wielder touched the talisman, the genie appeared, and they had three wishes for the entire day. (no more or else tyranny!) The rest of the time, the genie could just waltz around however they pleased, maybe doing some small magic, but there were a lot of limitations on their power preventing them from going insane.
Genies-- a walking outlet.
But Eugene was very different.
First he did whatever he pleased in terms of magic. Try as he might, Yamamoto had not been able to put limitations on his power, and neither could any master before him. The only real limitation was an inability to harm the family he was tied to. Eugene could have been a very good supervillain if not for the pesky lamp that needed only one touch to zoom him back inside.
That was the downside-- the lamp. His prison. On weekends Yamamoto kept him in the cramped, dark space, which no amount of conjuring could make comfortable. He also spent his nights there, and started every morning with Yamamoto’s greasy head inches from his face, teeth eagerly bared to administer his first wishes.
So that was his life as a genie.
The power to control everyone, be anything, but on a short leash. The power to choose who lived or died, but not whether or not he got to stay dead or be reborn, yet again, dragged back to the wretched family the moment another of their children touched his lamp. That stupid, stupid lamp. Try as he might to take it-- and he had throughout his many years of life-- it could only be accessed and used by a member of the family. Freedom was a no in every sense of the word, except if one of them woke up and decided to get to know Eugene a little better, maybe realize how miserable he was and take pity on him. Which none of them had.
He was floating over the highest point of the Shard, smoking a cigarette and brooding over this as he looked out over the city. At some point tonight Yamamoto would touch his lamp and call him back inside, and then he’d wake up tomorrow to the smell of Yamamoto’s hair gel. He really should start requesting more weekends off. At least he’d gotten to spend time in his apartment.
Eugene threw the cigarette into the city below and folded his arms under his chin. He was so wrapped up in a cocoon of self-pity that he didn’t even notice when Alicia appeared next to him with a faint pop.
He dropped the pack of cigarettes over the edge, too. “Jesus!”
She giggled. “Aw, I didn’t mean to scare you! You’re normally impossible to sneak up on.”
“Lucky you,” he said glumly.
She settled herself cross-legged next to him and propped her chin up on her hands.“Brooding? I sensed you up here.”
Alicia’s talent was teleportation, which didn’t mesh well with Eugene’s desire to be alone all the time. She was cheerful and talkative and looked the part-- tiny with waves of blond hair to her knees and the biggest brown eyes he’d ever seen. In their early years of knowing each other, she had liked to tease him in a way that suggested she would also like to kiss him, but he had managed to brush her aside. It wasn’t as though it had been hard, either-- as the genie of one of Yamamoto’s great-aunts, he seldom saw her anyway.
But apparently that had all blown out the window now.
“I wasn’t brooding.” Thousands of years her elder and that was the first thing he could think of to say.
Alicia shrugged, and leaned over to look at his face half-buried in his arms. “I’d understand if you are. Being a genie can be rough. And you’ve worked for this family for a long time.”
She didn’t know how long he had really worked for them, but that wasn’t important.
“I’m not sure why you’re talking to me,” he said coldly.
She flushed a little bit, but didn’t look away. “I like cheering people up or trying to help them. I know you and I haven’t talked for a while, but…” She looked down at the city below them in embarrassment. “But you never seem to talk to anyone.”
“Your bad energy says otherwise.” She waved a hand at him as if trying to brush it away. “You know, it’s fine to be alone, but you’re making it harder on yourself moping all the time. Maybe you need some hobbies!”
“I have hobbies,” he insisted, considering outright telling her to go away. He’d barely had any contact with people in this life. He had been summoned when he was eight-- a little earlier than usual-- and before that, he had completely ignored his parents, probably freaking them out with his perfect mastery of the English language by the time he was two. They tried to make him go to a child psychologist once, but he would put the psychologist to sleep with a cunning little spell and read books the whole time. Eventually his parents had gotten annoying enough that he started using the spell on them too.
Alicia’s tone softened. “I do charity work. I feel like with all this power, we should use it to do something for others, you know?” She looked down at her hands. “Besides, I haven’t seen my family since they kicked me out. It’s nice not to feel lonely.”
Eugene grunted. He’d helped out at animal rescues and things like that in the past, but it had dropped off after a while.
He tried to think of a hobby he had right now that he could brag about to Alicia and get her to leave, but the only thing that came to mind was painting. Except he hadn’t painted for months. He’d painted obsessively a couple lives ago, but the artwork had built up until it completely filled the room his master had given him in the family mansion. Apparently it was good too, because the family sold all of it for huge prices. After that, he’d done little pieces here and there, but the fun was gone-- the work had been cheapened.
So all he said was, “I used to work at Waitrose. I bought my own apartment.”
“Why’d you quit?”
He poked at a button on his shirt and mumbled, “Didn’t feel like it anymore.”
When was the last time he had talked to someone like this, in his state of misery, with no cheerful, snarky walls up around him, no happy-go-lucky attitude? Sometimes he’d be around Kano, coming up with more insulting similes for Yamamoto, and he would think, Do you ever look at me and wonder if there’s more beneath the surface? He felt like one of his paintings that he had painted over again and again, each layer more vibrant and beautiful than the last. It would take a lot of work sanding his way down to the original, which was gray and dark and hungered for an end.
Death sounded so peaceful, like falling asleep. He wondered if it was gray there. He could spend all eternity wandering through silver fields, no magic leaping from his fingertips, no more grief waiting in his dreams. No more godforsaken lamps. No more lists of wishes every day to better the life of Yamamoto Katayama and the family. Serene.
He looked out over the city. Falling was probably peaceful before the hit. Letting go, and all that. Accepting. He rather liked the gray of the city streets below.
“Eugene? Are you listening to me?”
He was brought back into the conversation. He looked at her with some disappointment. “No.”
She sighed and put her hand on his knee. “Seriously. I’m going to ask you again. Are you okay?”
Her eyes were big and soft like a cow’s on his, the freckles across her nose looking like a constellation of the lives he’d led. She was a bit too close, but he found that he didn’t mind. It was nice to be so near to a person that wasn’t a member of the family.
But nobody can get too close.
“Alicia,” he began in the chilliest tone he could, a twinge of guilt in his chest for what he was about to say. “I did not ask you to come up here. I do not need your sympathy, or your help, or your ideas. My problems are none of your business. I don’t like you enough to talk things out with you. Leave me alone, or I’m going to chuck you out there,” he pointed across the sky, “like a goddamn baseball.”
She looked at him sadly.
“Go away.” He held her gaze until she knew he meant it, then her lips pursed together and she nodded. She stood up, her feet balanced in the air as easily as though she were standing on the sidewalk, and looked down at him. “Doing something for other people might help. Really. I have my own stuff too. Sometimes I’m so sad I can’t breathe. But if you try breathing through someone else, it's easier to wake up in the morning.” She disappeared before he could snap at her or fully process what she had said. Eugene groaned, glared at the empty air, and stood up too, his brooding session effectively ruined.
God, he hated people who were so good all the time.
He flexed his hands and a set of golf clubs appeared, along with a small bag of gold balls. He set up a tee in the air, and began to lower a golden ball to it when he hesitated. He looked at it and considered. Then, grumbling to himself and cursing Alicia, he put the ball to his mouth and whispered, “May you find a person with a broken heart and cure it by tomorrow.” It could be a coincidental run-in with an attractive person, a new album released by their favorite singer, even just a lessening of the pain. It would help.
Then he set it on the tee, adjusted his stance, and sent it whizzing off across the city, maybe across the world depending on where it wanted to go. He picked up the next one. Charity work, of a sort.
“May you cure a person of their desire to die, and instead kill the thing inside them that makes them feel that way.”
The little dot of gold ran across the stars like a promise, and he smiled despite himself.
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https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/gnoxq4/ link to part 5