The morning after, everyone was still here but not as how they came.
Jynx was nestled in the left cup of someone’s bra, flung awry and dangling from the ceiling fan. Due to an influx of runaways lately, him and Nesta came late and shot back the liquor early. He was an orange tabby, mewling in his sleep, and Nesta was a pale rat snake, beginning at the couch and ending behind the granite bar. The line of her body was a golden em dash, her patchwork of scales stretching with every drowsy sigh.
Across the wall, CONGRATS, GINNY, dangled sideways while the other half, YOU’RE FREE was trampled on the floor in purple letters and ribbon. I tiptoed to my room, stepping in sync with Jynx’s purrs. Behind the bar, Nesta’s triangular head lay half in, half out of a bowl-sized wine glass. Humid air from her slanted nostrils sent gales across leftover Merlot. The glass was a tacky gift from Bill’s mother, Mrs. Zadinski, who had handed it over unwrapped and then threw her head back and cackled at some joke about one glass of wine a day. With her clacking her chili pepper nails against the bowl and her spearmint gum hanging from the underside of her molar, I was too distracted to understand. Jynx and Nesta erased her and Bill’s memories before implanting new ones. After three years of Bill as my assignment, it was strange to see him on his way. The door was still open a crack when my apartment squealed, celebrating my brief freedom before another random assignment.
Some of my bedding was missing and my trash bin was upside down. The fee for crossing the beige battlefield was navigating my things: travel guides to Thailand and other people’s things: a silver bullet, red-bottomed heels (only the left), and a crusty washcloth. By the trashcan was Bill’s parting gift: a stuffed monkey in a top hat and monocle frame. three years it took for him to decide three wishes and he couldn’t even gift me the boardwalk’s prized gorilla. The one cradling the banana. I yanked my yellow rain boots up until my toes jammed into the ends.
I huffed past Nesta in the kitchen and the werewolf stripper, passed out cold in my bathtub. Jynx’s cat tail brushed my head like a noose and despite my best efforts, the thick wood of the apartment door screamed with an incoming burst of summer breeze. The brass handle was ripped from my fingers and the whole thing slammed into the drywall leaving a crater of fissures and veins. Near the wallpaper, my doorstopper was missing. Who steals a doorstopper?
I forced a shaky breath into my chest and wiped last night’s eyeliner away. The parking lot palms rustled and the community pool shone brown in the morning light. Apartment 4B popped his balding head out and squinted. I waved good morning.
He rolled his eyes and slammed his door, crackling the burgundy paint. I sighed and left behind my boot-shaped imprints in the straw WELCOME mat. Unplanned and directionless, I found myself down Bill’s frequented path. Somehow, beyond the spaces of his shadow, today’s primary-colored umbrellas were brighter as if they’d been cleaned or replaced. Even the morning mist sat less mysterious around joggers with labradoodles tied to their hips. Happy and his ice cream cart stood out in sharp detail.
The old man stood tall despite his jagged spine. His cart was parked on the last broken tooth of Binkie’s Boardwalk and when he saw me, he wiped his wrinkled hands down his white apron and waved me over. My boots squeaked on the same rusted nails I’d walk up and down while waiting on Bill to finish at the arcade, then Voodoo Hotdog, then the Smoke Shop. Harry assembled a tower of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream, cradled in a waffle cone. A gull jumped from its light pole perch, joining a friend performing flips in the air.
“No boyfriend today?” Happy asked.
Rule number forty-one, genie subsection twelve-F: genies were by no exception allowed to have romantic relations with anyone of the non-magic community.
“Bill was not my boyfriend,” I snipped. A lonely breeze ruffled my dress, making me shiver.
Happy didn’t seem to notice for he was now beaming. “Good. You could do better.”
Happy made a face. “Absolutely.”
Everyday, we chatted while Bill scarfed down three years of two-dollar hot dogs, eternally mulling over his three wishes.
“We were… something like coworkers.”
Happy nodded, but crossed his arms and raised his brow. For a second, I thought he’d ask questions but he didn’t press further, just waved a fly away and clapped his hands.
“Let me get you another scoop, Allison. You thirsty at all?”
I blinked. Right. Allison.
“I’m fine. Thank you, Happy.”
Modern Magic Council rule number twelve: magical beings were banned from sharing their real names with humans. Allison was given to me after being assigned to Bill by the Council’s lottery system. The name always felt awkward in my ears, like background noise I could never recognize, but something about the way Happy said it, familiar and clear, made the acting role more like an alternate reality and version of me. Allison: free to dump all the Bill Zadinski’s, take strolls under the July sun, and disregard wishes to be granted.
Another seagull launched into the sky, but this one dropped a wet stain of white on Happy’s shoulder. He wiped it off with a ripped towel then sanitized his weathered hands.
“Must be my lucky day,” Happy said.
Down the boardwalk, a pack of kids rolled in the hot sand, trading toys and decorating castles with seashells and four-dollar flip-flops.
“Don’t you have children, Happy?”
Usually, I did not know humans this long, so I wasn’t one to pry, but there was a warm smile on his face and his grey eyes were settled somewhere else. He repositioned his hat and nodded. “Children and grandchildren. Love all those guys.”
He pulled out an old flip phone and clicked through his pictures. With a slight tremor in his hands, he pointed to a woman with laugh lines pronounced by a severe and skinny face. “That’s my girl, Ainsley,” he frowned at the screen, “she’s been better, but you’d never know.”
“Oh.” I looked down at my ice cream. “Happy, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Her momma beat it. Ainsley will too.”
Boardwalk nails rattled as a barefoot, shirtless boy broke from the clan. He fished arcade tickets from his pocket and handed the wet clump to Happy. Snot dripped down the boy’s nose and into his gap-toothed smile. It reminded me of Jynx every time he transformed into an animal he was allergic to—guinea pigs, dogs, cats—he’d wipe his nose on the back of his hand. Happy passed the boy two vanilla cones of rocky road and one second, shorts with orange flames were there darkening the wood boards in sea water, and the next second, they were gone.
The old man looked up, his eyes wrinkling in the sun. The Blizzard Beach Café was opened and out from it poured pop music to mingle with bird squawks and the waves beating against the shore.
“If you had three wishes, what would they be?”
Just from asking my ankle monitor sent an electric current of pain from my boots and up the back of my calf. Happy removed his faded hat and bent the bucket shape inwards, wringing out a lifetime of thoughts.
“Interesting question,” he tilted his head, “first, I’d like for my little girl to get better.”
It was illegal to alter a human’s physiology. Too many cases of vengeful exes the Council had to resolve. Many genies were punished despite simply following their contracts.
“Is there anything you want?” I emphasized.
He put his elbow on the edge of his cart.
“Maybe sell this old thing. Take the grandkids to Disney.”
That wish was easier, but I was prohibited from granting them without an assignment. Still, three years had been yanked from me and all my magic conjured was an unlimited supply of andouille sausages, a toy 1967 corvette, and an ergonomic gaming chair for Bill’s sciatica.
I finished the last of my waffle cone and brushed my hands together. Bill Eugene Zadinski sucked three years from me, squandering my powers. Come on. Do this Ginny, but do it fast. I yanked extra napkins from the tin dispenser to dab the sweat from my neck and wipe the eyeliner running down my face.
“Here,” I handed Happy a large purse conjured from behind my back. “For my ice cream.”
Happy frowned. He took the purse, separated the opening, and his jaw dropped.
“Allison, no,” he stuttered. Like a landmine was inside, he shook his head and pushed the bag back at me.
But I’d already conjured up all my savings from the Magical Money Management Credit Union. Technically, I wasn’t breaking any rules. I printed no money, each bill was branded with official serial numbers. No wishes were granted, I was just paying for the ice cream I’d consumed. Plus tip.
I moved the bag back into Happy’s arms.
“Allison, I can’t take this, whatever you’re doing—”
“If anyone asks, I just bought ice cream. Okay?”
Happy was shaking now, so I placed my hands on his shoulders.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
Modern Magic Council rule number seven, subsection three-A: ungoverned wishes and misuses of magic are the highest crimes a genie can commit. Such infractions are punished accordingly by the bylaws of the Department of Magical Security.
“Go see Ainsley. Take your grandkids to Disney. Have some ice cream.”
Happy looked down then back up, his washed-out grey eyes matching the storm brewing over Binkie’s Boardwalk. A violent gust inverted the ice cream cart’s umbrella and my ankle monitor was bursting with timed notes of electricity, alerting the Council of my location.
Still, I gritted my teeth and shifted in front of the ice cream cart, corralling Happy to step away. Tears welled in the corners of my eyes. I nodded everything was okay, but behind my back I grasped the ice cream cart for support.
Happy looked to the sky, stretching the skin of his neck. The dark clouds cast worry over his face, but when he looked back at me, clutching the black leather bag, he looked unsurprised. Like he knew what I’d done, but felt conflicted over the consequences.
“Thank you, Allison,” he whispered. We shared a twin look of farewell and gratitude. Then he ducked into the Blizzard Beach Café and only his faded hat was visible in the corner of the window.
Above, seagulls dove to seek cover. The beach was emptied of gap-toothed children and a blinding branch of lightning slapped the horizon. From the Blizzard Beach Café, two lean figures in trench coats emerged from around the corner. They wore circular shades to mask the weeks of overtime and one night of heavy drinking at my apartment. Nesta stumbled into a wire table. Half her cheek was marigold diamonds of snake skin, wicking rainwater down her blouse. Jynx grabbed her elbow but then dropped it to cover his face. He sneezed and wiped leftover cat hair on the back of his hand.
My friends saw me, but not Happy. They leaned forward, queasy and pale in the face, but I was already turning on my heel. I bolted down the rickety boardwalk, straight into the zeal of an uninhibited storm. Heavy footsteps and the uneven pokes of rain on umbrellas chased me, disoriented me, but still I sprinted. Sticky tendrils of hair webbed across my forehead and my summer dress was soaked to ice. And yet, a slaphappy laugh bursted forth. Planned and with direction, I ran into the storm just thinking: how lucky of me to have put on rain boots.
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First off, how can a rat snake fit into a bra cup? How big was the bra cup and how long the rat snake? You didn't put hardly any information into your story about the characters involved. Where did the snake come from? No descriptions at all except for the paleness of Jynx. I really didn't understand the story much. So sorry!
There's a lot going on here. Made it a little hard to get into until she has the conversation with Happy. Overall, a good use of the prompt. She has rules to follow and she has to deal with the consequences when she breaks them. I like the loophole she uses to help the guy.