Sal Guzman skipped breakfast to walk along the beach with his aunt Clara clutching his elbow. She wore a blue, flower-print sundress, and slung a shiny black purse over her shoulder. She moved so slowly, Sal could count every fragment of seashell, piece of driftwood, and butt tattoo along the way.
“It’s very nice of you to walk with me, Salvador.”
Sal chomped at the bit to join his friends for some hang gliding, cliff diving, and pudding shots. He was ‘the Goose,’ after all. They can’t go on an adventure without the Goose. “I’m always glad to spend some time with my favorite aunt.”
“I’m your only aunt, silly.”
“I know. And you make me wish I had more.”
“Can you take the one you have to the steakhouse later?”
“Of course.” She would undoubtedly invite seven friends, and, although she could afford it, she never paid, so the evening was bound to cost Sal a couple hundred.
Aunt Clara glowed as Sal directed her up a little to avoid getting her feet wet in the breaking waves. The ebbing tide revealed red and gold sparkles in the sand.
“Hey, Aunt Clara. Here’s something.” Sal dislodged her hand and dug into the sand. He hooked his finger on a handle and pulled out a lamp, much like the one in the Aladdin cartoon, decorated with rubies and emeralds.
“It’s filthy, Salvador. Put it down.”
“It could be worth something.”
“Tut. You’re just like your father.”
Sal’s father died when he was eight, a happy man in his memories, so when Aunt Clara and his mother said he was like him—which they did constantly—it always kindled a glow inside his chest.
“Hold on,” he said. He chased the ebbing tide to rinse the sand off. Back to his aunt, he offered his elbow. “All right. On we go.”
“It’s dripping all over the place.”
Sal chuckled. “We’re on the beach.” He passed it to the hand of the arm supporting Clara and pulled out his T-shirt, drying the lamp from end to end.
Smoke poured out of the spout, whirled into a cloud, and a genie draped in silky green fabrics appeared in front of them.
The genie bowed. “Greetings, good man. I am Hamuranishev Kaghulinidad. You have three wishes.”
Sal stared, his jaw agape, then laughed. “Aunt Clara, look what we have here. It’s a genie.”
“Oh, posh,” said Clara. “We don’t believe in such nonsense.”
“I know, but it was a pretty good trick, wasn’t it? How’d you do that, man?”
“I am a true genie.”
“Right on, brother.” Sal chuckled and pulled his aunt along.
“Mr. Guzman, I must go with the lamp.”
Sal eyeballed him. “Nice. You got my name from the hotel registry, right? You part of the entertainment?”
“Please make a wish. I beg of you.”
“Ignore him, Salvador. He’s obviously a charlatan.” She scowled at the genie. “Go away. We’re atheists.”
Sal smiled. “Wait a minute, auntie. Let’s have some fun with it.” He faced the genie. “I can wish for anything I want?”
“Within the universal rules, yes.”
Sal nodded with exaggerated motions. “Oh, well. Universal rules. That’s not convenient.” He cocked his head. “Okay. First wish. I wish to speak with my father.” He grinned. “Manage that, pal.”
Hamuranishev waved his arms, smoke surrounded him, then cleared to reveal an apparition walking toward them. When the smoke cleared completely it was close enough to see the features of Sal’s dad.
“Wow. Aunt Clara, are you seeing this?”
“Can’t see a thing, honey. This genie fellow is just a big blob of green.”
The apparition seemed to just notice them. “Oh. Hello, Salvo. You here?” It looked around. “No, I suppose not. Somebody projected me down, didn’t they? How are you son?”
“Who is that?” asked Clara.
Sal furrowed one side of his brow. “You’re my dad.” It came out with a sarcastic edge.
“Yes. Of course.”
“How are you doing… daaad?”
“Nice. Really nice. Just kind of hanging out up here. I’m supposed to go through some training program for the next level, but I’ve been putting it off. I’ve got a few things to learn, I guess. But it’s good. Kind of like our Okoboji trip.”
Sal’s voice grew soft. “I liked that trip.”
“Anyway, they’re calling me, but it was nice seeing you, son.”
“Manamanamashed, you are a cruel man,” said Clara.
“You see that I am a true genie,” said Hamuranishev.
“I’m not buying it,” said Sal. “You could have gotten my dad’s image off the Internet, and researched our family. The rest is smoke and mirrors. I’ve seen better in Las Vegas.” He sucked on his teeth. “Impressive trick, though.”
“It was real. Make your second wish, please.”
“All right. I wish I had all the money in the world.”
“Don’t be greedy,” said Clara.
“That’s against the rules anyway,” said Hamuranishev. “If you had all the money in the world, it would not be money any more. The rest of the world would no longer use it for trade.”
“Fine. I wish I owned a mansion.” He nodded. “Good luck making that happen.”
Hamuranishev waved his arms and smoke surrounded them. When it cleared, they were in the well-groomed front lawn of an enormous mansion, almost a castle, Hamuranishev standing on the edge of a fountain.
“Holy cow.” Sal steadied himself. “You okay, Aunt Clara.”
“I’m fine. What just happened?”
“I don’t know. What the hell did you just do, Hamuranishev?”
“This is your mansion now. Enjoy it.”
Sal took it all in. “You hypnotized us and brought us here to make it seem that magic transported us. I’ve seen this kind of thing on Derren Brown.”
“It was real.”
“I admit I just about peed my pants, but I’m not convinced. Is Derren part of this? Can I meet him?”
“The deed is in your name.”
Sal squinted. “If that’s true, you’ve got one hell of a bankroll, but there’s nothing magic about having a bankroll.”
Hamuranishev shook his head. “One more wish.”
“Where the hell are we?” Sal asked.
“Northern England,” said Hamuranishev.
Sal had always wanted to live in Northern England, and he wondered how this guy managed to know that, but he’d seen these kinds of miraculous scams on TV, usually with an army of people behind the curtain to dig up info and set up the results. Whoever this guy was, he had a very good team.
“Well, my wallet’s in California, and I’m starving. I wish I could get some fish and chips.”
Hamuranishev waved his arms.
“Oh, I’ll buy,” said Clara.
Sal looked at her stunned, then looked at Hamuranishev. “You are real.”
The genie nodded, smiled, and disappeared along with the lamp.