Short Story – Three Wishes
Why is the number of wishes traditionally three? I can think of exceptions, of course – stories where there is one wish, or unlimited wishes so long as you hold possession of a certain artifact. Perhaps it’s just that three wishes allow space in a story for mistakes, and trying again.
The djinn was white – white skin, white hair, white eyes. White as chalk, or as smoke. His loincloth was gray, or appeared that way. No mere fabric could look truly white against the djinn’s utter lack of color.
“Greetings, seeker, and welcome. By your journey here, you are granted three wishes.”
Addan swallowed nervously and cleared his throat, but his voice still cracked when he spoke. “I want you to bring Myrdri back from the dead.”
“You have the body?”
He nodded to the long package he had carried all the way to the djinns’ mountain domain, well wrapped against insects and elements. The djinn waited, motionless, so Addan hurried to unwrap his beloved’s body, trying to ignore the smell of decay as she was revealed. “This is her,” he said, when the djinn still did not move.
The djinn clapped his hands softly. A moment later, the body gasped, writhed, and lay still. “Of the three, two remain,” the djinn intoned.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” Addan grasped him by the shoulders and shook, before some unseen force pushed him away, leaving him standing by Myrdri’s corpse again. “What. Happened,” he demanded.
The djinn appeared unconcerned, with either the failure or Addan’s anger. “The body was reanimated, but was too damaged to continue,” he said.
“Well, then heal the body!”
The djinn clapped softly. “Of the three, one remains.”
Addan looked down, and there she was. Instead of a shrunken, rotting corpse, she looked like his Myrdri again. He smiled the gentle smile she always said she loved and stroked a hand down her cheek. The skin was soft, firm… cold.
He felt the smile twisting, and couldn’t keep himself from backing away in horror. This was worse than the corpse, worse than the brief tortured motion of the first wish. This was the night she died all over again, when the thought that he might be wrong, that she might still wake, had tormented his waking and dreaming mind. “She’s still dead,” he choked out, though a mourning keen threatened to break through instead of words.
The djinn was untouched by Addan’s reeling emotions. “The body is healed,” he said.
“Bring her back to life!” Addan shouted.
The djinn clapped his hands softly. “Three sought, three granted,” he said.
The newly healed body inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled. When Addan crept forward to touch hand to cheek again, the skin was warm against his fingers.
“Oh, Myrdri, Myrdri,” he murmured, clutching her tightly to his chest. “Myrdri?”
He looked up at the djinn, who was already walking away. “Wait! Why does she not wake?”
The djinn looked back at him with those disturbing white eyes and smiled. There was nothing nasty or cruel about the way the djinn’s features shifted, but a chill ran down Addan’s back nonetheless. “My power is of this world, as is that body. The body lives. The soul is not my concern.”
“No!” Addan shouted. “I told you to bring her back!”
The djinn just smiled, showing perfect white teeth set in white gums behind white lips. The grin mesmerized Addan, drawing in all his attention so that the rest of the world – and the rest of the djinn – seemed to fade away. Then he blinked, and when he opened his eyes again the djinn was gone.
“No,” he whispered, then shouted his denial to the sky. “NO!!!”
He looked around, but there was no sign of the djinn, no sign of hope. He looked to the body – breathing, warm, but still just a body without Myrdri’s vibrant spirit to animate it. So close, and yet so, so far from his goal. Finally, he sat on a rock and rested his head in his hands and cried. “What do I do now?” he moaned, “what do I do?”
Finally, though, the chill of the air pierced the bleak distraction of his disappointment, and when he shifted, his legs felt numb from the cold stone he sat on. He stood and paced, swearing at the pain and his own stupidity, but that couldn’t last either. He stretched, and sighed, and looked back to the living body before him. “I do what I’ve always done, right Myrdri? Keep going.”
In the last light of the day, he set about the practical work of keeping them alive through the night, starting a fire and rigging a windbreak. Finally, he snuggled up to the unresponsive body, sharing his blankets and his body heat to keep it warm and living.
“Right, my love?” he said, much as he had spoken to her corpse on their journey here. It comforted him, even though he knew she wasn’t here and couldn’t hear him. “This just means our quest isn’t quite over yet.”
He stroked her cheek again, thinking about the months in which he had carried her mutilated, decaying body on his back. “We’re further along than we were, at least,” he said. “Your body’s healed, and living. No sign of the fever that killed you, or the damage you took in our travels.”
He gnawed on a bit of jerky while he stared into the crackling flames, thinking now of tomorrow, and how to bring them closer to his goal. “We’ll head back to the market at Saala, find that seer who told me the way here. Maybe she’ll know of someone with power in the next world, who can call you back.”
His fingers laced with hers, savoring the contact and the warmth of her skin. He smiled as he dozed off, dreaming of happier days to come.