Monday, December 6, 2010

The Magic Lamp

Submitted for Project #11: "Careful What You Wish For"

I wish I never laid eyes on this lamp!

Of course that one won't come true. I'm all outta wishes. The name's Defoe and I'm a thief—at least I was a thief—but not just an ordinary thief. I was a specialist; I dealt in antiques; mostly merchandise that was difficult to move and not just because it was heavy or fragile. It's a very tight market. Any fool can steal and resell TVs or watches but how many buyers can you find for a crown that belonged to a Czar of Russia with a price tag of $75 million? And how do you keep such a sale quiet? First thing everyone asks is 'Where'd you get it?'. “Well, uh, my grandfather was a guest of the Czar and it was traditional in 1914 for the royal family to give away an heirloom to people they entertained at the Winter Palace.” Riiiight.

Most of the customers know the stuff is hot but they've got reputations as fine, upstanding citizens who can't be caught receiving stolen goods so you gotta convince 'em there's no possible way they coulda known. Once you've done that they're happy. You can't beat human greed.

Collectors are the best. They get so obsessed with their collection that they stop asking questions. You got a piece they need? They don't care where it came from; all they care about is how much it'll cost 'em to have it.

One such customer came right to mind as soon as I spotted the Bastard. I'm not talking about the child of an unwed mother here; Bastard is a type of sword also known as a hand-and-a-half. It was developed when people realized the two-handed broad sword was not really useful in battle. Anyone who could move at all could usually get outta its way and it left the holder unable to carry a shield. They needed something they could wield with one hand but would give 'em a two-handed grip when they wanted to deliver that final blow. I had a customer who was specifically looking for one of these. If I was lucky the owner of the shop would think it was just another long sword. I could steal it without actually stealing it.

One look at the price tag killed that hope. I'd haveta get it the other way. The next question was whether it was authentic or a knock-off. As I was looking it over the proprietor of the store started heading my way. I pretended to be very interested in the small brass oil lamp sitting on the mantle shelf just below the sword.

“It's functional.” The old man was smiling like an idiot. “Made of heavy brass. The wick length is adjustable. The opening is large for easy filling and it uses ordinary lamp oil.”

I was glad he was talking about the lamp. Maybe he hadn't seen me checking out the sword. For fifteen dollars I couldn't go wrong. I asked the man to gift wrap it for me, which gave me time to prepare his store for my evening visit. His locks were child's play. There was an alarm, but the wiring was in plain view. No problem. I paid the man for the lamp and went on my way.

♦   ♦   ♦

At 2:00 A.M. everything was dark and quiet. I worked the lock on the front door and slowly pushed it open. Silence. I didn't figure anyone woulda noticed the alarm wire I'd cut earlier, but you never know. My penlight provided just enough for me to avoid tripping over stuff as I made my way across the floor to my prize. I carefully lifted it from the wall.


I didn't need anyone to tell me what that was. “How long have you been sitting here in the dark?”

“Oh, a while now.” The old man spoke very slowly. “I saw you eyeballing that sword and knew you didn't care a hoot about that lamp you bought. After you left I had a look around. When I spotted those wires you cut I figured you'd be back.”

For a brief moment I considered that I held in my hands what was possibly the most dangerous type of sword ever made. This thought was quickly replaced by the realization that it would be extremely unwise to pit a blade, however deadly, against a gun. I let the heavy thing clatter to the floor.

The next sound I heard was a gasp followed by the shotgun hitting the floor. I turned around to see the old man clutching at his chest, a look of pain and horror on his face. He needed medical attention, but I had no time for that. I grabbed the ancient sword and ran out of there.

♦   ♦   ♦

“Sixteenth century German.” My customer looked the sword over carefully. “Here's the mark of the smith, Melchior Diefstetter of Munich. How much?”

“Seven Gs.”


“Six and a half.”

“Sixty-three hundred.”

“Sold.” We shook hands and he paid me. In cash.

♦   ♦   ♦

Not long afterward I was sitting around not doing much of anything when my eye was drawn to the lamp which I had placed upon the mantle. I thought it might shine nicely if polished so I picked up a clean rag and began running it over the brass.

I nearly dropped the thing when smoke began coming out of it. I put it down on the coffee table and watched as plumes of white smoke poured forth from the lamp. I moved to open a window because the room was filling up. I turned around again and collided with something that knocked me backwards to the wall and onto the floor. I blinked my eyes and sat staring as the fog cleared to reveal the image of a giant.

At first all I could see were these ridiculous slippers that curled upwards at the toes. Gradually his legs came into view. They were enormous and covered with loose silk which seemed to change colors between pink and red. A gold belt around his waist led to a muscular stomach. Huge arms were folded across his massive chest. A Moroccan fez adorned the top of his bald head. I got the feeling he could break me in half like a twig.

“You've got to be kidding.”

When I could finally make out his face I thought he might actually be thinking about breaking me in half like a twig. He scowled and his eyes seemed ablaze. “I can hardly believe it myself.” His voice was the deepest I ever heard. “But I am free from that lamp and apparently have you to thank for it. I have the power to grant you no less—and no more—than three wishes.”

“You've got to be kidding.”

“I am not.”

I briefly thought about the old guy from whom I'd bought the lamp and whom I had left in all probability to die. But only briefly. “Okaaaay; I want to be rich and idle and to live many years.”

“Those are your wishes?”

“That's them.” I thought they were pretty good wishes.

“They shall be granted.”

“When?” I was not buying any of what I was hearing.

Just then there came a pounding on the front door, followed by a booming voice. “Police, Defoe! Open up! We've got you on film for that robbery! The old man died, Defoe; You're looking at hard time!”

I looked with astonishment at the giant. He pointed at the lamp. “Quick, change places with me. You'll be able to hide in there. It's your only chance!”

In a panic, I hastily agreed. Smoke filled the room again and when I could see again I was wearing the ridiculous Arabian outfit, all the way from the fez to the funny shoes. My room had become like the great hall of a palace lavishly furnished. A huge oriental rug covered the entire floor. I beheld treasure chests lining the walls, overflowing with riches: gold and silver, rubies and emeralds, diamonds and pearls. I stared at it all with wonder.

Then I heard a tremendous crash, followed by a rush of footsteps and a flurry of voices. “Where is he?”

“Give it up, Defoe!”

“Check upstairs!”

“Nothing here, Boss.”

“Empty here, too.”

Soon everything was quiet again. The police apparently went looking for me elsewhere. I'm sure they've given up the search by now—I mean, it's been almost three hundred years.

I wish I never laid eyes on this lamp!

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