Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Humanity Behind

By night I woke, and thought I hark’d
My planet’s mournful cry:
A plea for help in thought and deed,
For else t’would surely die,

We scoffed, and fled, and fail’d to see
The flaw of all mankind:
We took the virus with us; Left
Humanity behind.
                                                            Anon. (Date Unknown)
In the days before she left Earth forever, Izzie went for one final walk across the dying planet.  It was barely light outside, but dim sparks of illumination seemed to float within the encroaching haze, fireflies in the mist, offering the promise of dawn.  If Izzie closed her eyes, she could imagine them, flitting in and out of the fog’s dark shadows, ever moving, fleeing from the oncoming storm.  Against all of knowledge and reason, and only when she closed her eyes, she could almost believe that they were really there, just hiding, and that they would find some way to escape the failing world.  When she opened her eyes again, the dim lights would remain, but the fireflies would be gone, vanished to extinction with all life. 

With all life, but for one, final, victorious species. 

Humanity would escape to the stars. 

Humanity would survive.


The huge military compound sat silently amidst the dust, its towering fences surrounding Izzie on all sides.  When she left the spaceship, the throngs of people were almost stifling, but as she moved slowly towards the edge of the compound, the crowds began to thin, and by the time she reached the huge iron gates that formed one of the entrances, there was almost enough room to walk normally.  With no-one left outside the gates, the border patrols were nowhere to be seen, and Izzie attracted only the vague curiosity of those nearby as she effortlessly scaled the iron bars, until she was perched atop the structure, a proud and noble eagle surveying her surroundings, watching, with wise eyes, the final preparations for The Final Judgement.  In the middle of the compound, the huge spacecraft loomed large in the ever-present mist, a testament to human ingenuity and invention, to the truth of Darwin’s promise that the fittest would survive.  A million tonnes of metal and lights that shone through the darkness, offering a safe haven for a million humans on their journey to the stars. 

It was one of ten thousand, it was one of the last to leave, and it was christened The Final Judgement, in honour of the End of Days. 
Izzie looked briefly towards the sky, thinking of all the colossal ships that had already reached the frontier of space, thinking of all the ten billion members of humanity who had been forced to leave the world.  She smiled grimly, with kind, resigned eyes, then descended the outside of the gates, her wiry arms gripping the bars tightly as she clambered down.  The military compound was technically International Land, officiated by the United Nations, owned by no-one, which meant that, as she jumped and landed in the dry, dead soil below, her feet instantly surrounded by clouds of dust, Izzie was now the sole occupant of the United States of America.  She staggered at the thought and dropped to her knees.

There she stayed for some time, kneeling on the aching ground below, gazing out towards the infinite horizon, an endlessly swirling sequence of smoke and smog, devoid of emotion, devoid of joy and pain and loss, devoid of life and breath.  The roaring sound of the multitudes behind her faded into insignificance, and in that single moment Izzie felt utterly alone, as if the crowds and constant claustrophobia had melted into extinction, and she was the last surviving member of the human race. 

The feeling passed: she rose to her feet, and, without looking back, walked away into the desert of sand and nothingness.


Dawn came some time later as Izzie approached the outskirts of a long-abandoned slum.  The sun was finally high enough for its rays to filter through the layers of thickened air that perpetually shrouded the ground.  Its light seeped through slowly, lethargically caressing the very tops of the dilapidated buildings, then dripping down the sides until the town was finally bathed in the green, sickly brightness of day.  She remembered, fondly, her grandmother’s stories of an age when dawn was a very different animal, before it too had been driven to extinction. 

Then she closed her eyes and remembered the sole time, more than two decades ago, when she had finally experienced her Grandmother’s Dawn. 


She was eight years old as she stood on top of Mount Everest, one of the last places on Earth were snow still clung to survival, one of the last places on Earth where the sun could rise.  Thousands of tourists chattered excitedly, hugging themselves tightly in the cold, waiting impatiently on the darkened viewstation.  The young girl clutched at the remnants of melted snow in her pocket, disappointed that it was already fading away.  Her grandmother stood proudly to the side, a fraying scarf around her neck, her tired, wrinkled face staring defiantly towards the horizon.
And the sky was clear,

And the sun appeared.

It shattered the darkness, gracefully, effortlessly, the mountains instantly drenched in nectar, the whole planet reaching majestically towards the heavens.           

The girl’s eyes opened wide, and for the first time, she saw the world.


She rubbed her eyes, desperate to memorise the scene, but when her vision cleared, the world she saw had vanished.  She grasped desperately in her pockets but the snow, like the life her grandmother once knew, had long since faded away. 

In the washed-out glare that enveloped the fading planet, she saw the remnants of that sunrise, fireflies in the mist.

Izzie trudged on, as if in a trance, through the poverty-stricken slum.  Most of the houses had been hastily constructed from recycled metals and plastics; many were missing walls, or even a roof.  She had lived in one, of course, as had most of the population of Earth.  Their planet had become too crowded, unable to sustain the ever-growing population, and with the loss of natural resources and vegetation, the strain on the world’s governments to provide food had been too great.  Humanity had struggled on for decades in this state of abject poverty, hurtling through space on an impotent rock.

She paused at the memorial in the middle of the town.  A huge, iron statue, twisted into a ghoulishly unfamiliar shape, casting its macabre shadow over the sand.  It was covered in dust but the plaque was still readable. 

“In Memory of a Real Tree,” murmured Izzie to herself.  She nodded, at once fascinated and repelled by the thought of such things filling the surface of the world so long ago.  Even the statue itself was from a different time, when the carbon dioxide levels could be controlled artificially and the loss of trees was still widely considered a matter of nostalgia, rather than concern.  In her mind’s eye, the trees filled the world once more, an army of living demons, determined to hold her accountable. 

In spite of the sticky humidity, Izzie shivered.

And then –

There was the sudden feeling of being watched, and out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw something move.  A shadowy wraith, no more, no less. 

She stared, but saw nothing else.  The willowy, child-like shape had gone, if it had ever been there at all. 
Izzie turned and ran.
It was almost midday and the sun hovered brightly above, a shimmering mirage in the midst of the oily sky.  Izzie made her weary way across the surface of the Earth for the very last time, her feet sinking repeatedly into the gritty sand below.  Ahead, in the distance, the iron fences of the military compound were visible through the haze, a welcome oasis from the silent void.  She tried to walk faster, regretting her decision to venture out one last time, eager only for the security offered by the gates and the ship that would become her home.  The desert grasped at her feet, pulling her down, and for one fleeting instant, it was quicksand, and Izzie was swallowed whole by her despair.  She shook her head free of the vision and continued, always glancing behind her, watching, waiting, for the hidden child that never appeared.

The Final Judgement loomed ever closer, a stark reminder of the acute poverty into which humanity had slipped in its final days on Earth.  Izzie remembered the announcements vividly, broadcast on all channels, over all possible mediums.  The future of humanity was in doubt and there was only one way to secure it.  There was a suitable new world on the other side of the galaxy.  All the planet’s remaining resources would be harnessed to create the ships that would save them from impending extinction.  The first, Humanity’s Ark, was unveiled in all its splendour, with promises of ten thousand more to follow. 

Now they were built – and most had left – and soon Izzie would take her place, free of the flood, amongst the stars.

The clamour of the crowds rose up in front of her as she staggered towards the gates.  She gripped the iron bars tightly, the feeling of the cool metal flowing through her, calming her mind.  She had been foolish to believe that there was anything left for her in the world behind.  It was a desolate wasteland and she was glad to make good her escape.  She scaled the gates once more, climbing towards her future, looking ever forwards to the answers that lay beyond.

The desert lay empty once more.
In the days that followed, the crowds were forced to stay on the ship as it prepared for departure, while military personnel swept the surrounding area, checking that no-one had been left behind.  Not a soul was found outside of the compound. 

On the third day of the travellers’ confinement, the huge engines whirred into life without warning, rumbling loudly and sending disconcerting shockwaves through the living areas of the craft.  Departure was imminent.

Izzie had been to watch some of the other spaceships take flight, often sitting alone on a nearby hill, observing silently from a distance.  The surrounding land would suddenly spark into life, a searing light that far outstripped anything the sun could produce.  A huge sonic blast would ring out, visibly rippling over the evacuated flatlands, and the ship, for just a moment, would be engulfed by flames.  Then the all-consuming fire would shoot violently upwards, a terrifying tower from the heart of a star – and then it would implode, sucked into oblivion, and the massive craft would be gone.  If Izzie flicked her eyes skywards, she could sometimes catch the trailing smoke that the accelerating giant had already left far behind. 

Not this time though.  This time there would be no-one to wave goodbye.

The rumbling grew ever louder.  Izzie braced herself as she walked down one of the corridors on the forty-second level, following directions to one of its many viewstations.  When she reached the lounge, there were no free seats, so she sat, cross-legged on the floor, directly in front of the vast window.  Not a real window, of course, but a viewscreen, specifically designed to simulate the actual view through the wall of implacable metal.  She had heard reports from the ships that had already reached space –

They said:

When you broke clear into the vast expanse of the universe,

When you could see the spinning void mere metres from your eyes,

When you felt for all the broken world as if you were swimming through infinity,

Then you would cry.


Beside her, she felt a presence.  A young man, maybe of similar age to her, was now sitting next to her, cross-legged and watching her.

“Hi,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I’m Luke.”

“Hi,” said Izzie, shaking his hand firmly.  He felt cold to the touch.

“You going to tell me your name?” asked the man.

“Sorry,” said Izzie.  “I’m not used to this.  I’m Izzie.”

“Not used to talking?”

Izzie nodded.  “Nice to meet you,” she said, as an afterthought.

They sat, in silence, as their prison, their home, broke free of the ground and began a final orbit of the planet.  Beneath them, the Earth spun languidly on, doomed to orbit the sun for eons to come, long after it would cease to really be.
“I wrote a poem,” said Luke eventually, as they watched the sweeping land beneath them.  He handed a scrap of paper to Izzie and watched her while she read.

Izzie’s eyes caressed the words carefully, and she nodded when she had finished.

“Is that really how you feel?” she asked.

Luke smiled.   “You keep it,” he said, as she tried to hand the poem back to him.  He tapped his head.  “It’s all up here.”

Izzie thought of her grandmother, and she thought of her grandmother’s dawn,

And she tried to imagine that, one day, she could have her own grandchildren,

And she tried to imagine that, one day, there might be a new dawn for them to see.

“I don’t think it’s all bad,” she said softly.

But Luke seemed not to be listening.  His gaze was drawn, once more, to the viewscreen and the planet below.  So Izzie watched as the land continued to fall away, until it began to fall through her mind.

And now it was different.  Now they had left her desert behind and ventured to the less fortunate parts of the world.  Now the slums were so large that they were clearly visible, even from space.  Now the whole land was covered by pitiful houses, stretching out over the continents, swelling sores that seemed to swallow the ground whole.

And, just for a moment, Izzie allowed herself to imagine the truth.  And she saw, beneath her, with perfect clarity, the billions of humans living in those pitiful houses, still clinging desperately to life.  And then they were but one – a single, shadowy wraith, a child, crying out in an abandoned slum, in an abandoned desert, on an abandoned world.

And she embraced the truth that she had been so determined to ignore.

Ten billion humans had escaped.  Most had been left behind.


So Izzie did indeed cry as they broke through the atmosphere and hurtled into deepest space, and her final image of the broken world was blurred with tears.  
The Earth spun languidly on, and then it was gone. 

The spaceship, and Izzie, fled into the darkness.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Elijah, God of the Paradox

For as long as Patrick could remember, he had wanted to kill himself, just to see what happened.  As a result, he spent a good two decades of his life building a time machine.  Against all the odds, just as he was beginning to feel that his constant migraines might actually be the first symptoms of a mid-life crisis, he realised he had succeeded.  In the aftermath of this stunning achievement, he stood, in disbelief, surveying his handiwork. 
Well, he thought, that was unlikely. 


Patrick stared at the wonderful machine: a beautiful glowing door, floating in the middle of his basement, orbited by three, perfectly spherical balls, each infinitely blacker than the frequent thunderstorms that railed far above his house.  Every few minutes, a spark of lightning would flash from the golden door and be swallowed whole by one of the rotating spheres.  The device lit up the room, providing the only light in the grimy, windowless cellar.  Patrick grinned happily, wiping his oil-drenched hands on his equally filthy jeans, although only after he had accidentally pulled his fingers through his hair.

“Awesome,” he said to himself.
“Well, yes, actually,” said a voice behind him.  “It's certainly one of the prettier ones I've seen.”
Patrick jumped in fright and spun round, reaching for the spanner in his pocket.  There was a figure standing in the doorway, illuminated by a faint light that emanated from the stairs behind him.  The figure was dressed in a tired, grey suit and his head was covered in a wild tangle of pure white hair.  He looked old and haggard.

“Yes, that's my hair,” said the man, while Patrick was staring.  “And it's a damn sight better than yours.”
Patrick felt his own short crop of hair, which was firmly matted to his head with oil.

“Who on earth are you?” he asked, his voice uncharacteristically high.  “What are you doing in my house?”

The older man fumbled in his suit pockets, eventually producing a small business card.

“I am the Universe's Paradox Guardian,” he said lightly.  He peered inside his pockets once more, this time emerging with a crumpled piece of paper.  “I've come to deliver you a Cease and Desist Order.”

“You must have the wrong person,” Patrick said.

“You are Patrick Hausenbeck, are you not?”

Patrick stared.  “Look, what did you say your name was?”

“I do not have a name,” replied the man.  “But you may call me the God of the Paradox.  I like that.”

“I'm not calling you that.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Look, whoever you are, I'm kind of busy right now and you're trespassing, so please go away, or I'll have to call the police.”

The man seemed not to hear him.  Instead he walked past Patrick and stood, admiring the time machine as it spun serenely on, oblivious to the intruder.

“Yes, yes, very clever,” he said, motioning to the orbs.  “How long did it take you to think of that?”

“What?” asked Patrick, utterly bemused.

The man turned back around to face him.  “You've built a time machine,” he stated simply.

“I...how did you...”

“It's my job to know,” the man replied curtly.  “Now, I'm very sorry, Mr. Hausenbeck, but as I've already stated, I'm here to order you to cease and desist.”

“Who are you?” Patrick shouted, raising his hands in frustration.

“Mr. Hausenbeck,” the man replied, with some irritation.  “I have already clearly stated that I am the Universe's Paradox Guardian.”

“Look...you.  You must have a name.  What am I supposed to call you?”

“I've already stated that --”

“I'm not calling you the God of the Whatsit.”

“Fine!  For goodness sake, this job gets worse every year!”  The man shook his head in resignation.  “Just call me Elijah,” he said unhappily.

“Elijah,” repeated Patrick.  “Why are you here?”

The man who was now called Elijah rubbed his thumbs against his temples.

“You've built a time machine,” he repeated.  “Now, tell me what you plan to do with it.”

Patrick shrugged.  “All right,” he agreed, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm.  “I'm going to go back in time and kill myself!”  He grinned gleefully.  “Think about it!  If I kill myself in the past, I won't be alive in the future to go back in time and kill myself!”

Elijah nodded his head emphatically.  “You'll have created a paradox,” he 

“Exactly!” said Patrick, his face animated and excited.  “Who knows what will happen?  I'm experimenting with something beyond the realms of the universe!”

“That's just great,” replied the old man sarcastically.  “Except I'm here to stop you.”

“What?  Why?”

“Well it's just fine for all you crazed inventors to wander the universe thinking up ways to confuse it!  You define paradoxes as things that seem like a contradiction but aren't.  Have you ever stopped to think why not?  Have you ever stopped to think about who's going to clean up your mess?”

“Well, I --”

“No!” shouted Elijah.  “Of course you haven't!  All of you, with your damn time machines, forever trying to glitch the universe!  Tell me, have you really considered what happens when the universe throws up an Illegal Error?”

“The universe can produce Illegal Errors?” Patrick asked, confused.

Elijah waved his hands in the air.  “It's a phrase!” he said, as he began pacing the floor with frustration.  “The point is that neither of us really wants the universe to crash.  I'm here to protect it against such eventualities.”

“You're employed by...the universe?” Patrick asked.  He could feel another migraine coming on as he wondered how exactly he was going to remove this lunatic from his house.

“I'm part of the universe,” corrected Elijah.  “In fact, I'm the universe's fail-safe.  I'm the God of the Paradox!”

“Oh, really,” sighed Patrick.  “While you're here then, can you tell me the meaning of life?”

The older man spluttered furiously.  “Good grief, no!” he began.  “That's way above my station!”

“Well you're not much use then, are you?” Patrick said.  “At least the God of the Bible --”

“Oh, don't get me started on him!” Elijah interrupted.  “That's the problem with these regional directors.  You give them one planet to control and it goes to their heads.  Now, can we please get back to the matter at hand?  I need you to sign this document.  It basically contractually obliges you to destroy this time machine and refrain from building any more in the future.  You will be compensated to the tune of five extra years of life, non-negotiable.”

“I don't want more life!” Patrick shouted.  “I want to kill myself!  I've been dreaming of this my whole life!”

“Sorry,” said Elijah simply.  “Never going to happen.”

“Well can I at least meet myself?”

“No!  Do you remember meeting yourself in the past?  Of course not.  Because you didn't!  That's another paradox!”

“What if I promise just to go into the future?”

“Look, Patrick,” Elijah sighed.  “There is no way anyone in the universe is ever allowed to use a time machine.  I'm sure you've seen countless films about time-travel in your life.  It doesn't take a genius to realise that none of them make sense!  Time-travel causes logical chaos with the laws of the universe.  You go to the future, let's say you meet yourself.  Then, when you come back to the present, you know where and when you'll meet yourself in the future, so you can change the meeting by not turning up.  Paradox!”



“Yeah, but--”


“Stop saying paradox!”

“Look, Patrick.  The only reason that paradoxes don't cause contradictions is because they're entirely theoretical.  They never happen.  And you know why they never happen?”

Patrick exhaled slowly, mournfully.  “Because of you,” he said quietly.

“Exactly,” said Elijah triumphantly.  “I resolve all paradoxes.”

“Well isn't that handy,” said Patrick tartly.  “What a cop-out.  Here I thought the universe was a realm of infinite possibilities and now I find it employing a Deus Ex Machina.”

“I am not the Deus Ex Machina!” Elijah replied.  “Don't get me started on him...”
They stood, glaring at each other, as clouds gathered outside.  Shortly, the rain began to fall, pounding against the corrugated iron roof.  Patrick glanced upwards, listening to the dim sound of drumming on his house.  A loud crack rippled through the sky.  Elijah winced.
“Thunderstorm's brewing,” he muttered darkly.  “Can we please just get this done?”

Patrick narrowed his eyes.  “You're not taking this from me,” he whispered tightly.

“You don't have a choice!”

Patrick laughed.  “Oh yes I do!” he shouted happily, and jumped into the machine.

Elijah sighed tiredly and flicked his fingers, killing the inventor in mid-air.  Patrick's body cracked horribly into the cold, stone floor.  Elijah winced again while the time machine continued to spin.  He looked it over one last time, nodding approvingly, then waved his hands.  The golden door ceased to glow and fell harshly to the ground, splinters flying in all directions.  The black spheres gave one last shriek of annoyance before they too collapsed, bouncing away into the hidden corners of the room.

Elijah turned and headed for the stairs, but stopped in the doorway, surveying the cellar for the last time.  The wreckage of the time machine was strewn across the floor and, in the middle, Patrick lay, perfectly still, looking for all the world as if he was sleeping.

“There you go,” Elijah muttered without humour.  “You got to kill yourself.”

He turned away and began to climb the stairs.

“It's a shame,” he said to himself, ruffling his hair as he listened to the raging storm far above.  “It was certainly one of the prettier ones.”

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The Wish Architect

Note: This story was amended on 02/10/11, hopefully for the better. Principally, I excised the majority of the underlying theme of sex, as I believe it obscured the narrative focus.

Noah was nine when he chose his career. He remembered the day vividly. The weather was humid and his teacher had a ridiculous beard. They called him The Beard.

“Let me tell you what you can do with your lives,” said The Beard. It paused for inspirational effect. “Anything you want!”

The classroom of children stared at it.

“I mean it!” The Beard continued. “Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Don't let anyone hold you back! You can achieve whatever you want to achieve!”

The Beard looked around the room, clearly underwhelmed by the response. It sighed in frustration, then clicked its fingers together.

“I know!” it said. “Imagine this. Imagine you happen to rub a lamp one day and a genie appears. Imagine that the genie says that if you tell him what you want to be when you grow up, he'll make sure it happens. Now, what do you say?”

Noah had been staring at the ceiling, his thoughts drifting amongst the swirls of white paint above his head, but now his focus was suddenly on The Beard. He raised his hand.

“Yes! Noah! What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Noah smiled widely. “I want to be a genie,” he said. 

Twenty-five years later...

It was winter and the air was bitterly cold. Terrence pulled his scarf more tightly around him, squinting at the feeble rays of sunlight that filtered through the cloudy canopy. He shuffled slowly down his garden path, shovelling snow in all directions, acutely aware that he was getting too old for such exertions. At length, he stopped to catch his breath, leaning heavily on his spade, listening to his straining heart. His doctor had warned him against manual labour but he was past caring. Sighing tiredly, he thrust his spade back into the snow, and was greeted with the sudden clang of metal. 

To his surprise, there was an old, brass lamp lying on the crazy paving.

Gritting his teeth against the pain of such an almighty effort, he bent over to pick it up. His legs buckled beneath him and he keeled over into the freezing snow.

“Bother,” he said simply. He scrambled to his knees, wincing with pain and cold. Free from its icy resting place, the lamp felt surprisingly warm in his grasp. He rubbed his hands against it, choking in sudden confusion as billows of smoke surrounded him.

He was still kneeling when the smoke cleared and he found a figure standing in front of him, floating above the ground. The figure was tall and slim, with a trim, brown beard. He was wearing bizarrely unsuitable satin clothes and sported a large turban on his head.

“Good morning, Master!” the figure cried, throwing his hands into the air elaborately. “I have come to grant you three wishes! Terms and Conditions apply!”

Terrence rubbed his eyes as he staggered to his feet, gazing in bemusement at the man in front of him.

“How are you doing that?” he asked in astonishment.

“I am sorry!” the figure said, with confusing enthusiasm. “All requests must be phrased in the form 'I wish that' followed by the customer's desired wish!”

Terrence shook his head, wondering if he was dreaming or just suffering hallucinations from lunch.

“I...I'm sorry,” he said, eventually. “I don't really understand...who are you?”

The figure gritted his teeth together, his beaming smile faltering. “Seriously?” he asked the old man. “You don't know what I am?”

“Sorry,” said Terrence again, cautiously backing towards his house.

The figure floated to the ground. “Great,” he said, exhaling slowly. “I suppose I better recite all the Terms and Conditions to you.”

“Terms and Conditions of what?” asked Terrence, who was wondering how he could surreptitiously phone the police.

The figure coughed, drew himself up to his full height, and adjusted his turban and smile.

“My name is Noah Archer and I am your Wish Architect!” he said. “I have come to grant you three wishes! Terms and Conditions apply!”

“You've come to grant me wishes?” repeated Terrence suspiciously.

“Indeed I have, sir! You are my new master!”

“You're telling me that you're a genie?”

Noah's smile became somewhat fixed. “We prefer the term 'Wish Architects', if you don't mind.”

“Wait, you're a genie?!”

Noah sighed. “Yes, if that helps.”

“So you can grant me whatever I want?”

“Terms and Conditions apply, master! Perhaps we could discuss this further inside?”

The old man nodded slowly. “All right then. I suppose you must be cold, wearing those clothes.”

Noah chuckled grimly. “You have no idea.”


Terrence sat in his most comfortable chair, feeling a great deal warmer and safer. His genie had perched himself on the sofa, looking far from relaxed.

“Tea?” asked Terrence, motioning to the teapot and cups on the coffee table in front of him.

“Oh, yes, thank you,” said Noah, leaning over and pouring out a cup of the thick, brown brew. He flinched at the steam and then quickly grabbed his slipping turban.

“You're not blue,” said Terrence quietly while Noah was sipping from his cup.

The genie smiled wryly. “Indeed, this has been pointed out to me by over sixty-seven percent of all my customers. In fact, practically the only place where a Wish Architect has ever been depicted as blue is in Disney's version of Aladdin.” He took another sip from his strangely thick tea and continued. “I never cease to be surprised at how ignorant our customers remain of our profession, and how much they rely on myth and superstition, despite the ready availability of the facts.”

“I'm sorry,” offered Terrence.

“That is quite all right, master,” sighed Noah. “Now, if we could address the matter of the wishes. Regarding the Terms and Conditions, you will no doubt be unsurprised that you are unable to wish for more wishes, due to your familiarity with the aforementioned cartoon.”

Terrence noticed a brief look of disdain on his genie's tired visage, but said nothing.

“You will also, logically, be unable to wish to be allowed to wish for more wishes, per the Millennium Amendments. Quite a fiasco we had before they were introduced.

On the matter of determinism, you are strictly unable to directly alter another person's free will, and strongly discouraged from attempting to indirectly manipulate the same. Exact classifications and guidelines on the nature of the terms direct and free will can be found on our website. Ambiguous and impersonal wishes, especially regarding obvious, grandiose acts of philanthropy, are unlikely to be processed and will, at the very least, require clarification to your Wish Architect, namely me, as to the precise nature of their intent and effect on your life.”

“What does that mean?” asked Terrence.

“It means that these wishes are primarily for you and your loved ones, and it is not in our mandate to cure all cancer or rid the world of poverty. Now where was I? Ah, yes. Ignorance. Ignorance of our rules is not an excuse although we are encouraged to apply leniency. As such, I will inform you if your wishes breach our Terms and Conditions, although repeated failure to comply may result in suspension of access to your Wish Architect, namely me.

Please note that, in association with Greenpeace, we are currently running a special deal for wishes that involve whales, the exact details of which may be found on our website, although note, as previously mentioned, that such wishes should relate to you personally. ”

Noah paused, and looked straight at his new master. “One more thing – and this is just for you, master – please note that if you wish to be made a prince, I shall in fact turn you into a prince, rather than simply dress you up in fancy clothes and force you to lie to the princess.”

“I see,” Terrence said. “You really don't like that film, do you?”

“It has a lot to answer for,” Noah muttered, and continued drinking his tea.

“One more thing about it though,” said Terrence. “The very last thing!” he added quickly, as Noah looked at him darkly. “At the end, Aladdin wishes that the genie would be freed. Would you like me to do that for you?”

Noah stared at him incredulously. “Don't be ridiculous,” he said, adjusting his turban once more. “Why would I want to lose my job?”


“He doesn't want anything!” Noah exclaimed, in horror. He was sitting in a small café across the road from WArchitect Regional Headquarters, downing the dregs of his tea. He stared despairingly out of the large bay windows, watching the traffic become gridlocked in the chaos of ice and mud. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine. On the other side of the small table, his friend Lucy watched him, her forehead creased with worry.

“Are you sure you're ok, Noah? If you’re cold, you should really at least change your clothes.”

“The uniform machine's empty. I think Harry's been stealing the shirts again.”

“You could put on some normal clothes,” Lucy said, under her breath.

“That's crazy talk!” Noah replied, with mock indignation. “Who wouldn't want to spend their life wearing satin pyjamas?”

Lucy giggled and swept her long, brown hair out of her eyes.

Noah pointed at her. “See, now, if you were wearing your turban, you wouldn't have that problem.”

He watched as Lucy laughed, her smile effortlessly clearing away the clouds in his mind. He smiled back, then realised he was staring and turned quickly away to scratch his beard.

“I remember some time ago, when I first became an architect,” Lucy said, studiously ignoring his embarrassment. “I was young, naive, and sincerely enthusiastic!”

“Like that crazed genie in Aladdin,” Noah commented.

“I remember I used to actually wear my turban off-duty,” Lucy said dryly. “That was before I realised they just make us look like idiots.”

“Oh, I don't know,” said Noah. “I think yours is quite fetching.”

She poked him affectionately on the nose. “Shut up, you. Anyway, we better get back to WA.”


They stood outside on the pavement, wrapped up tightly in their overcoats, holding their turbans and waiting impatiently for a gap in the traffic.

“As I was saying,” shouted Noah, above the noise. “My client doesn't want anything! Not even sex! I'm going to be stuck with him forever!”

“What about his family?” Lucy shouted back.

“That's just the problem! He has no family, no friends. He's old and he's past caring about life. What on earth am I supposed to do?”

“Can't you just persuade him to wish for new slippers or something?” Lucy asked.

“Well that's the other problem!” Noah replied. “He says he doesn't want to waste his wishes. He wants to wait until he can find a good use for them. Why do I always end up with the difficult ones? Why can't I find someone I can actually help?”

“I told you the time limits weren't strict enough,” Lucy said. “You could always lie and tell him he only has a couple of days to use his wishes.”

Noah exhaled and shook his head. “Too risky,” he said. “I'm already on probation.” He paused. “Is that you beeping?”

Lucy glanced down at the pager on her waist and let out a cry of frustration.

For god's sake!” she shouted. “You think you've got problems? My client's actually going senile. She keeps polishing my damn lamp for no reason! Seriously, most of the times I appear, she seems to have forgotten all about me. Anyway, I better get in there.”

She kissed him on the cheek, jammed her turban over her hair and vanished in a cloud of smoke.

Noah stood by himself, surveying the traffic, as the wind whipped viciously around him. The sensation of Lucy's lips lingered on his cheek. He scratched his beard, closed his eyes and listened to the maelstrom outside his head. As the honking and yelling grew ever louder, he imagined crawling inside his lamp, where it was dark and quiet and safe. Like a womb, he thought to himself.


Early the next day, Noah was sitting in his cubicle, filling in endless reams of paperwork, when his phone rang.

“This is Noah,” he said, suppressing a yawn.

“Good morning,” said the automated message. “This is Information Services. Are you currently attached to the client Terrence Willoughby?”

“I believe so,” Noah said.

“Please answer yes or no,” said the machine.

“Yes,” said Noah, closing his eyes and massaging his forehead with his fingers.

“You are to be informed that your client was found dead this morning in his garden. It is believed he suffered a heart attack from falling over whilst shovelling snow.”

Noah's eyes snapped open as the machine continued.

“You are advised to remain patient while your services are transferred to the succeeding client. Have a nice day, sir.”

“Wait!” shouted Noah.

“This module has no more information,” came the mechanical reply. “Have a nice day, sir.”

“He has no family or friends!” said Noah. “It could be ages until the lamp is found! What am I supposed to do?”

“This module has no more information. Have a nice day, sir.”

“Can I speak to someone else, please?”

“This module has no mor --”

Noah slammed the phone back on its hook and resumed massaging his head.


Why do you want to become a genie?” asked Noah's teacher, when it was just the two of them in the classroom.

Noah stared at the colossal brown beard, wild and untamed, which exploded from his teacher's chin. He shrugged.

I dunno,” he said.

It wouldn't be very comfortable,” said The Beard. “Think of living inside a lamp.”
I just want to help people, I guess,” said Noah.

He looked at the floor. When he looked up again, The Beard had turned into Terrence.

Hi again, Terrence,” said Noah, scratching his beard. “They told me you were dead.”

That's funny,” said Terrence. “I know what I'd like to wish for now.”

What's that?” asked Noah, surprised by how huge and bushy his own beard had become.

I wish for a gun,” said Terrence.

Done!” shouted Noah, clicking his fingers. A small pistol appeared in Terrence's hands.

Excellent,” said Terrence, and shot himself in the head.

The body fell to the ground. Blood oozed from the open wound, all over Noah's paperwork.


The next thing Noah knew, there were hands on his shoulders, shaking him gently.

“Holy crap!” he shouted, sitting bolt upright and causing Lucy to recoil in fright.

“Noah!” she said, breathlessly. “Sorry! I was just trying to wake you up.”

“Oh, what the hell? I fell asleep again?”

“Yeah, I don't think anyone noticed though. Are you ready to go to lunch?”

Noah looked at her. “I don't really feel like food at the moment,” he said slowly. His mind was awash in a sea of strange, conflicting emotions. He blinked tightly and tried to regain his focus.

“Do you think I should shave my beard off?” he asked.

Lucy looked at him, puzzled. “Maybe,” she said.

“Then maybe I will,” said Noah, thumping his fists on his desk.

Lucy smiled and sat down on the edge of the desk. “What's wrong, Noah?” she asked gently.

Noah grimaced. “My client died today. I guess I'm kind of upset.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Do you know why I'm upset though? It upset me – it still upsets me – because now I don't know how long it's going to be before the lamp is moved. I could be stuck doing paperwork for months.”

“Oh, I'm sure they'll retrieve the lamp if no-one finds it soon,” said Lucy.

“Probably,” agreed Noah. “But that's still not the point. Why don't I care that the man died?”

Lucy hesitated, then reached out and took hold of Noah's hand.

“He wasn't your friend,” she said. “He was just a client.”

“I could have saved him though. He could have wished for a healthy heart. He could have wished to become immortal!”

“But he didn't.”

Noah smiled without mirth.

“No, he died on me instead,” he said softly, exhaling deeply. “What's the point in being a genie if I'm not any use to anyone?”

Lucy squeezed his hand tightly between hers.

“Don't you mean 'Wish Architect'?” she asked.


That night, Noah decided not to return to his flat. Instead, he spent the evening inside his lamp, his body pressed up against the cool metal, his mind drifting in perfect solitude. In the dead of night, he ignored all protocol and appeared, unsummoned, from his lamp. Emerging in Terrence's house, he wandered around in search of a cup of tea.


“Moab!” boomed the voice of his boss, accosting Noah by the photocopier.

“Hello, sir,” said Noah, shaking the older man's hand. To his consternation, his boss also seemed to be growing a beard.

“Moses, my boy, sorry to hear about your client and all, but I believe this leaves you with some extra time on your hands?”

“Well sir, I actually have a lot of paperwork that I need to --”

“Excellent!” said his boss. “We have a young girl from a local school who would like to interview a Wish Architect. I thought you'd be an excellent subject for her. She's waiting in reception.”

“Ah yes, well... ok, sir. What's the name of the school?”

“Let me see now. No, can't remember for the life of me. I think it contains the word 'school'.”

“I see, sir.”

“Well, keep up the good work, Jose.”

Noah fought the urge to grind his teeth. He could feel another headache coming on.


“Thank you for your time, Mr. Archer,” said the girl, taking the seat that Noah had offered her. He sat down behind his desk and smiled at her. She was small and wide-eyed, with long, blonde pigtails.

“That's no problem,” Noah told her. “Sorry my cubicle isn't very big.”

“That's ok, Mr. Archer.”

“Please, call me Noah. And what's your name?”

“I'm Jenny, Mr. Archer,” said the girl.

Noah laughed. “What can I do for you, Jenny?”

The girl glanced down at her notepad.

“What's the difference between a genie and a Wish Architect?” she asked.

Noah thought for a while. “Well, Jenny, I guess they're kind of the same thing, but most of us like being called Wish Architects, because if you say genie, people think of the wrong sort of thing.”

“Like what?”

“Well, they expect us to live in our lamps, for a start,” Noah said. “Which we usually don't. And they think of us as prisoners, which we find very insulting, because it's our job. They also expect us to wear turbans all the time.”

“But you do!” said the little girl.

“Indeed,” said Noah, biting his lower lip. “Believe me, that wasn't my decision. But not all companies require their employees to wear the full genie costume. Many Wish Architects get to dress in suits.”

“Is it a good job?” asked the girl.

“Well,” said Noah, “I guess so, as long as you don't suffer from claustrophobia. You get to help other people. But it's not rich and it's not glamorous, so don't make that mistake. I live in a very small flat all by myself. Also, you have to be permanently on-call when you have a client and they really don't tell you about all the paperwork before you sign up.”

He watched as the girl hurriedly wrote in her notepad. After some time, she looked back up at him.

“Why did you want to become a Wish Architect, Mr. Archer?”

“I remember my teacher asking me that,” said Noah slowly. “This was a long time ago. We were alone in his classroom and he asked me why I wanted to become a genie.”

“And what did you say?”

Noah hesitated, then forced a laugh. “I said I didn't know.”

The girl giggled. “Who was your first person?” she asked.

“You mean my first client?”

The girl nodded.

“It was someone called Jerry Goodman,” began Noah, staring intently at his desk as he remembered. “He wished for his life to be perfect. I said that his wish wasn't precise enough but he told me to improvise. I was young and eager to help, so I did – even though you're not supposed to grant wishes unless you're crystal clear on the details. You have to fill out forms afterwards, you see.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, I gave him everything. Perfect health, a ridiculous amount of money, a great...”

“A great what, Mr. Archer?”

Noah lowered his voice. “Um, a great sex life? Do you know what that means?”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Archer. I'm not eight.”

“Of course not. Well anyway, I gave him a great sex life, made him famous. Everything.”

“And was he happy?”

Noah scratched his beard. “No, Jenny. I don't think he was ever happy.”

“Do people often wish for a great sex life, Mr. Archer?”

“Um, we should probably talk about something else,” said Noah.


They talked for a while about something else. Occasionally Noah would wait patiently while Jenny returned to furiously scribbling in her notepad. Eventually she closed it and stretched out her hand. Noah shook it, smiling.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Archer,” she said again.

“You're very welcome,” Noah replied. “Are you thinking of becoming a Wish Architect?”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“How old did you say you were?” he asked, as Jenny stood up to leave.

The girl smiled at him. “I'm nine,” she said.


After Jenny had left, Noah spent a long time staring at the cubicle walls. It dawned on him that it wasn't much different from being inside a lamp.

It wouldn't be very comfortable,” said The Beard. “Think of living inside a lamp.”

I just want to help people, I guess,” said Noah. He looked at the floor. “You know, I want to make people happy.”

But would you be happy, Noah?”

Noah shrugged. The Beard stroked its unruly mane.

Noah, being in a lamp would be like being in a womb. You know what a womb is?”

Yes, sir,” said Noah. “But don't babies like being in the womb?”

For a time,” agreed The Beard. “But eventually they have to face life outside. They can't stay in their womb forever. It's not an escape.”

What would it be an escape from?” asked Noah, but The Beard had turned into Terrence, and he was forced to run from the blood.


“How's your case going?” asked Noah, when he met Lucy in the lobby on his way home.

“I convinced her to wish for all her cats to live as long as her,” Lucy said, rolling her eyes. “I call that progress.” She pulled her fingers through her long, flowing hair. “Two more wishes and maybe I'll get someone interesting next time. My back is seriously hurting though. I swear they've changed the dimensions of my lamp.”

The two of them walked through the large, revolving doors, out of the building, and onto the street.

“Did I ever tell you about Jerry Goodman?” asked Noah, as he dodged a large pedestrian.

“I don't think so.”

“He was my first client. His very first wish – my very first wish – he asked for perfection.”

“What happened?” asked Lucy, her fingers brushing lightly against Noah's arm as the two of them walked slowly down the street.

“I tried to give it to him. I really did. I gave him everything I thought he wanted.”


“And he shot himself in the head with a pistol.”

Lucy gazed at him silently, as if unsure what to say.

“It's something that humans never seem to learn,” she began softly, watching him carefully. “That happiness isn't a set of external conditions. It isn't something you can find outside of yourself.”

Noah turned to her, his face suddenly etched in frustration. “Then what's the point of my job?” he asked, his voice barely audible amidst the city's rush hour.

They had stopped in the middle of the street, only vaguely aware of the stream of people flowing past them. Noah clenched his fists tightly together.

“I can't make them happy,” he whispered, a note of desperation in his voice. “I can't work out what they need.”

Evening was falling on the city skyline as Lucy hugged him silently. He leaned against her, his eyes stinging, and tried to blink away the tears.


Noah awoke, disoriented, in the middle of the night. He rubbed his eyes sleepily and rolled over so he could see his bedside table. His mug of unfinished tea sat idly by the glowing alarm clock. His first panicked thought was that it was one in the afternoon and he had horribly overslept. Shortly, he calmed down, collecting his thoughts in the eerie stillness that was only noticeable at night. It was bitterly dark and clearly very early in the morning. He rolled over again, confused, and closed his eyes. On the verge of falling asleep, a horrible thought occurred to him. His eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright, listening intently. The eerie stillness was not quite as still as he had imagined. At the very edge of his hearing was a quiet, persistent vibration. He leaped out of bed and scrambled for his backpack. Inside, his pager was flashing silently.

“Oh, shit!” he said, out loud.

He flicked on the light switch and dived frantically for his wardrobe, squinting through the haze of sudden brightness. His foot smashed itself into the side of his bed, and, swearing furiously, he hopped around the room, trying despairingly to pull on his satin trousers. Smoke would continue to billow from his lamp for a good five minutes – hopefully keeping his new client in a state of general bewilderment – but if it cleared and he had failed to appear, the consequences would be dire. He took a deep breath and tried to gather his thoughts. He had not expected this at all. How on earth did anyone find my lamp so quickly? he wondered, as he vanished in a cloud of smoke.

He appeared, half-naked, floating under a starry sky. He scrambled to pull on his shirt and turban, acutely aware that he was far from the image of Arabic mystique that his company was trying to cultivate. Peering out from the dissipating clouds, he realised he was, once more, in a garden, with a woman kneeling on the icy ground.

“Good morning, Mistress!” he cried, throwing his hands into the air elaborately. “I have come to grant you three wish --”

He faltered, suddenly overwhelmed by the growing feeling of déjà-vu. He was back in Terrence's garden, in an almost identical position to his previous appearance. The woman in front of him was now rubbing her eyes and staggering to her feet, just as Terrence had done. As he stared at her in confusion, his eyes became accustomed to the gloomy conditions and he knew, instantly, that he must be dreaming. Awkwardly, Lucy returned his stare.

“Um, Lucy?” was all Noah could say as he waited to wake up.

She smiled wanly at him. “Hi, Noah. Do you want to come down?”

He floated slowly to the ground. “I'm dreaming, right?”

“I'm afraid not. I'm really sorry, but you seemed so upset earlier, I wanted to help you.”

Noah continued to stare at her so she continued.

“I couldn't sleep so I came to your client's house to rescue your lamp. I was just going to move it somewhere more useful, you know, so you could find a new client more quickly.” She gave a short, humourless laugh. “I didn't mean for you to find one this quickly though.”

“Why did you --”

“It was an accident! I fell over. Look at all the ice trapped in this crazy paving! No wonder your client died!”

“Terrence,” said Noah quietly. “His name was Terrence.”

Lucy nodded her head. “No wonder Terrence died,” she repeated. “Anyway, I must have accidentally rubbed your lamp when I fell. I'm really sorry.”

Noah looked at the house, tucked away in the darkness. Beyond it, a brooding cluster of trees surveyed him carefully and, on the horizon, the silhouettes of countless buildings rose out of the void, reaching for the pale night sky. When he spoke, his breath, like his lamp, formed clouds in the freezing air.

“As I was saying...” he began, clearing his voice. “Good morning, Mistress! I have come to grant you three wishes! Terms and Conditions apply!”

Lucy laughed. “Shut up, Noah,” she said.

“I'm serious, Lucy,” Noah said, walking towards her. “If you consult the regulations, you'll find that you are, in fact, my new mistress, whether you meant to rub the lamp or not.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” said Lucy. “Genies aren't allowed their own genies. You know that.”

“I'm not a genie,” said Noah shortly. “I'm a Wish Architect.”

“They're the same thing!” said Lucy tiredly. “Look, Noah. I'm really sorry but I'm also very cold and very tired. We both just need to go back to bed.”

Noah ignored her and floated back into the air. “What is your first wish, mistress?” he asked, raising his arms.


“What is your first wish, mistress?” he repeated stubbornly.

“Noah, just shut up!” Lucy replied forcefully.

Noah glared at her. “What do you want?” he shouted. His voice reverberated through the night, shattering the crystal silence. In the distance, a dog began to bark.

Lucy stared at him, as angry as Noah had ever seen her.

“What do you want, Noah?” she shouted back.

Noah stared at her, startled by the question. He took a deep breath. “I want people to start using me properly! I want people to stop wasting their lives wishing for crap! I want people to - ”

“Noah!” shouted Lucy, cutting him off. “What do you want?”

Noah returned to standing in the snow. When Lucy spoke again, her voice was gentle.

“Do you remember yesterday?” she asked. “What I said, about happiness? I was saying it to you! It's not that you can't make other people happy. You can't make yourself happy! For once in your life, Noah, think about it. What do you want?”

The air was still bitterly cold and yet, somehow, Noah felt warm. In the distance, the dog continued to bark, but its growls were lost amidst his thoughts. The sky was beautiful, completely cloudless, devoid of the smoke that would pour from his lamp. It was wonderfully, perfectly clear.

Noah half-closed his eyes as the clouds lifted from his mind. He looked at Lucy with sudden clarity.

Lucy smiled at him. “What do you want, Noah?” she asked.

He looked at her in wonderment. “You know the genie in Aladdin?” he laughed, throwing his turban on the ground. “I want what he wanted. I want to quit my job.”

Lucy giggled. “You always did love that film,” she said.


In the middle of winter, in the depths of the night, Noah Archer stood, surrounded by snow, wearing nothing but satin pyjamas.

“Thank you,” he said simply.

The girl he loved smiled at him. “So what now?” she asked. “Is that all? Can I go home?”

“Not quite,” said Noah.

He pulled her close and kissed her. Her lips were warm as she kissed him back.

The turban, already forgotten, was carried down the street by the wind.