The HEDA Project would like to welcome its first guest author, Kaje Harper, novelist and author of several short stories! Below is posted her short story, “Dangerous Wishes,” originally posted in the YA LGBT Book Group on Goodreads in response to the prompt below. Enjoy!
Identity: Gay, Bisexual (M)
Word Count: 3,044
Prompt: In the middle of a snowy forest, a small stream winds between tree-lined banks, its surface frozen to flat, gray ice. On the ice lies a dark-haired teen boy. He’s sprawled on his back, eyes closed, one arm flung wide, dressed in a light sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. His tousled hair touches a clump of snow on the hard-frozen surface, and his high-cheekboned face is still and pale.
“That’s not what I wanted!” I tried to shove Asad out of the way, but my hand just passed though his insubstantial form with the faintest press of resistance. I snatched it back.
His perfect forehead wrinkled. “Why not?” He waved at Leo’s still body lying ten feet away, on the ice of the creek. “You wished for the boy to be with you. There he is.”
“Passed out cold!” I dodged around him and scrambled to the bank of the stream. Leo’s foot was within reach and I grabbed for it. I didn’t trust that ice. The last thing I wanted was to dump the guy I’d been eyeing for months into ice-cold water. I tugged roughly and his sneaker came off in my hand.
“Shit!” I tossed it away and clutched at his foot. He was so still, so cold and limp, even touching him through his sock. I pulled more carefully and his body slid toward me, his hoodie scrunching up under his arms. I managed to get his other foot, and hauled him closer. I could see his skin getting paler with each moment on the ice. Leo wore only a lightweight sweatshirt, and it was the middle of winter. “Help a guy out,” I snarled at Asad.
“Alas, I cannot. Unless you wish to use another of your wishes… You would still have one more, after all. You are granted three.”
Three. Like some crazy fairytale. I almost did it, but his coaxing tone made me bite my tongue. Whatever he’d done to Leo, it might take both my remaining wishes to undo. “Screw you, I’ll manage.”
“Screw? Do you wish to fornicate with me? Is that a wish?” Asad’s voice became all honey and smooth, slick as warm oil. For a bare instant, every nerve-ending in my body responded. He was perfect and sexy, dark-haired and olive-skinned and gorgeous. And magic. Which didn’t turn my crank.
“No. Just stay back.” I ignored the creature at my side to ease Leo further onto the bank, trying to guide him into my lap and keep the snow from slipping up under his clothes to chill him further. He was surprisingly heavy and hard to handle, unconscious like this, even though he was a little smaller than me. His head lolled back, exposing his bare throat. In a sudden panic, with my hands busy trying to hold him against my chest, I pressed my lips under his jaw. Oh god, thank god! I felt the soft bound of his pulse under my lips. “What did you do to him?”
“He sleeps. A prince, awaiting his… prince.”
“So it’s what, a spell? Like some old fairytale? I can wake him with a freaking kiss?” It wouldn’t be a hardship, except for the part where Leo Klune would wake up in my arms in the middle of the forest being kissed against his will. If he didn’t scream “roofies!” at the top of his lungs I’d be really lucky. And guaranteed I’d be in deep trouble.
“Well, not a kiss.”
I dragged my gaze away from Leo’s lips to turn and stare at Asad. “Then what?”
“Do you wish to know?”
I almost said “yes” but caught myself. “Would that count?”
“As your second wish? Yes, Master.”
“Don’t call me that.” I struggled out of my parka, one arm at a time, trying to keep Leo from falling over. When the parka was wrapped around him, he looked a bit less pale but the wind cut through my shirt like an ice-cube to the spine. “Let me think.”
How the hell did I get into this mess?
I’m not normally like this. Weird, I mean. Well, I am queer. But in the most boring way. I go to school, I play ball, I do my homework, I get turned on by impossible guys and never do more than beat off thinking about them. I’m ordinary.
But then last week, my Uncle Wilbur’s will was read, and he left me this old lamp. With instructions to take it somewhere private, rub it, and have fun. Uncle Wilbur, unlike me, was a really weird guy. Although possibly also queer, because when I decided, after a week, to take the stupid lamp out to my favorite of his hunting blinds… well, Asad came smoking out of the lamp. The son of a bitch smiled hotly, looked me up and down, and said, “I am Asad. I am here to serve you, Master. What is your dearest wish?”
You’d think I’d figure out, from the sudden appearance of a translucent, sexy guy, that this could be dangerous. Or else, that the sight of those huge dark eyes staring at my crotch would have made me wish for fun with Asad. Or at least think, for once in my life, before speaking. But what came out of my damned mouth was, “I wish Leo Klune was here with me.”
And hey, presto, fuck-the-hell-up-o, here he was. Unconscious.
I stood, staggering a bit, but managing to lift Leo in my arms. I am a football player, not a weakling. “I’m going to take Leo somewhere safe and warm. Then we’ll talk, you and me.” I tried to put some menace into my tone. It’s not something I’m really good at.
When I got to the blind, where I’d dropped the little lamp, I managed to sink to one knee, pick it up, and stuff it in one of the parka pockets, then lift Leo and stand again. Go me. I didn’t drop the hottest boy in school on his head in the snow. I staggered on. The blind was private, but not in the least bit warm. My uncle’s hunting cottage wasn’t far off though.
It only took about five minutes of trudging through the snow to reach the cabin. I almost fell when Asad said suddenly at my elbow, “I have been here before.”
I grunted, fumbling with the door. The cabin was deep on Uncle Wilbur’s private land, and not locked, but I had no hands free. Eventually I managed to turn the handle enough to go in. The main room was chilly too, but at least there was no wind. There was a futon-thing, and I set Leo down there, then turned to make a fire in the fireplace. It was laid ready, the way Uncle Wilbur always kept it, and took only a match to start, although the heat was pretty feeble at first.
I straightened, tossed the end of the long match into the growing flames, and glared at Asad. “Talk, you douchebag!”
“Never mind. Who are you? A fucking genie, right?”
His lips curved up far too knowingly. “Sometimes, yes.”
I ignored the double meaning. “Magic. From in the lamp.” I could see the brightness of the window shining through his shoulder, but I still didn’t believe it.
“I rubbed it and you came out.”
“And granted me a wish. Stop me anytime.”
“I granted you the first of your wishes. Yes.”
I staggered three steps and sat on the floor beside the futon. Leo’s lax hand was reassuringly solid against my shoulder. Or maybe not so reassuring, given how he got there. “Uncle Wilbur gave you to me. At least, he gave me the lamp.”
“I assumed as much. I felt the old Master pass.”
“Did you give him three wishes too? What…? No, don’t tell me.”
“Do you not wish to know?” He came toward me. Stalked, I decided was the right term. Like a cat after a mouse. “Would you like to hear how your uncle used me?”
“No!” I threw up a hand as if that would stop him. Then snarled, “Stop there!” Because I was no mouse. “What I want is to get Leo back home safe and sound, and to get out of this weird shit with my brain intact.”
“Mm.” Asad hummed a noncommittal sound but stopped where I told him.
First things first. “How do we get Leo back where he belongs?”
“That’s easy. Use your second wish.”
I tilted my head, looking at him. “And he’ll be just the way he was before?”
Asad blinked slowly. “That depends on what you wish for.”
“Crap.” I’d never been that good at logic, or words. I’m a simple guy. “So if I word it wrong, what then?”
“Well, you get your wish. Whatever it is.”
I shoved my fingers into my hair, wishing it was long enough to pull. “Why? Uncle Wilbur, why me?”
Asad actually looked concerned. “He had to will me to someone. That’s the way it works. Three wishes, and lifetime guardianship. Then you pass me on.”
Something about his tone made me look more closely. It was probably my imagination that his eyes seemed sad. “How long have you done this?”
“Over two thousand years. Sixty-one masters. A hundred and eighty wishes.”
I was crap at math, but… “Shouldn’t that number end in a three?”
“Some wishes are fatal.”
“Oh. Wonderful.” I sat there on the hard wooden floor. Behind me on the futon, Leo breathed slowly and deeply. The fire popped, as a small branch broke. The heat was beginning to be noticeable. “Did anyone not take their wishes?”
“Some tried. But a lifetime is a long time to resist temptation. At some point everyone wishes for magic.” Once again, I thought there was something in his tone that wasn’t seduction or gloating.
“Like when they were dying?”
“Occasionally. If they were very strong and very alone. More often for the benefit of someone else.”
Oh. Hell, yeah. If I could have kept Uncle Wilbur alive with a wish, I would have had a hard time resisting. “So can you do that? Keep someone from dying? Bring back the dead?”
“I’m magic, but not a god. I can’t bring the dead to life, and while I can heal the sick and injured it seems to go badly.”
He sighed. “Like Shan, who asked me to heal his wife, dying in childbirth after giving him a healthy son.”
“Oh yes. Then a week later, she got up in the dark, felt faint, and dropped her oil lamp. The fire killed them all, man, woman and babe.”
I swallowed hard.
“I have found it’s generally best to get my masters to use up their wishes right away on something trivial, before they try for eternal life or great wealth.”
“Wealth seems like it would be simple.”
He raised one perfect brow. “One might think so.”
Behind me, Leo snuffled and grunted, like a little snore. The sound reminded me it was my fault he was now snoozing ten miles from where he lived. Which I happened to know exactly, from having maybe once followed him home by accident. “But you can undo wishes? I mean, if someone wished for the wrong thing.”
“Well, not if anyone died. And not as simply as wishing you’d never wished. That ends by replacing one harm with another, usually.”
“So you’re not a gift from Uncle Wilbur, you’re a curse.”
“A responsibility, say.” He shrugged, an odd motion with the window flickering behind the shifting of his ribs. “You can wish me solid, then wish me to suck your prick, and all is done.”
I swallowed hard for a different reason. “But Leo would still be here. And wait, if you’re solid, how would you go back into your bottle?”
“Any wish that alters me does not last. So what is your wish, Master?”
I fumbled thoughts around in my head. If I said, “Wake Leo up,” who knows how Asad might decide to do it? I’d have to specify how, and for how long, and that he was allowed to sleep again at night, and not be made to stay awake forever. If I said, “Put Leo back exactly the way he was,” well, who knew? What if he’d been crossing a street on the green light, and now that light was red? How much control did Asad have? How much leeway? How much power?
Eventually, I said, “I think I’m ready but I want to know, after the three wishes, what happens to you?”
“I go back in my bottle. And you and those you care for are safe. Well, safe from magic, until you die and your heir gets three wishes.”
“And you what? Sleep?”
“Wait?” I stared at him. “Like, you’re awake in there? For years?”
“Decades. Centuries. Millenia. Yes.”
“That totally sucks!”
His lips actually twitched like he was trying not to laugh. Or maybe cry. “It does.”
“How can you get free?”
“A Master would have to give up one of his three wishes, and wish me home safely.”
“So? Why not? It sounds like they’re crap to use anyhow.”
“But powerful. I could truly make you the best quarterback ever born. Or give you the winning lottery ticket for a hundred million dollars.”
“How do you know I’d want that?” A flash of suspicion tightened my chest. “How do you know about modern things like those anyway?”
“Your Uncle kept my bottle near the television set. It was a kindness. Except during election years.”
“Oh.” He was right. I could feel the temptation so strongly I had to press my hand to my mouth. I was second string quarterback, and odds were I’d never be first. And how cool would it be to be the best football player, ever, and then come out? In the NFL? God. God!
It was the sadness, deep in his eyes, that helped me in the end. I took my hand away. “Two wishes. I wish you would tell me exactly how to have Leo wake safely and with no lasting harm.”
I waited. After a few minutes of fraught silence, I said, “Hang on. That’s your answer?”
“Yes. Wait. Eventually he will wake up. You will have to think of a story to explain wherever you put him before that happens. But there will be no harm done to him that way.”
“Oh. All right.” I turned to look at Leo. His dark hair was drying in the warmth of the fire, and he looked more healthy than pale. His eyes shifted under his closed lids, like he was dreaming.
I turned back to Asad. A million dollars. A Lamborghini. A cure for cancer? that last had me almost asking, until I realized how fraught it was. A cure, that didn’t kill the patient, didn’t cost too much, was available on Earth, that I could convince someone actually worked, that lasted a lifetime, didn’t cause other major harm… “I wish you would go home, safely, to where you belong, with no lasting harm to anyone.”
His eyes brightened from dark to gold, and he leaped toward me. For a moment I panicked, thinking I’d freed some evil creature. But he grabbed my face with nearly imperceptible hands, and pressed the faintest of kisses to my mouth. “By all the Gods! Thank you, nephew of Wilbur. May you live long and prosper!” There was a bright flash, and a snap, like something breaking, and he was gone.
I sat there, my back to the futon, Leo’s limp hand against my arm, for a long, long time. Eventually, Leo stirred, grunted and rolled onto his side. I twisted to look over my shoulder and our eyes met. He sat bolt upright. “What the hell! Where am I?”
“Uncle Wilbur’s cabin,” I said. I’d thought about leaving with him, but he was heavy and I was tired, and help was miles away. “I found you lying out in the woods, passed out.” It was the truth, after all.
“You what?” He leaned forward, pressing his hands to his head. “I don’t remember. I don’t have a clue how I got there.”
“What do you remember?”
“I was shopping for my mom. I picked up an eggplant. There was a noise…” He lifted his face from his palms to stare at me. “I know you. Vic. You’re the quarterback.”
“And you found me?”
“It was a good thing too. You’re not dressed for the snow. That’s my parka you have on.”
He stared, then ran his hands over the jacket wrapped around him. “Wow. It’s not mine.” He dipped a hand into the pocket and grunted. “Huh?” He pulled out his fist clenched around a crumble of clay. “You keep dirt in your pocket?”
In the mixed rubble, I saw hints of blue, a little flash of gold. Goodbye, Asad.“Sometimes,” I said.
“Weird. Not that I have anything against weird. But how did I end up out there?”
I couldn’t help saying, “A genie, maybe?”
“Don’t be a jerk.” He leaned toward me, and put his clay-smudged hand on my arm. “Vic. I’m… confused. A bit freaked, to tell the truth. But thanks for the jacket and everything.”
“Would you, can you help me out?” His eyes were the color of melted chocolate. “I need to get home and, um, maybe a doctor? Or maybe… maybe I won’t tell anyone yet. I don’t know. I… fuck, I’m confused.”
“Do you feel sick?” I desperately hoped the shift from grocery store to frozen stream hadn’t hurt him.
“No. That’s weird too. I feel fine.” He glanced around. “Except for being here, I feel normal. Freaky! I don’t understand. Vic?”
That lost tone in his voice made my heart hurt, but I couldn’t say so. Instead, I said what I could. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out. As long as you’re not hurt, that’s what counts. Right?”
“I guess. Thanks, dude. I’m so glad I didn’t wake up alone out there, you know?”
“I’m glad too,” I said. “And I’ll help, any way I can.”
His tentative smile was my reward.
And if I’m going to hell for never telling him how he ended up lost that day, well, we’ve been together three years and counting now and the opportunity hasn’t come up. Anyhow, I bet hell is fabulous,and I’ll fit right in there. They say that’s where all the hot gay guys go, and maybe that’s where genies come from, after all.