“And I want my grandparents to come back to life.” My cousin’s words ring in my ears. It’s like all of the air is sucked out of the room.
“Done.” The genie picks at her nails and turns to me. “Two wishes left for you. What do you want?”
My brain locks up. “Our grandparents are alive? Just like that?”
“Yes, that’s how wishes work.”
“But where are they?” Ness asks. She’s on her feet, eyes ringed red. Her car keys jangle in her hand.
“Wherever they were before.”
Ness grabs my arm with her cold fingers. “Jessica, wish for them to be here.”
“Don’t you want to see them?”
“They–they’re supposed to be dead.”
“Do you want them to be dead? I brought them back. They’ll be happy. Everyone will be happy.”
“I miss them too, Ness, but they’re supposed to be dead. Bringing them back…it’s not right.”
Ness’s grip tightens on my arm. “Please, Jessica. Wish for them to be here.”
“But what if?” The words stick in my throat. What if they’re decomposing? “How are we going to tell everyone that they’re not dead anymore?”
“We show them the lamp. And grandma and grandpa can explain it to them. Please, Jessica.”
My stomach twists so tight I’m not sure if it will ever untangle itself. “I wish our grandparents who you just brought back to life were standing in this basement, healthy and not d-decomposing.”
The genie, who had been completely ignoring our conversation, perks up. “Done.”
One second its the three of us, and then my grandparents are sitting on their ugly paisley couch. Just like that. As if they had been there the entire time. They barely have a moment to breathe before Ness is charging at them, trying to hug them. I stand back, scanning their skin for any sores. They don’t look pale or blue. Their eyes don’t look cloudy. But they aren’t smiling.
Grandma speaks first, “Ness? Where are we? Why are you crying?” Not a hair on her white head is out of place. She’s still wearing her nice navy dress, her funeral dress.
I jump in before Ness can. “What’s the last thing that you guys remember?”
Grandpa pushes his brown, oval glasses up his nose. “We were in bed about to fall asleep. Then we were ended up here. Did we sleep walk?”
“I told you you’re getting dementia.” Grandma put her hand on grandpa’s. “We were falling asleep. Then we heard you two rustling around. We came down here to see if you needed anything and…” Grandma’s brow wrinkles. She looks at the genie.
I hold my breath, waiting for her to ask. Instead she turns back to Ness. “What are you girls doing in our basement? Why are our boxes out?”
Ness shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.”
“Where else would we be?” Grandpa huffs.
Grandma swats his hand. “Frankly, you girls are scaring us. What’s gotten into you two?”
“You were dead.” Why did I have to tell them? Why couldn’t Ness own up? My stomach drops at the horror on their faces.
Grandpa sticks his tongue in his cheek, his thinking face. “That’s not possible.”
I grab the genie lamp out of the box, ignoring the genie’s glare. “We found this and used it.”
“Oh.” Grandma won’t look at me.
“We-we thought you’d be happy,” Ness explains. “Everyone misses you.”
Silence settles over us. The seconds stretch on. Grandma doesn’t look up, but Grandpa holds her hand tight. I feel Ness dissolving beside me. Her shoulders shake with grief. I want it to end. I want our grandparents to say something, to go upstairs and hug my aunt and make cookies. I want that family reunion Ness was talking about. But it doesn’t feel right.
“Are you going to make your third wish?” the genie sighs.
Grandma jumps. “You didn’t use it yet?”
“No.” I didn’t want to yet either. I don’t know what to wish for, and I can’t think straight.
“Honey,” Grandma reaches for me.
I try not to shrink back. Her hand looks wrinkled and normal, but what if she feels dead? Swallowing the bile that rises in my throat, I lightly put my hand in hers. It’s warm. I feel her heartbeat beneath her skin. She’s not like a zombie or a vampire or a ghost. She’s really alive again.
“Wish for a wonderful life or happiness or love. It’s your last wish. Don’t waste it.” Grandma pats my hand.
She’s really here. The surreal sheen that had fallen over the past twenty minutes after seeing the genie finally falls away. They are here, and they’re going to have a reunion tonight. They’re going to be at my wedding. They’re going to meet my kids. They’re going to be alive.
I turn back to the genie. “How long?”
“Do you wish to know how long your grandparent’s have?”
“Can’t you just tell me?”
“Fine. I wish to have a long and happy life.”
“Done.” The genie shimmers, turning back into smoke.
I don’t feel different. I don’t feel healthier. And when I turn back to the empty couch with two butt imprints still mushed into the cushions, I don’t feel happy.
Ness takes the genie lamp from my hands. “Maybe it’s a souvenir?” She examines it from all sides. It’s brass with a few decorative swirl engravings. She gives me a half-smile. “Should we rub it?”
“It may be metal, but it’s still just a decoration.” I hold my hand out for it, ready to get back to inventory. We’ve barely made a dent.
“Come on. What if it’s real? What would you wish for?”
“For the inventory to be done.” I try to snatch the lamp away, but Ness is too fast.
“That’s a stupid wish. You should wish for a butler instead. You could make him do inventory for you and then cook and clean every day.” She tries to look into the spout of the lamp. “I wonder what Grandma and Grandpa wished for.”
The lump that’s been sitting in my stomach for the past few days tightens. “Money?” I suggest.
“Yeah, but what about the other two wishes?” Her joking smile falters. “Why’d they keep it in the basement anyway? There’s so much junk down here.”
I look around at the piles of boxes. It’s going to take forever to get through. I wish the other cousins had elected to help. Yeah, it’s hard and it sucks, but don’t they want to see the house before it’s empty and sold off?
Feeling the tears pricking my eyes, I tilt my head back to try to stop gravity from pulling them down. “I’d wish for a personal library with unlimited books and shelf space.”
“Of course you would.” Ness rolls her eyes. “I’d wish for a butler, unlimited money, and a fiance.”
“You’re only twenty-one.”
“That’s why I said fiance and not wife. I want her loyalty forever, but I’m not ready for forever yet.”
“Right…” I start to empty the rest of the box and add the items to my list when I hear Ness’s ring clinking against the brass lamp. She’s actually rubbing it. I laugh to myself.
Then everything happens at once: a whoosh, blue smoke billowing out of the end of the lamp, and the basement lights short circuiting.
A deep female voice whispers, “Who rubbed my lamp?”
No light filters into the basement. I blink hard, trying to discern any shapes in the darkness.
“Well?” She asks.
“I wish the lights were back on?” No sooner as the words out of my mouth then the lights flicker back on.
The genie lamp sits on the ground in front of Ness where she must’ve dropped it, and standing before both of us is a tall, slender woman with dark purple skin and a black ponytail that stretches down to the floor. It looks painful, and her outfit, an emerald pantsuit that nearly melts into her skin seems just as restrictive. “You, whatever your name is. You have two more wishes.”
“Thank you.” I hear myself saying. What else are you supposed to say to that?
Ness sticks her hand out. “I’m Ness and this is my cousin Jessica. You knew our grandparents?”
The genie doesn’t shake Ness’s hand. “Yes. They bought me from a flea market for a lot of money.”
“What did they wish for?”
“The holy trinity: money, sex, and drugs.”
“What?” I blurt. Sure, maybe my grandparents had done drugs back in the day, but the thought of old people smoking weed was a little ridiculous. Not more ridiculous than the genie standing in front of me though.
The genie glared at me with her icy blue eyes. “Not human drugs. Authentic fairy dust. It lasts twenty-four hours, makes you feel good, and lets you hallucinate whatever you want. No bad trips and no side effects.”
Great, so fairies exist too. It’s too absurd. I’m numb.
I don’t know if Ness wasn’t listening or if she’s just as numb, but she asks, “Do we both get three wishes?”
The genie crosses her arms. She hasn’t smiled once. “Those are the rules.”
“Then I want unlimited money.”
“I want to meet and start dating my soulmate tomorrow.”
“And I want my grandparents to come back to life.”
My car stutters as I turn into my grandparents’ apple orchard. It’s a crisp September day, but the trees lining the dirt path reach out with bony, leaf-less limbs. Rotting apple cores sit decomposing in piles beneath the trees, and I roll up my window to avoid the stench. Headlights flash in my rear view mirror as my aunt’s Sequoia rides my ass into the front yard of the property where the path turns into a concrete parking lot. My cousin’s silver convertible has already claimed the first spot. She puts her hard cider on the porch banister and meets me halfway.
I nod at the two story farm house complete with a wraparound porch and yellow porch swing. “It doesn’t look different.”
“My mom’s been taking care of it. They’ve only been gone four days, but she’s cleaned everything twice.” My cousin, Vanessa (Ness for short) brushes her orange, flat-ironed hair back off her shoulders. She usually wears cute sweaters and leggings all autumn, but today she’s opted for light-wash, mom jeans and an old, paint-splattered sorority t-shirt. Ness and I are the only cousins out of ten who volunteered to help sort through our grandparents’ things.
“Your mom’s here by the way.” My head’s up isn’t necessary as my aunt is already lugging a vacuum out her back seat.
“Mom, there’s a vacuum in the house. We’re just sorting through boxes, remember?” Ness rolls her eyes, but her voice is soft and cautious.
My aunt Meredith hauls the vacuum up the porch steps, nearly knocking Ness’s glass off. “While you girls sort, I’m going to get a bit of cleaning in.” Aunt Meredith’s face is more red and puffy than usual, and her jacket is inside out.
“Mom, it’s clean. Maybe you should go home and get some rest.”
“I slept a few hours this morning. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
Ness looks to me, and we let Aunt Meredith go in and start vacuuming the living room. The noise distracts from the heavy silence. I grab the red, plastic cookie jar out of the cupboard. There’s only one left. Ness and I split it. Then we start in the basement, knowing it’ll take the longest.
Five boxes of holiday decorations later, I come to the last box in the basement closet. It’s unmarked. At first it appears to be filled with loose ball ornaments in various colors, and then I spot a shiny, ovular object near the bottom. Initially I assume it’s a toy, but it’s heavy and made of brass. “Ness, can you come here?”
“If it’s a spider, kill it yourself,” she calls from the other end of the basement.
“It’s not a bug.”
She sighs. Her footsteps slow as she gets closer. “Is that–a genie lamp?”
The pitter-patter of fairy feet broke through Lily’s dream. Their tinkling voices whispered in a language she didn’t understand. She risked opening one eye and caught a glimpse of small silvery wings disappearing behind her jewelry box. At the end of her bed, her pink curtain blew back and forth. They must’ve opened the window.
Propping herself up slightly, she pulled the covers to her nose and peeked around the room. Two fairies tumbled out from behind her mirror and flew to the window. Their bodies glowed golden, so Lily couldn’t make out their features, except for their tiny feet and their wings.
The window clicked shut, and Lily shot up and pressed her face against it. The fairies were floating off towards the woods in her backyard. She put on slippers, crept through the house, and ran out the backdoor in her nightgown. She could just make out the glow of the fairies disappearing into the trees, so she followed them.
The humidity made the backs of her knees sweat. Sticks poked at her feet and scrapped her legs. Her nightgown snagged on tree branches, but she pressed forward. She needed to see where the fairies had come from. Just when she thought she’d lost them, the woods opened into a clearing with the largest tree she had ever seen in the center. Hundreds of fairies flew around it, just inside a circle of red toad stools. A tin, high-pitched melody drifted from the tree, fairy music. Lily stood in plain view of the fairies, but no one seemed to notice her. They just talked and danced and zoomed around. She inched closer, hoping to get a better look.
Lily had explored these woods a hundred times, but had never come across this place. The leaves of the tree seemed to shimmer in a shade of green so green it couldn’t be possible. The bark of the tree twisted almost as if the lines were writing. Did all of the fairies live here?
She moved closer and closer. The music started to sound familiar. The disconnected notes were finally making sense. She could make out the tiny bodies donned in elegant dresses woven from flower petals. Their hair came in every shade from gold to magenta to mulberry to aqua. As she approached the nearest couple, they turned and stared at her. Their eyes were a dark, deep, impossible blue. Lily wished her eyes looked like that. How amazing it would be to be a fairy. To dance all night and sneak around humans and to be able to fly!
She waved at the two fairies. “Hi!” And as she took one last step, the lights blinked out. All of the fairies and the tree disappeared at once. She was still standing in a clearing, but it was dark. Clouds had covered the stars and the moon. Crickets chirped around her. She blinked and glanced around, trying to understand. Had she dreamed the whole thing?
As she turned to head home, her ankle brushed against a dew-covered toad stool. The circle remained.
After her mom closed the bedroom door, Rae watched the sliver of light creep under her door. If the bathroom light was on, then she could pretend that her parents were awake in the living room. And if her parents were awake in the living room, then she was safe.
She clung to this thought as she hid beneath the covers. Everyone knew that monsters couldn’t get through the blankets. As bursts of orange and yellow began to morph into shapes in her mind, she heard a train whistle as clear as if it was in her room. Now her parents would dismiss this. Call it a dream or tell her she only heard the train passing a few neighborhoods away. But it was so distinct and close.
Rae sat up, eyes darting to make sure her dolls hadn’t moved. They never did, but she could feel them watching. Her eyelids drooped, but her mind bugged her heart until her body twitched with panic. She gathered her courage, bundled her blanket into a lump behind her, turned on her dog flashlight, and leaned over to look under the bed. Two bins of Barbies took up the space there. She pushed them back against the wall so that nothing could hide behind them. No movement or noise indicated that there was anything more there than toys.
Sitting back up, Rae tried to reassure herself. She was being silly. What could a train do to hurt her? How could a train even get in her bedroom?
Adjusting her grip on her flashlight, she headed towards the closet. The doors squealed on their tracks as they slid open. She dropped the flash light. She didn’t need it. Where her clothes should have been was a train compartment. Sunlight streamed through the window onto two dark green benches. She looked behind her into her ordinary, boring room and stepped into the train car.
The closet door slid shut and morphed into frosted glass. The glass door opened. “Candy, Miss?” a train worker asked, gesturing to a tray of chocolate.
Rae accepted two plain pieces of chocolate. “Where are we going?”
“To The Library.”
“The Library. It has every book ever written, including the ones no one has published.”
Rae had never heard of this library, but it sounded perfect. “Do I get to read the books? How many books are there? Can I read them all tonight?”
“You’ve been invited by Lucinda Powell, the head scholar of The Library. She’s studied every book that it contains, and she can answer all of your questions.” With that, the worker left.
Time passed quickly. Rae watched the scenery go by: hills, plains, mountains, back to hills, and then a dense forest overcame them. The train slowed, and Rae pressed her face against the window as a tall twisting glass palace appeared in the middle of the trees. White iron held the large panels of glass together. It was unlike any building Rae had ever seen, prettier than any skyscraper.
The train pulled directly up in front of the palace. Rae knew this was her stop. She passed empty compartments and climbed out of the train onto the grass. A petite woman wearing a purple dress with a shoulder cloak held out her hand. The woman’s blonde bob bounced as she gestured for Rae to follow her. “I’m Amira. It’s nice to meet you. We never get visitors. It distracts all of the scholars.”
“Are you a scholar?” Rae asked, following Amira up the steps of to the front door.
“No. Just a receptionist. Scholars don’t like handling phone calls. I’m a people person, so I do it for them.” Amira’s perky voice put Rae at easy.
The entrance hall of the library was smaller than Rae had imagined, but a crystal chandelier hung over the center of the room, making the hall magnificent regardless. Amira gestured to a pale tan leather armchair against the wall. “Wait here please.” Before Rae sat, Amira disappeared through a side door.
A heavy wooden door blocked the entrance hall from the rest of the library. If Rae knew that the door wasn’t locked or that an alarm wouldn’t blare, then she would’ve snuck in and grabbed as many books as she could carry. Instead, she sat, swinging her legs and trying to ignore the tiredness creeping over her.
“Rae, I’m Dr. Lucinda Powell.” A tall, grey-haired woman with a few wrinkles strode across the entrance hall. She moved fast and her blue gown revealed a thin figure. “I’m so glad that you could join me this evening.”
Rae smiled, unable to find words. Lucinda seemed to understand. “I want to show you the main chamber. The Library has multiple wings and rooms. With so many books, how could it not?”
The floor to ceiling wooden doors thundered open, and Rae melted. The main chamber was as wide and long as a football field. Bookshelves were built into the walls. Windows and bookshelves were staggered, rising up five stories in a twisting shape. Rae didn’t understand how to get to the ones so high up, but she didn’t wonder long because the main level was filled with cozy armchairs of every color and fabric. Scholars occupied most of them with stacks of books resting on their end tables.
Rae wanted to run for the nearest shelf, grab an armful, and claim a chair for the night. Lucinda watched the anticipation and excitement grow on Rae’s face. “That’s how I felt when I first came here. Would you like to read one?”
“I’ll find a good one. Pick a chair.”
Rae scouted a chair near a window and away from the other scholars. It was floral, blue and yellow. She curled up in the seat. She could fit comfortable with her legs bent. Lucinda brought a heavy, brown leather book over. It was a little bit smaller than a normal book, like it was a field guide. The title read: Magick, Wisdom, and Reason: The Ultimate Guide to a Knowledge and a World Beyond the Visible. Rae dove in. Every page had little notes scrawled in blue ink alongside the printed text. Things were underlined and circled and crossed out. Rae couldn’t stop turning the pages. It wasn’t until she finished it that she realized Lucinda was watching her. Rae pretended to read the last page longer so that she wouldn’t have to give it back. But she couldn’t pretend forever.
“Did you like it?” Lucinda asked, letting Rae hold onto the book a little longer.
Rae nodded, all of her questions demanding to be asked. She didn’t know which one to say first.
“I was your age when I moved into The Library. Like you, I wanted to know everything that I could. I wanted to read every book and understand things that no one else had. I wanted to decipher the meaning of life, the origin of the world, and how it all ends. And I have.” Lucinda lowered her voice. “There is a Book of Time that begins before the beginning and ends beyond Time. In order to comprehend it, you need to learn everything that you possibly can. You have to read every book. Only then will you be able to handle it.”
Rae wanted to handle it. She was ready now.
“I invited you here because you love learning and reading. I’m inviting you to be a Scholar of The Library.”
Rae nodded eagerly, ready to accept so that she could keep reading.
“Do you understand that you will stay here?”
Rae nodded. “I’ll get my clothes and tell my parents.”
“The Library is a secret of scholars. You won’t be able to go home.” Lucinda looked sad. “I know that this is a big decision for someone so young.”
Rae bristled. She didn’t like adults thinking she was a child. She had full capability of her thoughts and actions, and she didn’t like being told otherwise. Her thoughts were reasonable, thank you very much. And she wanted to stay more than anything.
But she remembered that time her mom had thought she was missing. The panic and fear in her mom’s voice. Rae never wanted to hear it again. She missed her bed.
Reluctant, Rae handed the book back to Lucinda, and Lucinda called the train.