In the blue cloudless skies, a mountain suspended in mid-air stretched impossibly towards the galaxy. Its varied round and sharp peaks were forested and majestic, enshrouded with layers of mist which promised mysteries and myths of a heavenly civilization.
Temples and buildings dotted the mountain face and cliffs. The most prominent one was the palace which loomed over all. Two guards stood sentry in front of the gold-plated doors, their eyes glaring at anyone who looked remotely unfamiliar. They clasped spears which could easily shoot off lightning bolts that rivaled that of Zeus himself.
And yet, behind the doors, were sounds and smells that didn't belong.
For instance, the sounds of dice rolling on the table, shoutings of "Big! Big! Small! Small!", and the overloud commentary voices from the television. The smells of heavy cigarette smoke, grease and liquor.
Thirty genies gambled in a room that didn't belong in the heavens.
They gambled because they wanted to avoid the penalty of being entrapped in the magic lamp and cast down deep into the Earth. And of course, grant some fortunate human (or animal) a wish. The conventional three wishes had been abolished ever since Gyilfi the wise old genie did just that and found himself stuck on Mars. Apparently, reality had been warped too much from the centuries past that any more forced modification would affect the wish-bringer himself.
And therefore, one wish. But still, the prospect of getting whirled away to some forsaken place* was enough to create the fierce atmosphere in the gambling room.
The rules were simple. Any genie could pick any gambling activity, and the one which lost the heaviest sung Auld Lang Syne and went. But the prize for winning big was centuries of exemption from gambling. To genies, that was as equivalent as to granting a human a year off leave with paid wages.
Aki wanted that badly.
He floated before the giant television screen, watching the soccer action unfold in front of him with utmost intent. Five other compatriots accompanied him, waiting for him to fail big time.
"Aki, are you sure that you want to bet five million genos on Fiverpool winning Loonchester United? The odds are really stacked against your favor," Hujk said, taking a swig of whisky from the counter.
"Yeah, Aki," Jonjo chimed in. "I know that the winnings are really tempting, but if you lose this one, it's…"
"Down to the magic lamp I go, I know," Aki said. "You guys have been bugging me for the past hour. You think I can't tell your intentions?"
"How sad Aki," Hujk shook his head and let out a large burp. "We are just concerned that you are hogging the lamp so much that you might have developed a obsessive complex."
"Yeah come on, give others the chance to grant wishes."
"And get transported to Mars. Gyilfi could do with some company."
"Or Pluto. The planet. Not the dog. See the joke? Haha."
Aki ignored their tauntings. Familiarity aside, he just had that inkling that this time he would be right on the money. In fact, he had already booked his tickets to the Kawaii resort, a one-genie haven served by a harem of pretty angels. These thoughts made him salivate, and cast a deep shadow on the memories of wishes granted in the past. Memories that he would be so happy to get rid of.
Like for instance, that loser fatass cat which mewled to become a mean predator. Oh it became a mean predator all right, but the unpredictable side effects of warping reality transformed Aki into a rat. Cue a chasing scene which became the top watched videos in GenieTube, relegating Gyilfi's monologues** to second place.
No more. This time I will get it right.
On the television screen, Fiverpool winger Toe Pole received the ball and started running at the defense. He did two stepovers, befuddling the opposition fullback.
"Yes, yes that's it Toe. Now get past him and deliver the cross!"
Toe Pole pushed the ball forward and suddenly collapsed onto the turf, clutching at his hamstring in sheer agony.
Hujk let out a burst of wine and laughter.
"That's got to be the most impressive showmanship I ever seen!"
Aki gritted his teeth. Loonchester United had begun their counter attack, and he knew their potency. Nine times out of ten they had resulted in a goal.
The bartender approached him.
"Do you want a glass of martini sir?"
"No," Aki said. "Go away. They haven't scored yet. Don't pass me the farewell drink because no way it's going to be a-"
Aki turned back just in time to see the ball budging the net of the Fiverpool goal, and heard the whistle announcing the goal and the end of the game. He watched the familiar scene of his compatriots rushing over and throwing him up in the air. He forgot where memories ended and reality begun, for they seemed so deeply entwined with one another, like a tape rewinding back on replay at a particular moment again and again.
The bartender tapped on the shoulder of the dazed Aki and passed him the glass of martini. Aki drank it down with a gulp, tasting nothing. The emcee announced the biggest loser for the gambling session. A plethora of cheers greeted at Aki's name.
"And now, Aki, would you do us a favor and sing us the song before going into the lamp?" The emcee smiled at him with a glint in his eye.
Aki sang Auld Lang Syne in Chinese***. He was not sure if that was the third time he did that. Maybe he should sing Japanese next time. Keep up the novelty.
"Hey Aki, get me an autograph from that player Toe Pole alright? We all owe him one!"
My Kawaii resort…
Aki began his plank routine towards the magic lamp. The latter shone a darkly silver under the lights. Aki reached out and touched the spout.
A rushing wind came forth, enveloping and compressing him into air, before sucking him into those claustrophobic confines.
The voices outside became an echo. Aki closed his eyes and felt the lamp being lifted by the emcee. To be honest, the first few moments when he got trapped in the magic lamp were actually kind of comforting. It felt like a mother's warmth, and even though genies had no mothers, Aki had enough experience in Earth to know.
The doors of the gambling den opened. The emcee approached one of the guards.
The emcee nodded.
"Did he bet on Fiverpool winning again?"
The emcee nodded, chuckling.
The guard received the lamp with a frown. "I have met fools. But they are all geniuses compared to him."
"He is just a loyal Fiverpool supporter."
The guard snorted. "So he is. You know, you could have spared the yearly gambling event and just get Aki to present himself. All these gambling expenses are eating into my bonuses."
"Cut me some slack. I managed to get you these lightning spears didn't I?"
"Yeah, I spent half the time zapping the skies for fun and one day accidentally zapped Zeus's ass. After he came out of the bath. Want to guess my penalty?"
The emcee looked at the guard's face, marveling at the side with normal skin and the other completely charred black.
"Ah, I think that's pretty self-evident. Thanks," the emcee said. "I'll put in a word for you about your bonuses. But in the meantime, will you care to do the honours?"
The guard replied with a javelin throw of the lamp. The lamp sailed into the air, its dark silver shining under the sun. It reached the apex of its ascend and for a moment stayed suspended there like a diver preparing for that defining dive.
And then it plunged down.
In the lamp, Aki screamed, even though he had already experienced that fifty times.
*Some genies prophesized of Pluto. And on a sidenote, Gyilfi the wise old genie was still stuck on Mars, his SOS cries forlorn on the red planet. Wise as he was, he wasn't the most popular.
**"I have a dream… a dream that one day I find out that everything is nothing but a dream…"
***"You yi di jiu tian chang... zen neng wang ji jiu ri peng you... xin zhong neng bu huan xiao?" (Friendship lasts forever as the earth and the sky... How can I forget old time's friends... How can I not smile in my heart?)