Version Française, c’est par ici
Under a blazing sun, on the open sea, I float.
On my makeshift raft, under the flight of the seagulls, I’m bored.
My name is Jacob « Short Legs ». My name is not because I have shortened lower limbs, but because my classmates have always beaten me in races. I was raised in a house where I called all the children in the house « brothers and sisters » without really knowing if we were really related. My « parents » never gave me any affectionate attention and for good reason, I learned as a teenager that they were part of the Thieves Guild of the Country and that I had been entrusted to them when I was about 6 years old. My biological parents had probably sold me for some money in order to temporarily put me out of their misery.
Once in this guild, children like me are trained in various trades: some become crippled beggars, some become thieves, some become assassins… for the few « talented » ones. For my part, I became a thief.
A bit sneaky and unattached, I quickly developed a certain « touch » for other people’s finances. Lively and quiet, I don’t have any unnecessary scruples.
After all, if I can access your purse, it’s because you don’t really care.
I’ve been around the country quite a bit, spending the money I earned quickly, before the guild charged too much interest. There was a time when I even had a wife and kids. My wife never understood the point of getting paid when I stuck her in the arms of rich loan sharks, and my children never brought me enough money to feed them… even with a broken leg. So I decided to part with the lot, two years after the children were born, in a brothel in the capital.
I won’t be caught there again!
My life really took a turn the day I tracked down a « client ».
She was alone, in a dark alleyway… nothing but happiness. She had a bottle in her hand. I discreetly approached her and I knocked her out flat, letting her fall down all the way. The bottle tinkled for a few seconds as it touched the ground and came to rest without breaking.
As I was stripping her of her possessions and virtue… no small profit, I saw an old man near me, at the edge of my field of vision. A man I hadn’t noticed a few seconds earlier.
The latter, dressed in a heavy, deep blue velvet dress, looked like a carnival man. His thin, swarthy face was heavily wrinkled. His dark skin allowed his thin, sagging black moustache and spiky goatee to fully assert themselves. He saw the young woman unconscious on the ground and, while smoothing her goatee, looked at me for a long time with her eyes wrinkled. Then, pensive, he looked at the bottle lying beside her. For a moment, I thought he was going to lecture me, as I sometimes did on unlucky days, but he sat down by the empty bottle and stood there motionless. Seeing that he was not reacting, I realized that I was dealing with a simpleton, and I made it my duty to apply a « thorough » search to the lady. After dispossessing her of her few possessions, I went to relieve myself between her sleeping kidneys, when I remembered the idiot sitting next to me. So I was getting dressed again, somewhat frustrated… one can be unscrupulous and a bit modest anyway.
Also with a certain practicality, I would pick up the bottle from under the moron’s nose. It had a certain cachet and I had to be able to get a few pieces out of it, even when it was empty as it was.
A few meters further on I noticed that the simpleton, determined to move, had decided to follow me, and as I turned around to make him run away, he spoke:
– By picking up that bottle, » he said slowly, « you became its owner. By becoming the owner of the bottle, you have become my master, » he added with a smile on his lips. I am a Genie Master Jacob and I will fulfill three of your most cherished wishes. Then you will do me a favor, » he added, and ended with a smile.
The first two wishes
– Ooh there, » I cried to myself, raising my hands to stop his talk, « you haven’t yet done anything of your miraculous promises that you already want me to work for you? What kind of favor are you going to ask me?
– Oh rest assured, » he replied, « nothing beyond your competence.
What made me nervous at the time was his attitude. A few minutes earlier, he was looking at this woman lying on the ground with a certain sadness in his eyes, and now he looked happy, almost relieved.
Without waiting a second longer, but without really believing in it, I announced my first wish in the tone of the challenge:
– Three wishes, eh, nothing but that, my good lord, » I exclaimed in a false bow. Well, let’s see how you’re going to do it. I want to become the richest man in the country. Careful, I want to be richer than the King himself!
Not content with not dismantling himself, the genius took a knowing look:
– « Get rich just that, » repeated the genius… « but if that’s what you want, then you’ll be rich.
After seeing him make a few obscure passes with his hands, I was speechless when a twenty-inch high chest appeared at my feet. It was obviously very old. Expecting a few vicious tricks, I blew the lid off with my foot. Not only did nothing untoward happen, but I could see that it was filled with gold coins. It was fantastic… unimaginable.
On my knees, hands in the trunk, it took me a few minutes to recover. Nevertheless, I thanked the genius before I left him and placed my heavy and fabulous booty in a safe place, with my eyes jumping from one corner to the other of the streets, over or under my shoulder.
Thanks to this fortune, I first got myself a new livery, the same as the gentlemen I stripped yesterday. Then I bought myself a house, very big, very beautiful on the hill, with a beautiful view of the city. You could see it from far away. I invited my family, my companions, and together we squandered this gold that no one else knew about but me.
Looking back, I realize that I was very naive to think that gifts for my guests would be enough to satisfy them. They all asked me about the secret of this abundance, and they were all more than prolific in giving advice of all kinds on how best to use it.
A few weeks later, as I was about to restock my stumbled coin where I had hidden my brand new old safe, I was ambushed. I had to confess, under torture, where it was. Screaming out my suffering, the old genius who was always by my side, whom I had understood to be the only one to see, looked at me without blinking. In spite of the pain, however, I resisted the temptation to make him intervene. I would find my revenge.
The second vow that burned my lips at the time was a simple one: to slaughter them all.
Alone, dropped with incisions and swollen with all kinds of bruises, they nevertheless left me alive without me having pronounced the mortal vow.
I used to take refuge in the fields outside the city. Wounded, except in spite of everything and now safe, I had in mind to retrieve my chest and take revenge. I took the time to think it over this time, for several days. I finally ordered the old man in a dress, who followed me tirelessly, to fulfill my second wish:
– Wealth is too material, » I confessed, it can be stolen. I want something that won’t be stolen from me. I want power.
Genie, » I said to him, « I want to become King of this country.
– If that is your desire, Genie Master Jacob, » said the genie with arms raised, « you are King!
I instantly found myself sitting on the throne, in this room that I had only seen on the tapestries of the courtroom that I had visited more often than I had been there. People were bowing down before me, and I knew what words were expected of me at that moment:
– Have the meal served, » I cried out, « I’m hungry!
What I hadn’t told my personal miracle worker was that once I was King, I would stand guard over the traitors who had tortured me, throw them in jail, torture them, and finally… execute them. I’ll get my property back and, icing on the cake, access to the royal treasury. Then I’ll make laws to dissolve the thieves’ guild and give my family a big thank you.
Nothing’s gonna stop me now.
So I began to use and abuse this new power given to me, the genie always within sight, smoothing his goatee, ready to fulfill my last wish. Thanks to the militia, I recovered my chest as I had planned, offered land to my former family of thieves and gave them the posts of ministers, having the precedents banished outside my borders as a precaution. Then I had my enemies cut up in the public square so that all would know who was behind their new misfortunes. Icing on the cake, thanks to my status, I took the former King’s daughter as my mistress and made her a mouflet… with power, you don’t need love.
Of course, shortly afterwards, the country sank into an atrocious mess, bordering on civil war, which my family and I aggravated, day after day, by decisions devoid of any thought, any medium or long-term vision. Politics is not so easy to understand if you are not prepared for it.
The former ministers reacted, of course, and with the help of an allied country, fomented a coup d’état. After the total success of their plan, which I did not have the presence of mind to counter, my family and I were sent to prison. The daughter of the old dead King was placed on the throne while awaiting the majority of her son, of whom I was never recognized as the father, and all was restored to normal. Life at court among good company was finally able to resume.
All I could think about was revenge again. As such, I wished to use my last wish only in the realization of this revenge.
The third wish
I spent months looking for ways to get out of my cell. I tried to bribe my jailers, to scrape the floor with my fingernails, to dislodge stones from the prison, to pretend to be dead… all without any success. Of course the genie was there, in my cell, ready to bend to my last wish, but I didn’t want to waste my last wish without giving it a lot of thought.
Over time, my hair and my graying beard became intertwined. I began to go blind, and my muscles almost didn’t carry me anymore. After a few years, revenge faded and I finally knew what I wanted to ask the genie, an idea I hadn’t had since my imprisonment:
– Genie, you’ve been sitting here for years watching me wither away, waiting for my last wish. I think it’s time for me to face reality.
The last wish of a man like me is to be free. The greatest freedom of all, the freedom to be free from attachment to nothing, to no one.
– Genie, my dying wish is to get out of here.
With a radiant smile on his face, Genie clapped his hands.
In the second, I was outside, on a beach I didn’t know, probably very far from home. My eyes hurt and my weak legs slipped away, leaving me on my knees facing the sea. The ocean wind whipping my face untangled my hair and refreshed my skin. I was free at last.
After a few minutes in the open air, the genie addressed me:
– Your last wish has just been granted Jacob, you are free, » he said smiling. Now you owe me a favor.
– You don’t waste any time, tell me, » I said, a little flabbergasted. But it’s true, genie, that was the deal. What do I have to steal for you? I asked him.
– Nothing, Jacob. Nothing and no one, he said. You’re just going to take my place in the bottle.
I was in shock. There was no way I was going to lose this newfound freedom
– There’s… there’s no way, I cried, you old crook! I’ll never live in a cell again. Whether it be in a prison, or in a bottle. I’ve just discovered that the only wish a human being should have is to have his freedom.
You’ll have to find someone else, I’m afraid.
The genie then no longer smiled and answered me with frowning eyebrows:
– At what point did I tell you you had a choice?
Without having time to protest further, my eyes became blurred, the air became heavy and I could see the genie standing before me… immense and troubled. I was in the bottle, and he was not.
Looking down on me from all his height, he laid down the rules:
– You shall grant the three wishes of the person who takes you out of the bottle, or if you don’t know who it is, the first one who holds the bottle in front of you, he said, after which she too must do you a favour.
– Let me out, genie! I shouted, let me out!
– You’re in there for a number of years, Jacob. I myself had to wait 234 years, 3 months and 25 days before fate put you in my way, fortunate as you are.
– And you know what? » continued the genie, « If you hadn’t knocked that poor young woman out, I would have seen the bottle in her hand and she would be in your place today.
Pity, I took my head in my hands and cried over my fate while the genie disappeared as I walked.
A few days later an old dog who was playing with my bottle dropped it in a stream, dragged it into the river, and threw it into the ocean.
I’ve been in the bottle for 8 months and 3 days now.
Floating under this blazing sun, overflown by seagulls, in my glass raft, I await my destiny… and I’m bored!