Prompt: A boy hiding in the attic of his family’s old house finds an intricately carved wooden laundry hamper and discovers it has a genie inside!
His family didn’t own anything nice. His parents were trapped in the nineties, obsessed with colorful plastic, and they never bought each other jewelry or fancy dishware. They lived in a small house, hoarding their money, waiting for the inevitable car crash or cancer that would suck it away.
While they waited for external misery they also farmed their own, which was why Caleb was in the attic that day, crouched over his untied sneakers, staring at an object with too much craftsmanship to be associated with his parents.
He ran his fingers along the wooden rim. It was some kind of hamper with roses and hummingbirds carved into it. The wood was red, but not painted. It had an extraordinary natural color, like the blood of the world’s oldest tree. Everything else in the attic was covered in cobwebs, but not that. It was just shoved into a corner with old sleeping bags and a box for an unfolding deck chair that had never seen the heat of summer. The hamper had no dust either, as if someone had been cleaning it.
Caleb heard a thump from downstairs. Without thinking he crawled into the big hamper and cuddled up to the pile of clothes left inside. He hugged a neon yellow sweatshirt sleeve, wrapped the other around his ears, and tried to pull it so tight he couldn’t hear anything other than the blood in his temples. He heard something, but it wasn’t his blood or the commotion downstairs.
You’re sad. You should be angry. Caleb ripped the sleeve away but didn’t jump out of the hamper. Where had that voice come from? His hands probed around the clothes. Some of them felt… wet. They couldn’t have been recently washed; his mother used a plastic purple hamper. His father didn’t do household chores. He never fixed the sink like he said he would.
Caleb heard another thump, which drove the voice from his mind. His mother whimpered from downstairs, tried to calm his father down. She apologized. She apologized a hundred times already and yet he was still on her. He always called it ‘taking a pound of flesh’. How many pounds did his mother have left? What was that other thing he always said? ‘I have to take pounds from you because you’ve got so damn many.’
The hamper had to belong to his grandfather. He was the one who always had the nice things. He made them himself, carved them from wood or welded them from scrap iron. Caleb had spent a summer with him once. Over the course of the month they had slowly turned a stump into a statue of a pig on its hind legs making barbecue. Caleb was still a little too young to understand how morbid it was.
Grandpa used to keep his father in check. He never hit his mother before Grandpa disappeared. The old man never wrote. Everyone thought he was dead, because before his sudden absence, postcards had been very close to an obsession of his. He was always sending them back home from the places where he collected his carving wood: Germany, Egypt, Brazil…
He’s hitting your mother. There was the voice again. Some of the wet clothes under him seemed to slither back and forth. Aren’t you angry? Aren’t you furious? He wasn’t imagining it. It sounded like hot coals raked across a driveway.
“Of course I’m angry!” Caleb hissed. “What can I do? Mom told me to hide. She said she could handle him.” Tears welled up. A necktie, peppermint-striped, rose on its own and wiped one of the tears from his cheek.
She lied. She can’t handle it. She is weak. All beautiful souls are weak. I can help you. You just have to get angrier.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
I am the thing your grandfather brought back with the wood. He carved me free. I was in that tree for centuries. He did one load of laundry and noticed it never dried. That’s because I’m in here. I like things hot and moist.
“Are you… magic?”
Oh yes. I need help though. I can grant your wishes, but you must really want them. You must feel the fire of anger. Picture it! Picture your dad striking your mom. Picture her bruises and cuts. I think I hear her crying. Don’t you care Caleb?
“You can grant wishes? Are you a genie?”
A genie? That’s a lovely bouncy word. Sure. I’m a genie. You’ve heard stories about wish-granters right? I can give you three. Just prove to me you’re raging inside. Prove you care about your mother. Caleb did as he was told. He would give anything. If he couldn’t have his grandfather back, he would have to take his place protecting her.
He did his best to provide proof. He leaned out of the hamper and grabbed the dusty things strewn about. He smashed a coffeemaker. He ripped a scarf. He growled and crushed an old fire truck toy in his hands, not caring as the sharp plastic drew blood, blood the laundry was happy to absorb, leaving no stain behind. Good. Make your wishes. You only get three.
“I wish Dad would stop hitting her… forever.” He closed his eyes tight and tried to will it true as he said it.
That’s no good! the voice snapped, before slipping back into smoky syrup. We’re using anger to change things. Your dad is already angry. I can’t change anger with anger. Give me something else. I’ll be nice and not count that one. Your grandfather screwed the first one up too.
“Do you know where he is?” Caleb asked. “I want him back with my wishes. All three if that’s what it takes.”
No, no no! That would undo his wishes. I can’t go back on my word. He left you because you were all so weak. I sent him to a nice sunny place where he can live until he’s too old to get angry anymore. He’s never coming back. He loves it there. We can just go visit him if you like. It’ll cost two and a half wishes though. There was a another thump. His mother shouted, and the sound hit Caleb’s spine like lightning.
“Fine. Whatever. I’m angry. I’m really angry. I wish Mom couldn’t get hurt.”
Now we’re talking! There came the sound of a closed fist striking a thick column of glass and bouncing off. Now it was his father’s turn to scream in agony. Don’t stop now. Confusion is draining your anger. Keep wishing. Two more.
“I wish I was strong enough to fight him.” Caleb grew. He couldn’t fit his legs in the hamper anymore, so they popped out. His untied shoes dropped off of his ripped socks. Hair spread across his knuckles. The genie had aged him. He was a man now; he had no idea how old, but he was as big as his father.
“I wish that… after this… we can have a normal life.”
Clever. Insightful. The anger hasn’t clouded you much. You’re not much fun. I’m glad I only gave you three. Bye bye Caleb.
A moment later the clothes were dry. Caleb pulled himself free of the wooden hamper and ran downstairs, nearly tripping thanks to his new stride length. There was his father whimpering on the floor, knuckles broken, swollen, and purple because he’d struck Caleb’s invulnerable mother. Her skin shone like porcelain. She was still alive, still blinking, which made a strange sound like plates sliding across each other, and she was very confused.
Caleb still had the anger. His father didn’t even have a chance to stare at the strange man who’d just come from the attic. Caleb beat him. He beat him until his eyes were swollen shut. He punched and kicked and thrashed until there was no life left in the man. Caleb’s anger was righteous, so it was stronger. His father was dead.
The genie had promised him a normal life, so the corpse disappeared, sinking into the kitchen tile like it was quicksand. His mother’s veneer went back to normal. Her blinking was silent. She stared. They both sat silently for hours before Caleb told his story. Apparently she had known about the thing in the laundry, but never taken it up on its offer.
“He said we could have a normal life,” the grown Cabel said. “But I’m not getting smaller. I think I’m stuck this way. How is this normal?”
“You… you look exactly like your father,” his mother said, tears coming to her face again. “We always said you looked like him. Nobody has to know he’s gone…”
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by TheWholeCard during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!