Genie, Ginger, and Gretel by Charles C Cole

Genie, Ginger, and Gretel
Charles C Cole

Genie, the big-and-tall shirtless exotic client who’d started it all, was back in my office. As he’d done in his original visit, he grabbed some throw pillows and sat cross-legged on the floor.

This was not a countercultural, or nonconformist, gesture: he was too much mass for my cheap furniture, and he knew it.

Genie didn’t notice the pillows had never recovered from their first encounter. A small puff of cotton fibers escaped up and out behind him, like the death rattle of a stuffed animal. I sat self-consciously straight in the swivel chair at my desk, and our heads were almost exactly the same height, almost.

You do wondrous magic!” I explained gently, as if acquainting a toddler Genie to its life’s purpose. He wagged his huge noggin in agreement. “Surely, you’ve handled this kind of thing before.” He wagged some more. “You don’t need me.” He vigorously shook his head in a demonstrative refutation of the facts.

There’s nothing I can do,” said Genie morosely, “except bring him to your attention.” His dear friend was seriously damaged and looking for some end-of-life resolution.

Give him the lamp and three wishes,” I proposed, like “Why didn’t you think of it?”

Can’t.”

Give the lamp to his best friend who uses his first wish on your pal Ginger.”

I have no say who gets the lamp or how they use their wishes.”

He’s not getting my last wish!” I declared, slapping the top of my desk with both hands and sounding more petulant than intended.

I would never… But you have other skills in this instance which – ”

You’re looking at my waist! You want me to eat the Gingerbread Boy?!” I exclaimed.

Humans love cookies.”

Not a cookie that talks and thinks.”

A crow pecked his eyes out while he was suntanning. A mouse stole all his gumdrop buttons while he was sleeping in a hammock. A dog ate both of his legs! He’s gotten stale. He’s just looking for peace at the end of his life’s journey. And purpose.”

To be eaten by me?!” I gushed.

This is not my wish.” Genie’s lower lip sagged. “He’s a big fan. It would be a tremendous tribute.”

I’m not chowing down on your lifelong pal! No matter how appealing you make it sound. Listen, Hansel and Gretel have a whole house made of gingerbread!”

Made from a different batch entirely: it doesn’t talk.”

No, but maybe they can bake him some legs and replace his decorations. It was a witch’s house; in the right book, they probably have a potion for this.”

I won’t visit a house for feral children, growing up without adult supervision, with a vulnerable friend who’s one-quarter sugar.”

I’ll go too,” I grumbled. “I owe you that much.”

Genie snapped his fingers. We were instantly transported to a dark forest.

Nice trick,” I growled, feeling a draft and reaching up for a hat that would ordinarily have been on my head.

Sorry. Wouldn’t want you out of uniform,” said Genie, pulling my fedora out of mid-air, like he’d had it hidden in his palm the whole time.

Ginger was on a wheeled wooden stretcher beside us. He’d seen better days.

How you doing, Ginger?” I asked.

Detective Avery? I’m honored,” he said, smiling broadly under dark sunglasses, worn out of modesty. Somehow, he managed to have dimples, and I could see crow’s feet, from a life well lived, at the corners of his empty eye sockets.

Hello. Anybody home?” called Genie.

Home, home, home,” came an echo from the woods, as if Genie had been shouting into a canyon.

A little help please!” It was Gretel, climbing out a stone well just behind us. I clasped her small cold hand, propping a foot on the side of the well, and pulled her up easily. She was a broom of a girl in her early teens, about 5-foot tall. She was dry.

Coming back from a swim?” I teased.

It leads to a tunnel under the house, for surprising people who surprise me.”

Gretel peered up at my hat, then gently tapped one side to give me a rakish look. “Joe Avery?”

The same. We’re hoping you can repair our gingerbread friend.”

She leaned over our wounded pal, putting her nose close to his head and shoulders and sniffing like a sommelier. “That’s quite a recipe! Never smelled anything like it. I believe I can help, in exchange for a small sample.”

Of me?” asked Ginger, shrinking back from a menace he could not see.

You ever make sourdough bread?” Gretel asked me, stepping closer, ignoring the patient. “You take a little bit of the original dough as a starter. Hansel hunts for days, leaving me alone. I sometimes talk to my gingerbread house. I would love to have the house talk back. What conversations we would have! Maybe with a little of Ginger’s recipe in the walls…”

That’s up to Ginger,” I said.

Of course. The talking cookie.” She returned her attention to our pal, towering over him in an oddly menacing way. “What do you say, Ginger, to new eyes, new buttons and new legs?”

Sounds appetizing,” said a prone Ginger in a joke at his own expense.

Hope you’re not planning on taking him down the well.”

You’re funny,” she said, but it didn’t sound at all like she meant it. “Shouldn’t take long; there’s always a cauldron on the fire.”

After Gretel had gone inside, I looked about for Genie. He’d disappeared as quickly as she’d appeared. I saw a pair of glowing, bodiless eyes not far off.

A trick I learned from the Cheshire Cat,” he answered in explanation.

Is it kids or witches that scare you?” I asked, approaching gingerly.

The combination of the two.” His body slowly reappeared. “I’d prefer to be the only magic in the room, if you get my meaning.”

In the end, Ginger was better than new. Gretel had our thanks, our respect, and our awe.

Genie, Ginger, and Gretel by Charles C Cole 1

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