The wishmakers, p.1
For Chris Schoebinger
About the Author
About the Publisher
There was a genie living inside my peanut butter jar.
I didn’t see the warning label. Well, I saw it, but I didn’t actually read it. I sort of remember glancing at the words on the lid.
WARNING: READ BEFORE OPENING
But I didn’t bother to study the rest of the tiny words crammed on the small top. I didn’t think it would be important. How was I supposed to know that making a sandwich would change my life?
One minute, you’re trying to make lunch. Then before you know it, a genie emerges from your peanut butter jar and wants you to save the world. At least, that’s what happened to me.
I looked at the open jar in my hand, then again at the strange boy who had appeared with a deafening bang and a puff of smoke.
He was on top of the dining table, standing on the slices of bread that I’d just laid out.
At that moment, I didn’t know I was staring at a genie. The boy didn’t seem like anything unusual, other than the fact that he had just appeared out of nowhere. He looked twelve or thirteen, about my age. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, with a baseball cap stuffed over his abundance of black frizzy hair. The boy was rather scrawny, had dark skin, and big unblinking eyes that stared directly at me.
Again, I looked at the jar in my hand. Where on earth had my foster parents bought it?
At this point, you are probably wondering if the peanut butter was chunky or creamy. That detail is wildly unimportant. Don’t waste another moment thinking about it. Instead, think about how confused I was to find a kid living in a jar in the pantry.
“Hello,” he said. If I’d known he was a genie, I might have expected his voice to be booming and ominous. It was far from that. In fact, the boy’s voice was a bit squeaky.
He took a step forward, slipped on a slice of bread, and fell flat off the edge of the table.
“Yep, that hurt,” cried the stranger, pulling himself to his feet and rubbing his knee. “Definitely going to feel that tomorrow.”
As we stood face-to-face I realized that we were almost the same height, though he seemed taller because of his curly hair.
I was still having a hard time believing what I saw. Have you ever been so hungry that you imagine things? I once imagined that a doorknob at the orphanage was a cupcake. It did not taste good.
Deciding that this was another hallucinatory hunger moment, I slowly reached out and poked the boy’s shoulder.
“Ow,” he said, stepping back. “What was that for?”
I stared unblinking, finally beginning to believe what was standing before my eyes. “Had to make sure you were real.”
“Of course I’m real,” said the boy. “What else would I be?”
“Well,” I replied, “I thought you were peanut butter.” To back up my answer, I hefted the jar I had just opened.
“Hmm,” he said, peering at the container. “Is it chunky or creamy?”
“You should know,” I said. “Weren’t you just in there?”
“Well, yes,” he answered. “And no. It’s not exactly a peanut butter jar. That would be ridiculous.”
“That’s what it looks like,” I said.
“Of course,” he answered. “But that’s not what it is.”
“What is it, then?” I stared skeptically at the thing I was holding.
“A genie jar,” the boy said.
“A . . . genie jar?” I raised an eyebrow. “I thought genies came in lamps.”
“Lamps?” He laughed. “Where would I live? In the lightbulb? Plus, you’d be tripping all over the cord. . . .” He waved off the idea. “Genies come from jars. Like that one.” He pointed at the container. “The magic of the Universe disguised it as peanut butter so you’d be drawn to open it.”
Genie. Magic. Universe . . . I peered into the open jar I was holding. It looked empty and vast inside, like a black hole. Definitely no peanut butter. “Is this a prank?”
The boy held up his hands. “I’m real. And I can prove it to you.” He paused, then said, “I’m a genie, so . . . wish for something.”
Wish for something. Hmmm. Only one way to find out.
“I wish for a lifetime supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” What? You know I was hungry.
I held out my hands as though the sandwiches might start pouring down from heaven. Instead, the genie leaped forward and slapped something around my wrist, apologizing in case it hurt.
Luckily, it didn’t. It was merely a wristwatch. I couldn’t help but wonder why I had gotten a watch when I had clearly wished for sandwiches. Maybe the genie was hard of hearing. Maybe his ears were full of peanut butter.
“Oops,” said the genie. “I probably should have started with the rules. Now we only have thirty seconds, so listen up.”
I glanced down at the watch. The band was thick leather, but instead of numbers and hands, the top was a slender hourglass, white sand pouring from the upper chamber to the bottom.
It didn’t seem like a smooth design. Now I had a three-inch-tall hourglass poking up from my wrist. What if I wanted to put my hand in my pocket? Or reach inside a cookie jar?
“Okay,” said the boy genie. “The world exists in a state of balance. Whenever you make a wish, the Universe has to give you a consequence to go with it.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, feeling cheated. “Aren’t wishes supposed to be free?”
The genie shook his head. “The Universe has to keep things in balance.” He pointed to my wrist. “The hourglass watch shows you exactly how long you have to accept or decline the consequence before the wish expires.”
Glancing back down, I saw that the top chamber of the little hourglass was already half empty. A more positive person would have said that the bottom chamber was already half full. Either way, I was running out of time.
“You wished for a lifetime supply of sandwiches,” said the genie. “If you want that wish to come true, you have to accept the consequence.”
“Which is?” I asked.
“You have a smudge of peanut butter on your cheek.”
I reached up instinctively, wiping both sides of my face. “I do?”
“Well, not yet,” said the boy. “That’s the consequence. You’ll have a smudge of peanut butter on your right cheek next to your mouth.”
“I’ll just wipe it off,” I argued.
“It doesn’t work like that. Wipe it off and it will instantly reappear.”
“How big is this smudge supposed to be?” I asked.
A lifetime supply of sandwiches in exchange for a smudge of peanut butter on my cheek? I doubted the scrawny kid in my kitchen could make either of those things happen.
Again, only one way to find out.
“Sure,” I said, taunting him. “Prove it.”
“You have to say the magic word.”
“Really?” I muttered. “There’s a magic word?”
“You have to say it every time you make a wish so that the Universe knows you accept the consequence,” he explained. “It’s like giving your final answer on a game show.”
I glanced at my hourglass watch. There wasn’t much sand left. “What’s the word?” I asked.
“Bazang,” he said.
“Bazang?” I repeated.
And just like that, I was surrounded by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
When I wished for a lifetime supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I sort of thought they’d be delivered to me over the course of my life.
Nope. I got them all at once.
There were thousands of sandwiches, each individually wrapped in a little plastic bag. The entire kitchen was full, probably the entire house! I was up to my armpits in them, and the boy who had granted my wish was trying to wade toward me.
It settled one thing. The kid was a genie. A real genie!
And now I had a lot of sandwiches.
I locked eyes with the boy. He made a conspicuous gesture as though wiping at something on his cheek. It was the kind of gesture that made me do the same. As soon as my fingers touched my right cheek, I felt the promised smear of peanut butter.
For the next few seconds I tried to wipe it off. It felt slightly dried and crusty, but as I felt it flaking away, more appeared.
“It’s useless,” the boy said, practically swimming through sandwiches to reach me. “You can’t get rid of a consequence.”
As I lowered my hand in defeat, I noticed that the watch he’d given me had changed. The hourglass seemed to have collapsed, folding paper-thin across the leather band. The shiny top of the hourglass now looked very much like a regular watch, with numbers displayed on the face.
“I’m Ace,” I said, reaching out for a handshake. “What’s your name?”
“Ridge,” he answered, giving me a high five.
“Your name is Ridge?” I clarified. I can’t say it was the strangest name I’d ever heard. I once met someone who went by Wiggy.
“Yeah,” he said. “Genies get their names from wherever their jar was originally discovered.”
“Someone found you on a ridge?” I asked. “Like, the top of a mountain?”
“I guess,” he said.
“That seems dangerous. What were you doing up there?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I was in a jar.”
“You can’t get out of the jar on your own?” I asked.
“Nope,” said Ridge. “It takes a Wishmaker.”
“Wishmaker?” I asked.
Ridge nodded. “Whoever opens my jar becomes the Wishmaker.” He pointed at me. “That’s you, now.”
I was a Wishmaker. I had a genie. And I had just wasted one of my wishes on sandwiches?
“These are supposed to last a lifetime?” I said.
I set the peanut butter jar on top of the pile and picked up the nearest sandwich. I took it as a good sign that there were so many. Didn’t that mean I was going to live a long time? Or maybe I was destined to eat them quickly.
“It would have been a lot nicer to get a few delivered each day,” I pointed out.
“You should have mentioned that when you wished,” said Ridge.
“Won’t these go bad before I have a chance to eat them all?” I didn’t want moldy bread.
“The sandwiches are magically preserved,” the genie said. “They won’t spoil.”
Peeling away the bag, I began chowing down. “So, what now?”
Ridge looked at me as though it was obvious. “We begin the quest.”
“Quest?” I raised one eyebrow. “What quest?”
“Didn’t you read the warning label on my jar?” he asked.
Right, that. “I was too hungry to read,” I said, scouring the mounds of sandwiches for the jar’s lid.
“The lid’s gone,” Ridge said, realizing what I must have been searching for. “It puffed into smoke as soon as you opened the jar.”
“Then how am I supposed to read the warning label?” I cried.
“It’s a little late for that,” Ridge said calmly. “The Universe likes to warn the Wishmakers about what they’re getting themselves into, but if you don’t read the label—”
“Who is this Universe you keep talking about?” I cut him off.
“Not who,” said Ridge. “The Universe is the force that grants wishes.”
Well, I had to admit, the Universe actually made a pretty good PB and J. “And it’s your job to give the consequences?” I asked.
Ridge shook his head, eyes wide. “Not me! The Universe does that, too. It has to keep things in balance,” explained Ridge. “The natural choices you make every day bring about natural consequences. Same thing applies to wishes—it’s just that wishes aren’t really natural, so some of the consequences can be rather . . . strange.”
“So the next two wishes I make will also come with consequences?” I clarified.
“Not just the next two,” he answered. “All of them.”
“Wait,” I said. “I get more than three wishes?”
“Of course!” Ridge replied. “You have unlimited wishes. And you get thirty seconds on the hourglass to decide if you want to take the consequence.”
“What happens if I don’t accept?” I asked.
“Life goes on like normal,” said the genie, “but you don’t get your wish. And, believe me, you’ll need wishes to complete your quest.”
Oh, right. “So, what is this quest?” I asked.
Ridge grimaced. “It’s a big one. I don’t know if the Universe has ever assigned a quest with a consequence as big as this one.”
“Wait a minute. Quests have consequences, too?” I asked, finishing the first of my countless sandwiches.
“Oh, yeah,” answered Ridge. “The warning label on the lid explained that. When you opened the jar, you got unlimited wishes. To balance this, the Universe gave you a quest. And if you don’t complete the quest, there’ll be a nasty consequence.”
“Like what?” I asked. “Peanut butter in my eye?”
“It’s different every time,” said Ridge. “Most Wishmakers have simpler quests. . . .”
“With simpler consequences,” I finished for him.
Ridge nodded. “They’re still bad—don’t get me wrong. Usually, failing a quest means a neighborhood will burn down, or a city will get hit by a tsunami, or dolphins will go extinct. But in your case . . .” He looked grim. “Well, if you don’t complete the Universe’s quest, then all the cats and dogs in the world will turn into zombies and destroy mankind!”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. All pets would turn into zombies? He had to be joking, right? “How do you make this stuff up?” I rolled my eyes.
“I don’t,” said Ridge. “That’s the consequence that will occur if you fail to complete your quest.”
“Luckily, I don’t have any pets,” I said.
“This isn’t just about you,” said Ridge. “We’re talking about every human being on earth.”
I didn’t want to believe him. It was hard to imagine cute little kitties craving brains. But I hadn’t believed him about the sandwiches, either, and now I was practically swimming in them.
“Only you can stop this from happening, Ace,” said my genie. “You have seven days to complete the quest.”
I took a deep breath. “All right. What do I have to do?”
“There’s a very mean person out there,” Ridge said, “trying to find the Undiscovered Genie jar. Your quest is to stop him from opening that jar.”
I nodded. That seemed totally doable. “What’s this bad guy’s name?”
“Thackary Anderthon,” said Ridge.
“Zackary Anderson?” I clarified.
“No,” said Ridge. “His name is Thackary Anderthon.”
“Why are you saying it that way?” I asked.
“That’s his name. That’s how it’s pronounced,” he answered.
“Thackary Anderthon?” I repeated, giggling at the way I sounded. Go ahead, you try to say it out loud. It’s funny, right?
“Yep,” Ridge said. “With a T-H.”
“Where is he now?” It seemed like a perfectly good question. If I needed to stop someone, I’d have to find him first.
Ridge shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Can you tell me anything about him?”
Again, Ridge shrugged cluelessly. “Not really.”
“For a genie,” I said, “you sure don’t know very much.”
“All I know is what the Universe tells me,” said Ridge. “I’m simply a middleman. You make a wish, the Universe grants it and gives you a consequence. I’m just here to explain things.”
“You’ve hardly explained anything,” I pointed out. “I thought genies were supposed to be all wise and powerful. But you look an awful lot like a regular kid.”
“All genies look like kids,” he answered. “At least, all the ones I know about. Sure, some genies have been around for a really long time, but that doesn’t mean we get older.”
“Two kids trying to save the world . . .” I muttered. “I don’t think I’m cut out for this.”
“I know it seems like a lot,” Ridge said, “but the Universe wouldn’t give you a genie if it didn’t believe in you. We’re only talking about the fate of the world here. You’ll probably do fine.”
“Right!” I took a deep breath and straightened up. “I can do it. I’ve got unlimited wishes. I’ve got a genie.” I turned to Ridge. “You’ve done this before. You’ve got experience.”