This week's prompt is three-fold. The title was randomly generated as per Chuck Wendig's Flash Challenge from last Friday; I used Patreon Patron Brian's suggestions of "forgiveness" and "iron ingot" as loose inspiration; AND I drew inspiration from a writing prompt that I saw on Pinterest about what life would be like for a genie living outside the lamp. Just shy of 1100 words, here is this week's piece, "A Touch of Flame". I hope you enjoy it.
A Touch of Flame by Jamie Wyman
Wishes are like candles. They come in all manner of shape, size and color. They range from the utilitarian to the frivolous. And while most of them smell like bad soap kept in your granny's attic, some wishes carry with them a certain spark that can fill the world around them with the fiery light of change.
Those are my favorites, honestly. The wishes that are so fervent that they soar through the ether like a comet. I can't help but hear them and take notice.
One of those has drawn me to this coffee shop today, in fact. It's a favorite haunt of mine. People's thoughts do something lovely when they mingle with the scents of hazelnut and roasting coffee beans. Their minds drift on possibility, and spin on desires. I come here to people watch, to listen to their thoughts and, if someone comes my way with a touch of the flame about them, well, I do what I can to make their day a little more wondrous.
“Gene!” the barista calls.
I step up to the counter and see the twinkling of her wishes. They dance in her young eyes and whisper to me.
I wish I could see her this weekend, but I'm a hundred bucks short of a ticket.
I smile at her.
“Good morning, Lily,” I say.
“Hey, Gene. Haven't seen you lately. Almost thought you'd forgotten about us.”
“Allow me to make up for my absence.” I produce two bills from my pocket. To me they are singles, but once they are in her hand, well. The magic is done.
I turn around and enjoy the sound of her gasp behind me.
“Gene! I think you...um...”
“I think you made a mistake.”
I call over my shoulder, “I don't make mistakes.”
I'm pushing out the door so I can take my coffee on the patio when she shouts her gratitude. My smile only widens, and deep in my chest my heart swells. Given my druthers I could spend every day for a year doling out these little treasures that enrich lives. There are limits, though, even outside the confines of a lamp.
The light of love was indeed bright in Lily, and that ember no doubt fanned her desire to travel, but that's not the flame that has drawn me to the shop today. No. This fire burns hotter and whiter than love.
I wish....oh, God Almighty, do I wish...
The voice blares in my mind, pulling me toward it, but the words break apart, crackling like an old radio signal. I crave those lost syllables. I need them.
She's sitting alone on the curb, her back to a parking meter. Her gleaming obsidian eyes are dry, but tear stains cut clean lines through the layer of dirt on her face. She stares out into the street, her jaw tight and her gaze severe. Something, though, alerts her to my attention, and she snaps her head to me.
“What?” Her voice is raw. “You got something to say? Why are you staring at me?”
This one isn't a candle. She is a roiling magma chamber, churning with molten fury, passion.
If I could only....if I could just...I wish!
Her chaotic, cataclysmic beauty astounds me, and I forget myself. The words come out of my mouth, a slave to my awe. “You want something.”
“Don't we all?” she snorts.
“But it's different with you.”
I take a seat on the curb next to her, and offer her the coffee. She reads my name, the heiroglyph-like codes on the cup and, when she sees the contents are to her liking, takes a drink.
“Just like I order it,” she says. “Thanks, Gene.”
“What is your name?”
Her shoulders curl inward, and for a moment she looks like a great black vulture folding her dark wings around a most coveted find. From over the cup she murmurs, “Claire.”
I wish that I could....
It's so close to the surface, now. Her need—for that is what lies beneath her anger, not a run-of-the-mill wish but a pure ingot of need melting in the pit of her—gives off a metallic scent like blood or freshly-quenched steel.
I ache for her to give it to me, to let me slake this fury.
“Claire,” I whisper, “it is so good to meet you.”
“What is it you want, Claire?”
She eyes me sidelong and I stare right back, my question seeking to hear the rest of that elusive sentence.
“Old man, I think you've got to keep walking.”
She puts the coffee in my hand and rises to her feet. I stand, too, and find that for all of her potency she is a wisp of a thing. Too skinny limbs and bones that a stiff wind could break. But that soul of hers is a raging fire and I'm drawn to it like the weakest of moths.
“Please,” I beg, “just an answer.”
“It doesn't matter.”
“Of course it does.”
“It won't happen.”
“I can make it happen.”
“Damn fool, what you think you are? Santa Claus?”
“More. Try me. One wish.”
“I wish you would go away?”
“Not the one I'm after. There is one, though, a wish that sings in your blood. It burns in you. Tell me that one. Tell me, Claire, and I'll grant it.”
She gapes at me, those dark eyes filling with anguish. “I wish....”
“I wish I could...this is stupid. Who are you?”
“Say it, Claire! Say it now!”
“I wish I could forgive him!”
The surge of power from those words breaks over me like an ocean wave, dousing that flame in me that burns in sympathy with her. I am cold stone, the ingot dropped into water.
Claire's gaze remains hot. “What is it, Gene? Can't give me that?”
I shake my head, defeated and forlorn. I can't stand the heat of her her stare, so I drop my eyes to the ground. How often had I given that speech to those who took up my lamp? How many times had I told them that though I could conjure gold from the ether, I could not change a heart or mind?
There are limits, even for those like me.
“No. No, I can't.”
Claire takes the coffee from my loose grip. “Cheers, then.”
She turns and walks away, the fire of her still calling out to me, a song that can never be answered.
Wishes are like candles. And some of them will burn forever.
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