In the Bottle

A Short Story posted by dang on February 5, 2024.

I studied the box. Antique? No question. I'd never seen anything quite like it, but then I wouldn't call myself an antique box expert. However, I can recognize a magical artifact, and this was one.

The store owner knew what he had, and it was priced accordingly. But I could tell he wanted, or maybe needed, to make the sale. Eventually, we agreed on a price. Back at my hotel room, I examined the box closely. It was rectangular, probably nine inches long and half again as tall and wide. The corners and edges were rounded, and it had dark walnut varnish for a finish.

There were no observable seams in the wood; it could easily be mistaken for a rectangular block of wood. But one thing gave it away as a box: there was something inside. By rolling the box back and forth, the item slid inside, revealing an inner chamber. I estimated the sides of the box were approximately a half‐inch thick and it was otherwise hollow.

But how could I open it? I googled magical boxes, which resulted in nothing. I could always cut it open, as a last resort, but I didn't want to ruin the box and possibly its magical powers. What would happen if I tried to destroy it?

Sometimes, you just luck out. I'm something of a clean freak. I wondered how many hands had touched the box and decided to clean it up a bit. I saturated a hotel washcloth and wiped the entire box down. As I did, a seam appeared running across the top of the box at the midpoint of its length, halfway down each side. Four nickel‐sized buttons appeared on the top of the box, one in each corner. Water. The key to seeing the true box.

I examined the buttons. Each would "click" in and out. I tried clicking them simultaneously. I tried them in random orders, numbering the different buttons. No luck, until I tried the sequence 1234432112344321.

The box flew open from some type of inner hinge. Light flooded from it. I freaked out a little and dove behind the hotel bed. I waited two minutes or so; nothing happened. I poked my head above the bed and slowly stood up. Through the streaming light, I could see the contents of the box: a bottle and some paper.

I grabbed a large towel from the bathroom and inched my way toward the box. I could now see the paper was an envelope. Yellow and wrinkled. Definitely old. The bottle looked like a pomegranate with a cylindrical neck extending up, two handles on each side, and a cork stopper. Light bounced inside it like a firefly on steroids.

Extending a shaking hand toward the box, I gingerly grasped the envelope. It felt normal in my hand, and I extracted it and draped the towel over the box. The light still poured through the towel, but it was now at a reasonable level. I reclined back on the room's couch and slowly turned the envelope, examining it from every angle.

I reached into the envelope and pulled out seven handwritten sheets. The sheets, like the envelope, were definitely old but seemed well‐preserved. The handwriting was legible—barely.

March 14, 1798

Owing to the intense mental anguish I have suffered on account of the contents of this bottle and hoping to save another the grief and agony I've endured, I have been induced to write this letter of warning. Do not trust him! He will give you what you ask for, but his accompanying words will wreck your life as they did mine.

I apologize. I get ahead of myself. You won't trust my words without some background. My name is Jacob Richardson, and I'm a physician of general practice residing in Ammerville, Ohio, a thriving community about 100 miles west of Pittsburgh. For more than fifteen years, I've served our community with a tireless fervor. As such, I have no small reputation among the high and low in Ammeriville. Anyone here will vouch for my integrity and sanity.

There are some important things to note about my situation. One is that until two years ago I was too busy to marry. Although there have been a fair number of ladies who have shown more than moderate interest in getting to know me and although I've felt a strong inclination toward marriage and a family, my vocation was too exhaustive for any type of relationship to form.

Secondly, though it could be considered a strong irony, until two years ago my health and wealth were lacking. I am prone to fine food and drink and spend my earnings freely toward those ends. Because of this, I have suffered from mild to moderate obesity. Also, as a result of some unfortunate investment reversals, my bank account has barely stayed in the positive. The irony, of course, is that I'm a medical doctor who most would consider wealthy and someone who assists others to arrive at a high state of health and well‐being.

Lastly, (and this tends to exacerbate my dwindling bank account) I'm a fanatic collector of antiques. My home, modest though it is, can barely contain all the antiques I've purchased. I've taken trips to major Eastern cities (mainly New York, Boston, and Philadelphia), and I even once traveled to Europe looking for treasures.

My interests are broad, but my main focus is on boxes and chests from either commerce trading or pirating. On my only trip to Europe, I happened upon a box of curious construction in a small shop in Montpellier, France. The previous owner, having never been able to open it and not wanting to destroy the box or the contents in his attempts, was selling it unopened.

I quickly purchased it and, despite an almost overwhelming curiosity, waited until I returned home to thoroughly examine it. As of course you also are aware, there is no obvious way to open the box. It is wooden without any apparent hinges or hardware, and it seems to be solid wood with no seams on the outside. But if you're reading this note, you've discovered the secret of opening the box, and I won't trouble you with the particulars.

The box sprang open and despite it being midday, with the sunlight pouring through a window, light exploded from the box, enveloping the room. As my eyes adjusted to this more intense brightness, the only content I could discover was a bottle—a dark glass bottle, round on the bottom with an elongated neck and two handles. It was from this bottle that the light emanated. The top of the bottle was plugged with what seemed to be a typical cork which glowed almost red from the bottle's inner light.

I marveled greatly at the scene and eventually closed the box, not knowing what to do. Over the next few weeks, I opened the box countless times and visually examined the bottle, always feeling no small degree of apprehension to touch it or disclose its existence to another party (which I never did).

At length, I decided that I would at least pick it up and examine the bottle more closely. I admit I was trembling intensely as I grasped it, but it simply felt like every other bottle I had theretofore encountered. The bottle continued to emit its almost otherworldly light.

Back and forth my mind focused on the cork plugging the bottle mouth and the potential dangers it might contain. Should I uncork it? What horrors might I unleash? What was the source of the light contained within?

As weeks passed, I could contain my curiosity no longer. Flinging my concerns aside, I grabbed the cork and ripped it from the bottle. A gale‐force wind entered the room, and I was knocked down by its strength.

I was semi‐conscious for a time but soon recovered. I arose and turned around, and almost fell again. There was a being—a man—hovering in front of me in a mist. He sat cross‐legged, floating. He looked at me with discerning or cruel eyes...I could not tell which.

His wardrobe was simple. His breeches were the whitest white. A long‐sleeved shirt of deepest crimson, extending past his waist, covered his upper body. A large circular silver earring hung from his right ear. His head was bald other than a mohawk strip of thick, tall, midnight black hair an inch or so in width extending from his forehead backwards. A perfectly manicured goatee pointed directly down to his midsection.

All these details I took in subconsciously while staring at his main feature: his eyes. They were again black and then gold and then blue. Intense, furrowed eyebrows hovered over the blazing orbs. His eyes seemed to penetrate my soul.

My gaze quickly shifted from his eyes to his mouth. He was speaking. He said something but it was gibberish to me. Although I kept hearing words, I understood none of them. Mustering my courage, I spoke.

"What are you?"

"Finally! You speak. Now I understand your language, and we may converse. I am a jinn, what you might call a genie...and more importantly, a genie of the bottle. Who has awakened me at this time for his three requests?"

I was stunned. Of course, I had read the stories of genies in lamps and granting three wishes, but I disregarded them as children's tales. Yet this genie was as real as I was, floating before me. In the stories, I had heard of both benevolent and evil genies, so I decided on a path of caution.

"Are there any conditions attached to my requests?"

"If you request me to harm myself, I will destroy you. You have three, and only three, wishes. You have one hour to make your wishes. Otherwise, the only conditions come from the consequences of your choices."

"Could there be negative consequences?"

"Most choices have both positive and negative consequences. Rarely is it only one."

Had he emphasized the word "negative?" My mind raced. I needed more time. "Is there any way to extend the time to make my wishes?"

His forehead furrowed. "There is not!" His scowl changed to a smile. "Choose well. Don't waste your wishes."

As a child, hearing the stories of genies and wishes, I had vaguely considered what I would wish for but had never given it serious thought. The restrictions were simple. I had no desire to wish harm upon the genie, and he made it clear I could not multiply my wishes, and I needed to decide quickly.

I have never been one who sought power or position. Those were not of interest to me. But wealth. Of course, I wanted to increase my wealth and live comfortably the remainder of my days. And to bring my weight and health to their proper levels would be highly desirable. Finally, there was Anne. Of all the eligible ladies, she most commanded my interest. Her beauty and charm were unquestioned, and I always enjoyed conversing with her.

"I have decided."

"Wonderful! What is your first wish?"

"I wish for one hundred thousand dollars."

The genie laughed a long mocking laugh. "One hundred thousand dollars? You waste your first wish?"

"Why is that a waste? I will be wealthy. Very wealthy!"

"You waste your wish on something you could have had without the wish."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

He did not respond to my question. "What is your second wish?"

"I wish to marry Anne Holbrook."

"Are you serious? Two wishes in a row you would waste?"

"I don't understand. Why do you say I'm wasting my wishes?"

Again he ignored my question. His eyes screamed disdain. "What is your last wish?"

"I wish for a strong body and constitution."

"You are a fool! Three wishes! You had three wishes, and you wasted them on that which you could have had for a single wish. I will give you money, a strong constitution, and a family, but you could have easily had those following the principles you already know and teach. You lack resolution. You lack integrity."

With the strangeness of the scene before me, I hardly considered his words. "Are we finished then?"

The genie nodded. "Yes. We are finished with your wishes. Tomorrow when you awake, the three wishes will be fulfilled. Do not uncork the bottle again." His intense eyes became playful. "I feel generous. I will offer you something you have not wished for. I will allow you to see what you could have been if you had kept the resolutions you've made in your life. Do you wish to see what you could have been?"

I felt tempted. Who has ever seen what they might have become? As with everyone, I've failed at keeping all the resolutions I've made. What could I have been? It was a once‐only opportunity and what harm could come of it?

Reader, I'm dying! Wasting away. It's been two years since I made that decision. What harm could come of it? If only I had known. The shock at seeing my potential has been too great a blow, mentally and emotionally. I've rarely eaten since then. My wife has tried to nourish me, but my regret is endless. The good health I asked for is there if I want it but I have no appetite nor will to live.

He will offer the same to you. Do not look! Do not be tempted to see what you could be. It is too painful. The power, majesty, health, and riches of what I could have been had I kept all my resolutions have indescribably haunted me. Oh, my heart breaks and it is almost more than I can bear to have seen it. I now understand the true meaning of Hell: to meet the person you could have been.

I pen this letter only with the hope of saving someone the pain and agony I have suffered. Once the genie returned to the bottle, the light emanated again from it. I had difficulty in hiding it from my wife and children. It would have been impossible to explain.

I was hesitant to put it back in the box, fearing the box would close and then be unopenable. However, after writing this letter and placing it in the box, I've decided I will close it and never attempt to open it again. The box is the only thing I know that can completely block the genie‐light. And the genie made it clear I should not uncork the bottle again.

One other note of warning. I never tried to destroy the bottle because of the genie's words. I would caution the finder of this note on trying to destroy it. The safest thing is to close the box and hide it away where it will never be found. That is what I will do. But I suspect the box and the genie are not things that stay hidden long.

Farewell, my reader. Choose wisely.

With deepest sincerity and regard for your well‐being,

Jacob P. Richardson

I lay the letter on the nearby desk and reclined on the couch, thinking. Endless questions filled my mind. Did everyone who uncorked the bottle have the same experience? Would all receive three wishes? Were the stipulations the same each time? Would the genie offer for me to see my potential? How much could I get for selling the box and offering its power to someone else? Could I sell it after I used its power? Was there a risk, as the letter suggested, in uncorking the bottle?

My pondering didn't last long. Of course, I would uncork it. I've always been a risk‐taker.

I grabbed the bottle, gripped the cork, and pulled.