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“Immortality, really! What a dreary thing to wish for!” I exclaimed.

“Oh? And what exactly would you wish for, were you granted that one wish?” P. asked, startling me.

No, it wasn’t actually the blinding brilliance of the question that startled me. It was just that I hadn’t heard her come into the room.

See, I have this rather exquisitely furnished room all to me at The Palace1.There are two guards stationed at the ends of the long corridor leading out from the room to the Winding Ways2 of The Palace. They announce nearly every visitor so that I get about five and a half minutes to prepare for whatever creature, or object was headed my way. I have a congenital dislike for nasty surprises before breakfast.

P., of course, had to be the exception.

“You know, just in case the beautifully designed brass knockers on my door are too heavy for you, you have been granted the gift of ten fingers with knuckles on them.” I grumbled.

“What’s your point?” P. asked.

“By an unfortunate series of totally unrelated and co-incidental events for which nobody can be held guilty, you know my point.” She had merited this tetchiness.

“Why let the minor problem, that I can read your mind, come in the way of a civilized conversation between us? Okay, I’ll knock before entering your room the next time. Happy now?” P. smiled.

“Yeah. Am positively struggling to stop my reservoir of mirth from brimming over. Isn’t this the seven hundred and thirty-fifth time you’ve promised me that?” I queried.

“Stop being such a baby and tell me what you would wish for.” Persistence, as always, the hallmark of greatness. And of P.

I had been reading the Ramayana, once again, you see. And I had just reached that part where Ravana asks Brahma for the boon of immortality, and is refused. This, somehow, had given me a brilliant idea. Which, like most of my brilliant ideas, was fundamentally flawed.

“Flawed? How?” P. once again invading my privacy. This time it was my mind, though. Far more intimate than my room.

“Stop that!” I burst out angrily.

P.’s smile evaporated rapidly and a film of tears formed over her eyes as she turned away, hurt, to leave my room. Damn. People couldn’t even afford to be angry nowadays if their privacy was encroached upon.

I leapt out of bed, and with another bound blocked her way. “Hey, don’t you dare to leave me crying. Both meanings intended.”

“What meanings?” She stopped.

“Figure them out for yourself. As I was saying, I have discovered, or rather invented, the most wonderful wish one could wish to wish for.”

“What…oh, right. What’s the wish?”

“Who’s the mind reader here?

I watched as P.’s hurt look slowly changed into a frown, then confusion, and then gave way to an expression of utter bewilderment. “Why don’t I know?” She asked, clearly surprised, and a bit frightened too, I could see.

“Don’t worry, it’s a little trick I figured out to protect my thoughts. Just checking if the theory could be put to practical use. Will explain it to you once I fully grasp it.” I said, trying to hide my ecstasy.

“Okay.” She was only slightly reassured. “The flaw?” She had, by now, stopped crying. Who says I’m not a PR egghead?

“Nobody to grant the wish, obviously.”

“Not even the Believer?” The smile had returned to her face.

“Nopes. This is a classic O-mighty-deity-grant-your-puny-devotee-a-boon scenario. The minimum apparatus required is a Santa Claus.”

“The problem with that is?”

“The problem with that is that dear ol’ Santa doesn’t exist.” I explained patiently.

“Says who?” P. arched her eyebrows.

“Says me and millions of other people, who, through the ages, have painstakingly gathered enough evidence not to believe…wait a moment…believe? Is that what you’re saying? I’ve got to make-believe3 a real Santa?” The penny dropped.

“Nah, wasn’t thinking of that. An interesting idea, though.” P. seemed thoughtful. The penny, which had recently dropped, leaped up, retracing its trajectory through my cognitive spaces in the reverse direction, and disappeared. And in a phenomenon which will continue to haunt the nightmares of physicists for the next millennium, the amount of entropy created by the fall of the penny, was restored as its potential energy.

“You mean you haven’t yet met the Saint of Clauses? Great, because today is his feast day, and the entire Hall4 will be at his residence. Come with me. He’ll surely grant the Believer’s one wish.” P. gave a bright smile.

Wow, I thought. If this works out, I’ll have the ultimate weapon that one could wish for.

As P. had unknowingly, but correctly stated, ‘The One Wish’.

The One Wish To Wish Them All.

—————————————————————————————-

1I am NOT calling it ‘The Palace’ without a reason. It was ‘The Palace’. You’ve got to hear about it from me one day. Remind me if I get a day off from saving the world.

2Same as above. ‘The Palace’ to be replaced by ‘Winding Ways’.

3For the uninitiated, ‘make-believe’ is a technical term indicating a P2C2E Grade 3 involving the creation of an object, organism, phenomenon, or internal/external effect by believing in it, and is the forte of the Believers. The placebo effect is a classic example.

4The Hall is the administrative organ, the second tier of the three tier system of Nayvair government. The Tower (legislature) and the Dungeon (judiciary) being the first and the third tiers, respectively.

“And that,” said P., “is the spinner.”
“Leg or off?” I asked?
“What?”
“Never mind. What does the spinner spin?” I asked, suppressing a bout of mad laughter that was trying to force its way out through my throat. I knew it would never do to break into hysterics again. After all, I had volunteered for this part. So why shalt I not do it properly, as the poet…never mind.
“Oh, all sorts. Webs, for a start. The finest in Nayvair. Excellent cotton too, on his loom. Balls, saucers, human heads. Has a knack for spinning yarns, hence our Official for the Subtle Remedy of Subjective Misconstruances and Communication of the Formidable Achievements of the Empire of the Flies. She grinned at my puzzled face, “or our PR person, if you prefer it that way.”
“Okies,” I said, trying to digest what I had learned. I peered at this Official for Subtle Thingummies.
A sinister looking chap, no doubt. I wondered how P.’s subjects believed…
“Him? It?” I asked aloud.
“Him. Though you have to take his word for it .No more than one spinner exists in one age…that is, as long as the spinner lives.
“Right.” The thing…Spinner, had entirely too many appendages for my liking, as he crouched down on the dark corner of his workshop, intent on something. His limbs were moving too fast for me to take a look at them. Though I hardly thought I wanted to probe further into this spinner thing.
“Oh no. He’s got only one hand, and sure knows how to use it. And I’ll kill you if you ask me how I know that, as I know you’re planning to.” P. smiled. It got on my nerves sometimes, the way this girl kept reading my mind.
I grunted, irritated. “So what’s he spinning now? A carpet?”
“Actually, no. Funny you’d ask that, though. I’ve been trying to get him make me a flying carpet for quite a while now. Only he hasn’t got the time. Or at least, he says so.” She frowned at the Spinner.
“Don’t avoid the question.”
“I wasn’t.” She said, annoyed. “What he’s doing now is what he is infamous for.” Here she lowered her voice to a sinister whisper-“He’s spelling!”
“Spelling? He’s spelling what?” I was utterly lost. As usual.
“Oh, by the Dog, you’re a lost case, A!” She exclaimed in an exasperated manner-“Spells, obviously! Spells, as in magic spells, mumbo jumbo, abracadabra, whatever!”
“Oh. Right.” My vocabulary firmly refused to expand-“Right.”
P. scrutinized me. “Say after me – the quick brown dog punched the majestically lazy fox.”
“Why should I?” I was bewildered.
“At least that’s better than ‘Right’! Thought you’d forgotten how to speak.” She smirked.
“Could we please cut the smart talk and just see whatever it…he…the Spinner is doing?” I interjected huffily.
“I would prefer not to disturb the spinner at his craft. One misplaced mark can cause massive disruption of the normal course of society.”
“What?”
“Yes. Like the time a spell was to be created, a spell of great cunning, to lure the plague rats out from the city Nilehampur. But the spinner was distracted by the raindrops pattering on the ceiling of his workshop, and suddenly, lo and behold, an even greater spell, of great power and beauty stood in front of the master craftsman. The spinner,”She added, correctly interpreting my blank look.
“And what happened then?” I asked, spellbound by the narrative.
“Oh, after completing its task, the spell went to the mayor and demanded payment for its labour. The Mayor and his Council tried to convince him that spells were not paid in mohurs, and could not be paid so. It wasn’t convinced by the argument. Irritated, it led all the children of the city to the Town Hall, entrancing them with its magick to make them tear it apart.”
“Tear it apart? A figure of speech, I hope?”
“No. The Town Hall was made of magicked cardboard. Not spelt, of course, or it couldn’t have been torn by children. The children were amused, anyway. In fact I think every one except the Mayor and his Council was. Something to do with how miserly the city council was, I s’pose.”
“And then?”
“And then nothing. Why must you keep on asking questions? The spell is still stored in the Jeans pool of the wielders and casters.”
“Gene pool, you mean.” I corrected her.
“No, doc. Jeans pool. It takes Spell reinforced double helically woven baskets of pure denim suspended in huge lakes of plasmapheresised protoplasm to store these spells.”
“Of course. I should have known. And who are these Wielders and Casters, may I have the pleasure of knowing?”
“Casters and wielders are, as their name rightly suggests, casters and wielders, respectively.”
“I figured out that much.” I muttered under my breath.
P. gave me a murderous glare. “They are the ones who can use the spells that the Spinner creates, and those which have been preserved by generations of Magi. Wielders can wield these weapons for a wide variety of purposes ranging from weaponry to window cleaners. The Casters put these spells on animate or inanimate objects with various intentions…”
“Which I need not know.” I interrupted.
“Which you need to, and will know in due course of time.” She finished.
“Right.” I said.
“Right.” For once, she agreed with me.
“You know, one of these days, if I do not cut you into little pieces by that time, I will surely start disbelieving all these things.” I professed.
“The technical term is, I believe, ‘unbelieving’. And you’d better not. We don’t want as missing spinner and an incomplete rogue spell on the loose.” P. retorted.
“Right.” I said, yet again, thus eloquently concluding our morning believing session.

I

“You are a Believer,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway.
“No, I am not. I am an atheist.” I said.
“What?” She seemed a little confused. “An atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of God…you know, the Supreme being who created us…”- I continued, noting her confusion.
“How can you not believe in someone who created you?” By now, she was positively bewildered.
“Ah…it’s rather a convoluted line of reasoning and I’d prefer not to bother the head of such a pretty creature as you with it, especially this fine spring morning, ye know, with the songbirds trilling romantic sonnets into the fresh spring air, and the like…” I trailed off, noting with satisfaction the flash of irritation that clouded the ‘pretty creature’s features. She certainly didn’t appreciate being called that, I thought smugly. “But do tell me why you mistook me for a believer.”
“I didn’t make any mistake. You are a believer, and the strongest one in the last three aeons.” She said confidently, gracing the words with an elegant, beautiful and highly patronizing smile.
“Oh yeah? And what, pray, is a believer?” I said, hoping she’d notice the sarcasm in my voice. I don’t take nicely to being patronized by little girls. (Technically, she wasn’t that little, about my age, I’d guess.)
She didn’t notice it. “A Believer is an individual wielding formidable powers, whereby the said individual can determine the existence or inexistence of an animate or inanimate object by focusing his cognate on its being, or non-being.” She finished, smiling pleasantly.
“Whoa! Like if I think you’re not here, you aren’t? And could you answer me in a language I can understand?”

II

I am never this rude to anyone. Especially if she was as pretty as the girl walking beside me. But this specimen had been bothering me for the last three days. I mean, it’s alright, in fact, simply cool to be eyed by a pretty lass. But this girl had been almost literally shadowing me. And finally she came up to me this morning, when I was returning from the barber’s.
“Excuse me, could I please take a few minutes of your time?” As nice as you could wish.
I knew I was in trouble then, since I’m not the kind of hunk ladies swoon over.
I don’t even look the part of an idiotic knight in shining armour, eagerly looking for more troubles (id est, damsels I distress). I made a brave defence, though-“Er, actually, I mean, like, I’m like in a kinda hurry, have-to-get-home-quick type hurry, so you see, like….” How much lamer can you get?
“I know, can I at least accompany you to Evelyn Lodge, Master A.?”
Well, I thought, she’s damned pretty, and she knows me anyway, so what price?
She, however, shattered my dreams of any r. talk. Spoke much, though, about parallel worlds, demons, mages, and such. I seriously thought about handing her over to the traffic police, more than once. And then she started all this believer stuff, and I knew not what to do, as the poet would have cried.

III

“But I thought you can communicate in English.” This, a bit confused again, but still smiling.
“Yes, but I communicate in spoken English, not the legal one you are using. Also, please wipe that inane grin off your face. It’s irritating me. Don’t act like you’re a princess or somethingy, when you’re not.”
“But I am a princess,” she said, clearly hurt.
“Yes, and I am dear old Prince Charming cleverly disguised as a particularly handsome specimen of Bufo bufo.” I was exasperated.
“No, you’re not. But you are really funny,” she broke into a tinkling laughter. “And you are a Believer.”
“Now listen here…” I tried to organize my thoughts. It wasn’t helping me that she really looked as beautiful as a fairytale princess.
“I am actually somewhat of a fairy princess I your world, you know.” She said, trying to suppress another bout of laughter. Damn it, could she read my mind as well?
“Of course I can. Now let’s have none of that.” She said in mock sternness, as I struggled to hide my fantasies about her that came out in the shock of this revelation.
“Could you explain why you were able to banish the demons that appeared in front of you last Thursday, if you’re not a Believer?” She arched her eyebrows.
A bolt of pure panic shot through me then. “How…how on earth do you know? It was j…just a hallucination, no more!”
“Or so you think,” she said, smugly.
“No, it cannot be! They don’t exist. You don’t exist!” I screamed in sudden fear, shutting my eyes tightly.
“Wait a moment! What do you think you’re…no…stop, please…listen to me…pleaseeeeee…”
The pleading voice faded away. I opened my eyes, just in time to see her disappearing. It was like watching the transparency of a 3-D image increase, till she became something of a faint multicoloured wisp of smoke before vanishing completely.
“Now, that was interesting,” I muttered, resuming my walk towards home, after making sure that nobody had heard me yelling. For some reason, I felt very tired. Utterly drained sort of feeling, if you know what I mean.
By now, it was pretty dark and quiet. ‘Cept the dusky light of the sky, and the birdies all cackling, of course.

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” – Oscar Wilde

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges

“I don’t need your civil war/ I don’t need one more war/ I don’t need one more war/ What’s so civil ’bout war anyway?” – Guns N’ Roses

“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want – an adorable pancreas?” – Jean Kerr