Southern Ontario’s Niagara Fruit Belt stretches from the mighty Niagara River in the east to the tip of Lake Ontario in the west. A visitor would be advised to travel there in August, as the peaches grown in late August are among the best on the planet. Because of the great beauty of this area’s woods and farmlands a few biblical scholars have suggested that the Niagara Fruit Belt is the location of the original Garden of Eden. Some further speculate that the fruit eaten that set the human race on its present course of sin and sufferings was, in fact, a peach. Most agree that if said peach had been eaten in late August, Adam and Eve made a wise choice. A large, wooded escarpment runs through the fruit belt, parallel to the shore of Lake Ontario; a favorite spot for people who like leisurely strolls while eating peaches.
Jim Marcy lived in a small red apartment building on Murray Street in the little town of Grimsby, just a ten-minute walk from the escarpment. One particular Saturday morning in late August Jim decided to enter the woods for a relaxing walk. He waved farewell to his cat, grabbed a delectable peach and bounced down the front steps, face set towards the bush. The trail that Jim usually followed on his walks was called the Bruce Trail, though Jim didn’t know that. The Bruce Trail began down near Jim’s house and ran west and north for hundreds of miles, one of longest trails in Ontario, but Jim didn’t know that either. He didn’t really care that he didn’t know. Why care about those things that you don’t know about anyway? If you don’t know about it, it must not be important.
Jim entered the forest and slowed his pace to breathe in the fresh, foresty air. He looked around at the trees and rocks with delight. On his left a small creek trickled in the bottom of a small ravine.
“What a lovely place, so untouched by human civilization,” he thought as he past a large steel garbage can filled with broken beer bottles. He skipped through the forest, examining the trees with an eye he assumed was trained. He glanced at a mighty oak off to the right of the trail.
“What a lovely maple,” he said to himself. A little further he eyed a birch.
“Hmm,” he thought, examining it, “no apples this time of year, I suppose.” Eventually he came to a part of his walk that he had come to many times before: the long stairway up the escarpment itself. On most days he took the stairway up and enjoyed a magnificent view of his entire town and Lake Ontario. Today he hesitated. He looked at the stairs climbing to his right, and then he looked at the creek in the ravine, trickling to his left.
“I wonder what lies down that way.” He had never strayed from the path before. All his life he had continued down the same road that everyone else had made. Of course, that meant he had never seen anything that a thousand people had not seen a thousand times before.
“Here is a chance for grand adventure!” he thought as he turned to the left and began tripping down the edge of the ravine. “Who knows what I’ll find! Maybe a rare animal, or some old bones, or something wonderful!” Unfortunately, Jim was thinking far too hard and getting far too excited at this point. His brain momentarily stopped communicating with his feet and he slipped and fell the rest of the way down, landing on his posterior in a cold pool of water at the edge of the creek. Jim was, of course, undaunted. This was merely adversity, and adversity was to be expected because he was a brave explorer searching out strange new lands. He picked himself off and headed off up the creek, wondering what oddities he might find. He past some things of minor interest. He found an old license plate that he was sure must have belonged to a crime lord of the past. There was a rusty shopping cart half buried in the creek, perhaps dropped from the plane that delivers shopping carts to the area. He even found an old doll covered in mud on the right shore of the creek. He left that alone, fearing it may be cursed or diseased. At one point the shore disappeared and was replaced by sheer walls of mud outlining the creek on both sides. Jim was forced to hop from rock to rock in order to continue his quest. And so he did, with great joy at first. He found that he was rather good at the rock jumping. He began to feel rather proud of himself for being so skilled. Very shortly thereafter he was reminded of what naturally follows pride.
He didn’t notice one rock covered with a green, slimy blanket. As soon as his foot touched it he found himself falling backwards into the creek. His head struck a rock and he was struck unconscious.
Three seconds later he awoke with a rather unpleasant headache.
“Look at the sky!” he thought. “It’s gotten so dark. Why, I must have been unconscious for hours, even days for all I know. What a grand adventure!” Jim sat in his place in the water for a moment, wondering what to do. Should continue his journey, or should he turn back and let the rescue teams know that he still lived? As he was contemplating this he noticed a strange-looking boulder sitting up against the wall of the creek on the left side. He couldn’t tell you why it looked strange, only that it did. He got up to investigate it. The boulder was leaning up against the wall in a very unnatural way. Upon a closer inspection he saw that it was actually covering a small hole.
“A cave!” Jim said aloud. “Who knows what would be inside?” He grasped the bolder with both hands and pulled with all his might. Gradually the bolder moved and fell into the creek with a loud noise and a small splash. Jim gazed into the newly-discovered portal with wonder. Having no fear of rats or snakes or any of the other horrid things that dwell in such holes he ducked in and looked around.
“How big might it be?” He asked himself. “It could go on for miles under the city. It might lead to the lake or to America even! What luck I found it!” Suddenly he walked into a wall. He took a step back and took his lighter out of his pocket. Lighting it he saw that the cave was disappointingly small. Perhaps five feet high and twenty feet square. He was almost depressed at this until he saw some writing on one of the walls.
“Perhaps there are some ancient hieroglyphics or cave paintings!” He got close and examined the writing on the wall.
Frank wuz here.
He read it again. And again. Disappointed, he sat on the ground with his back to the wall. As he sat he noticed cigarette butts strewn about the floor. Obviously this was no ancient cave. It was just a crummy hideout for kids to smoke without their parents finding out. What a stupid place! What a dumb quest! This certainly wasn’t what Jim had expected when he set out. He sat and stared into nothing for a while.
“Oh well,” he said, “I suppose I should get going home. I should let the police know they don’t have to look for me anymore.” As he stood to go he noticed something on the floor that had evaded his glance up to this point: a yellow plastic sandwich container. Odd that he didn’t see it earlier. He wondered what was in it. Perhaps a sandwich! That would make his failed quest a little less of a failure, now wouldn’t it? He crawled over to it and picked it up. It was heavier than it looked. That was a good sign. Something must be inside! He stood and began to lift the corner of the lid.
There was a loud noise that startled Jim so much that he dropped the container and fell back to the floor by the wall. He looked at the upside-down lidless container on the ground. Nothing happened. He eyed it suspiciously and slowly made his way toward it, sad that whatever sandwich might be inside was now on the ground. Suddenly the container twitched a little. He heard a grunt and a trickle of green smoke began to flow from under the container.
“The sandwich is obviously older than I thought,” he said out loud. Green smoke continued to trickle until it covered the floor of the cave. Suddenly Jim heard a tired and cranky voice coming from the plastic box.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” it said. With disbelieving eyes Jim saw the container lift off the ground, pushed up by some green shape wreathed in green smoke. The box lifted up to the top of the cave, and there it stayed, the shape under it still clothed in smoke. Jim heard coughing coming from within the smoky pillar and the smoke began to fade away, out the small door. As the smoke cleared Jim saw that a man was standing in the center of the room, wearing the plastic container as a hat. He was short and a little chubby. His face was covered with the sort of stubble a man gets when he hasn’t shaved for a day and he was completely naked, except for his Tupperware hat. He was also green, though that didn’t seem too odd to Jim when he considered that he appeared out of a sandwich container. Jim stared at the green man in front of him, vainly trying to put logic on recent events. Meanwhile the green man began to pick his teeth and look around the cave.
“Ya got a smoke?” He gruffly asked Jim. Not knowing the rules of etiquette in a situation like this Jim simply nodded and tossed a pack of cigarettes at the green man.
“Thanks.” The green man took two out of the package and began to chew on them nonchalantly. The rest he returned to Jim. For a few moments nothing was said and nothing was done. The green man continued to chew on his cigarettes and Jim continued to stare in awe and disbelief. Eventually awe gave way to slight boredom.
“Um,” Jim began hesitantly, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what are you?”
The green man looked at him blankly for a moment. “Frank,” he said.
“Yeah. Frank. That’s my name.”
“Well, my name is Jim,” Jim said as he stood. He held out his hand toward the green man Frank, mainly because he didn’t know what else to do.
“I know your name, Jim Marcy,” Frank said as he shook his hand. “How ya doing?”
“I’m okay,” he said, still trying to convince part of his brain that he was shaking hands with a naked green man who seemed to live inside a sandwich container. “What are you?” He asked.
“Me?” Frank said very casually. “I am a jinn, created by the Great Power millennia ago from the smokeless fires of Jannat. I have beheld with my eyes that which no man can see and live. I have contemplated truths that would drive the wisest of men to insanity. I have felt the undying bliss and the never ending sorrow of omniscience. I am jinn.” He yawned.
“Jinn? Like genie?”
“Same thing, pretty much.”
“So I get three wishes?” Jim asked, his astonishment giving way to excitement and greed.
“What? Why not?”
“I think you’ve been reading the wrong genie legends. Most genies don’t actually give three wishes. Some are pretty bad-tempered, actually, and would kill a guy for opening their container without permission. You’re pretty lucky I’m easy going.”
“So I don’t get any wishes?”
“You might,” Frank said as he swallowed his chewed-up cigarettes.
“Yeah. I might do a few things for you if you give me the rest of your cigarettes.” Jim quickly handed his pack over. Frank took them out and stuffed all but one into his Tupperware cap. The other one he placed in his mouth and began to chew, smiling.
“So…” Jim said after a few seconds.
“So do I get some wishes?”
“Sure,” the green jinn said. “What do ya want?”
“I wanna be the richest man in the world!” Jim said excitedly.
“Sorry. No can do,” Frank said shrugging.
“What do you mean? You said I could get some wishes!”
“Yeah, but there are some things I can’t do for you.”
“But it’s so easy; just give me a bunch of money. Do you need my bank account number or something?”
“It really doesn’t work that way. Listen, how much money do you want?”
“I dunno, just a few billion.”
“Okay, do you have any idea what a few billion dollars appearing out of nowhere would do to the economy? You’ve already got a nasty problem with inflation; injecting a billion dollars into circulation would just make it worse. On top of that, how would you explain such a massive bank account to the government? Do you think the income tax guys are gonna believe that a green genie just gave you the money? You’d probably be audited and you don’t want to know what sort of taxes you’d have to pay on a billion dollars. Trust me, kid, it’s not worth the hassle, you’d regret it later on.”
“Oh, I never thought about it that way.”
“Few people do.”
“Hmm.” Jim thought for a moment. “Okay, I got an idea. Why don’t you make me a super-famous actor or something? That way I can get the money myself and have a really easy job too!”
“I should probably tell you something right off the bat; genies are not nearly as powerful as your movies make us out to be. We all have our special talents, and if you get us all together you could probably get whatever you want, but every jinn is pretty specialized. There are only a few super-cool things we can do.”
“So what can you do for me? What kind of genie are you?”
“I’m what you might call an anthropological genie. I know pretty much all there is to know about every country, people group, culture, race and individual on the planet. I can tell you all about folks if you want.”
“Hey!” Frank said, looking defensive. “I think that having anthropological omniscience is pretty impressive, boy!”
“Sorry. I just thought I’d be able to get something out of this.” Jim wanted his cigarettes back.
“Dude, you can get something out of this. You know, I can introduce you to anyone on the planet. I can take you anywhere on the earth and you can visit the most unusual people there are. I think it’s a pretty good deal. Is there anyone you want to meet or see?” Frank swallowed his cigarette and pulled another one out of his hat. Jim thought for a moment. Maybe this wouldn’t be a total loss.
“Okay.” Jim said. “There is one person that I’ve always wanted to meet.”
“Uh, I can’t remember his name.” Jim snapped his fingers, as if that would help him to recall. “I don’t know his name, but he’s the smartest man in the world. He’s in a wheelchair and he can’t talk.”
“Oh. You mean that Steven Hawking guy?”
“That’s it! Steven Hawking. I’d love to meet him!”
“Sure thing.” Frank said, pulling a pair of red boxer shorts with yellow smiley faces out of his hat. “But are you sure you want to see him? He’s not really the smartest guy in the world.”
“Hell no. He’s not even in the top ten. I could take you to the real smartest person in the world.” Frank but his boxers on, much to Jim’s relief.
“Sure, yeah, take me to the smartest guy in the world. I’d love to meet him and talk to him.”
“Giddiup, on we go!” Frank said with a wicked smile. Smoke poured out from under his hat and in a minute the cave was full of smoke. Jim noticed the temperature suddenly rise. When the smoke began to clear he found himself standing in a sandy desert. Beside him Frank was hopping from foot to foot, cursing the hot sand.
TO BE CONTINUED