Happy Pawn 2: The Laptop

Jerrick scrubbed his hands over his slick scalp then over his face.  He looked at the glowing screen of the laptop, the spreadsheet with its neat rows and columns.  Numbers.  Jerrick knew numbers.  Numbers were his livelihood and his love, but if he didn’t fix this…this huge screw-up, they wouldn’t be for much longer.

This is what he got for buying a second-hand laptop.  This is what he got for thinking for one second he was smarter than a djinn.  Tricky bastard, he thought.

Now, he understood the look in that girl’s eye, that skinny white girl who came charging into Happy Pawn, babbling about a microwave and wriggling anchovies.  He’d eavesdropped on that conversation enough to decide the girl was half out of her mind.  He knew better now, just like he knew that if he went back and complained to the old man that there was something not right with his laptop, the old man would give him the same speech.  Besides, he’d taken his chances on other purchases that turned out not so great, although a different kind of not so great.  The old man stuck to his policies: no returns, no refunds.  You buy it; it’s yours.

The calculator was his first purchase.  The plus sign was broken.  Jerrick didn’t have the skills to repair it, and it would’ve been almost cheaper to just buy a new one rather than pay someone to fix it.  He worked around it by subtracting negatives.  Annoying, but it worked.

The laptop…it was a completely other type of broken.

Ctrl+Shift+G. A simple typo was all it was.  Jerrick intended to use his shortcut for inserting the clip art of the company logo, but hit “G” instead of “F.”  He couldn’t even remember what he was working on when smoke spewed from the innards of the laptop.  He remembered thinking the thing was melting itself and all his data, and then suddenly he was pushing up from his desk chair, staggering back as the smoke coalesced into a heavily muscled, bluish man with small golden horns and a long black ponytail.  The man stretched out his arms and tipped his head to Jerrick.

“How may I be of service?”

A simple question really, and one that Jerrick answered in various ways.  The first was to ask for infinite wishes.  The djinn reassured Jerrick that there was no need for this wish.  “As long as you hold the vessel,” the djinn pointed at the laptop, “I am yours to command.”

Now, Jerrick scrolled down on the spreadsheet, seeing red, red, red.  He fell into the trap.  He watched those damn Wishmaster movies.  He read “The Monkey’s Paw.”  He knew there would be a catch, but he also assumed he could be smarter.  He could be careful.

Now, his superior’s secretary was dead, and he owed his accounting firm 2.6 million dollars.  He considered going to the CEO, trying to explain where the money went and promising to pay it back, but Jerrick knew he could work overtime every day for the rest of his life and not pay off that debt.  Not at his salary.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d realized where the money came from before he spent so much of it.  He hadn’t expected the djinn to be able to transfer money from one bank account to another.  What was he expecting?  That some long-lost rich relative would die and leave him a boatload of money?  Sort of.  Okay, yes.  But that didn’t happen.  And then there was Leisha.

All Jerrick wanted was for her to notice him, to notice him as a woman notices a man and not just someone she saw every day at the office and spoke to because it was polite and expected.  What she became…Jerrick blinked back tears as he remembered those first few nights together.  Those nights turned into weekends, and then suddenly Leisha wouldn’t leave.  She didn’t want Jerrick to leave, not even to go to work.  He took a few vacation days, a sort of dating honeymoon, and by the end of it, his entire body hurt from bites, bruises, and overuse.

Jerrick wiped away the tear that slipped down his cheek.  Until he made his stupid wish, she was a lovely woman.  Now, she was six feet under, after having thrown herself off the top of his condo building.

Jerrick knew better than to try to fix dead.  He couldn’t take back what happened to Leisha, and he would bear that mark on his soul for the rest of his life.  Which wouldn’t be much longer if he didn’t figure out what to do about the missing money.  He couldn’t hide that much longer, and he didn’t think he’d survive long in a federal penitentiary.

He already tried bargaining with the djinn.  “Put the money back!”  He screamed that sentence again and again, but what was spent could not be unspent.  Besides, didn’t his mother love her new house?  She deserved it, after raising five kids on her own.  Even so, Jerrick proved, once again, that you can’t get something for nothing.

He ran his damp fingers over the keys of the laptop.  With a deep frown on his face, he typed Ctrl+Shift+G.  The scent of the inferno filled his nostrils.  The smoke stung his eyes for a moment before it swirled into a column and produced the djinn.

“How may I be of service?” it asked.

“I don’t know.”  Jerrick looked into its strange black-on-black eyes.  “How do I fix this?”  He gestured at the screen then spread his arms wide.

“It is not my place to advise, only to grant what your heart desires.”

“Yeah, and how many lives have you ruined granting wishes?”

The djinn tilted its head in consideration.  “None.  No life is beyond repair.”

Jerrick laughed bitterly at that.  “Right.  I brought all this on myself.  I suppose you’re going to tell me that you have no control over how the wishes are granted.  Like there’s some sick, twisted god in control of it all, and you’re just the messenger.”  When the djinn gave no reply, Jerrick squared his shoulders.  “Well, you can tell whoever is in charge that my heart’s desire if for someone to fix this!  Fix the money.  Fix Leisha!”  Jerrick’s face crumpled, and he pressed his hands to his eyes.  “She didn’t have to die.”

“No, she didn’t,” the djinn said.  “Very well.”

****

Jerrick jerked.  The movement dragged his steering wheel sharply to the left and sent his car swerving into oncoming traffic.  Belching curses, he yanked hard in the other direction, overcorrecting, but managing to get the car going straight and in the proper lane.

How…what?  He couldn’t think.  Hadn’t he just been in his empty living room, arguing with a djinn?  He wasn’t anymore.  From the looks of things, he was on the expressway, somewhere between the exit for work and the exit for home.

He let out a breath, eased back into the seat.  Something dark in the passenger seat caught his attention, and he glanced that way.  Then, he took a longer look.  There it was: the laptop.  It sat there, the receipt taped to the case.  But that meant…that meant it was August, three months before he sat in his condo and demanded the djinn make things right.

Well, things are right now, Jerrick thought.  I can’t return it, but I won’t use it.  I won’t even turn it on.  “Yeah,” he said aloud.  He nodded in agreement with himself.  He took the exit for home with a renewed sense of hope.  He drove past the corner gas station, the old falling down houses.  Sure, he’d be back in his crappy apartment in one of the worst parts of town, but he would have his old life back.  “Yeah, you sneaky sonofabitch.  Won’t get me this time.”  He grinned down at the laptop, and the laptop was the last thing he saw.

****

When the cops interviewed Muriel Shipp, she told them it was the oddest thing.  She hadn’t heard a horn blow.  The lights hadn’t flashed, and the guardrails hadn’t come down.  But sure as there was wreckage all over her lawn, the train blew through and smashed that poor man and his car to nothing.

Long after everyone – police, media, nosy neighbors – left, Muriel went out into the yard.  There was debris everywhere, and she wondered who she was going to get to come clean up the mess.  Couldn’t count on her no-good grandkids to do it.  Well, she was old, but she could do a few things.  She went around with a garbage bag, praying to God that she didn’t find any parts of the man.  She was pretty sure the coroner took all they could of him.  What a way to go.

Muriel was at the edge of the yard when her foot rapped against something.  Begrudging her hip, she bent down and picked up a flat, black object.  She lifted a pair of half-moon readers to peer at it.  Why, it was one of those computer things.  Muriel knew this one must have come from the man’s car, but there wasn’t a scratch on it.  She had no use for it, but the things were worth a pretty penny.

Muriel made her way back inside her house and slipped the laptop into a plastic grocery bag.  She’d take the bus into the city tomorrow.  She knew just the place to take it to get the best price with no questions asked.

Happy Pawn 1: The Microwave

Jeanette sighed as she put the hamster into the microwave.  She was great at handling kids, but she wasn’t good with pets.  She warned Kevin of this, but he insisted she was the only person he trusted enough to hamster-sit.  Poor Mr. Nibbles never had a chance.

Jeanette pressed the reheat button followed by the preset selection for pizza.  The turntable began its slow spin, and the magnetron hummed.  “All right, you blob of fuzz,” she muttered.

After only two seconds, the hamster’s back legs began to twitch.  By the time the microwave dinged to signal the “food” was ready, the hamster was back on his feet with his tiny nose wiggling.  Jeanette opened the door and removed Mr. Nibbles.

“There.”  She ran her thumb down the rodent’s back.  “No one has to know you were dead but me.”

Jeanette slipped Mr. Nibbles into his cage.  As she watched, the hamster stretched his neck up and suckled at the water bottle.  “Does death make you thirsty?” she asked of him.  “Hmm, maybe it’s the radiation.”

Jeanette moved the cage to the sliver of mattress that passed for her dorm room bed.  Three more hours.  If Mr. Nibbles could make it that long, Kevin’s parents would come get him, and she would be in the clear.

Jeanette sat next to the cage and smirked at the LG microwave.  She agreed that life was good, but maybe the company took their slogan a little too seriously.  Of course, Jeanette didn’t believe that anyone else had a microwave that could reanimate the dead when set to reheat pizza.  So many people ate pizza and reheated pizza that she surely would’ve heard about it by now or at least seen it posted on Facebook. No, Jeanette was certain that she was the only person who owned such a microwave.

The first time she selected reheat pizza and the anchovies gasped, flipped, and flopped right there on the cheese, she puked in her tiny wastebasket and then ran to Happy Pawn.  The old guy who owned the place listened to her ravings with a bland look on his face.  Once she ran out of steam, he said, “All sales are final.  It’s your microwave now.  If there’s something wrong with it, it’s your problem.”  At his shrewd look, Jeanette swallowed down the bile in her throat and asked, “Well, uh, do you have the owner’s manual?”  He did not.

Until fate decided it was time for Mr. Nibbles to go to Hamster Heaven, Jeanette had avoided the reheat pizza setting.  She wrinkled her nose, thinking she used the microwave to nuke a frozen burrito only an hour before using it to resurrect Kevin’s furry friend.  Well, she sanitized it.

The microwave wasn’t the only thing Jeanette purchased from Happy Pawn, but as far as she knew, her portable radio and mini-fridge didn’t have super powers.  They were normal, crappy hand-me-downs.  And that old man…it was almost as if he knew the microwave wasn’t just a microwave.  Jeanette went back to the shop several times, but any time she brought up the microwave, he reminded her of store policy and then ignored her.

Jeanette watched Mr. Nibbles climb onto his wheel and begin a brisk workout.  “Don’t over-do it,” she warned.  “I don’t want to have to put you back in there.”

While she waited for Kevin’s parents to come and reclaim the hamster, Jeanette sat at her desk and reviewed her notes for a History exam.  What kind of professor gives a test the Monday after spring break? thought Jeanette.  The asshole kind, that’s who.

An hour later, Adrian returned, clothes and hair in the usual disarray, more make-up under her eyes than on them.  “Have a good weekend?” Jeanette teased her roommate.

Adrian grumbled something unintelligible and then said, “Can I have something?”

Jeanette waved a hand at the mini-fridge.  “Sure, if you think you can hold anything down.”

Adrian jerked open the fridge, rifled around inside it, and came away with half of a steak sandwich.

“I guess you feel like challenging yourself,” Jeanette said.

Adrian put the sandwich in the microwave and punched a few buttons.  While the sandwich heated, she flopped onto her bed and began the arduous task of removing her boots.  When the microwave dinged, she dragged herself over to it, opened the door, and screamed.

The sandwich belched chunks of white American cheese, green peppers, and reanimated beef.  Adrian screamed again, tripped over her own feet, and sat down hard.

Jeanette swiveled in her chair in time to watch Adrian backpedal away from the microwave.  “Ah hell.  You used ‘reheat pizza.’”

Jeanette stood, intending to put the poor sandwich out of its misery, but Adrian’s adrenaline made her act faster.  She scrambled up from the floor, kicked the microwave door shut, and snatched the machine from the rickety TV cabinet Jeanette used as a pantry.  A wild yank pulled the plug free from the outlet, and with two more steps, Adrian hurled the microwave and its contents out their fourth floor window.

“Holy crap!”  Jeanette dropped her book and hurried over to join Adrian.  “My microwave.”

The girls stood at the window and looked down on the wreckage of plastic and metal.  The sandwich, having been cushioned inside the microwave, survived the fall and now made a last ditch effort to escape.  Adrian gripped Jeanette’s arm as the steak crawled out of the bun and across the concrete sidewalk.

“It’s…it’s alive,” Adrian said.

“Yeah.”

“What should we—”

Abruptly, Adrian stopped speaking, for a crow chose that moment to swoop down and deliver a deathblow to the steak.  The bird cawed twice, skewered some of the meat, and flew up into the oak tree just outside the girls’ window.  It tilted its head and then pecked at its kill.

Adrian groaned.  “I’m going to be sick.”

“Yeah,” Jeanette agreed.

****

The girls did not speak of the microwave or the sandwich.  The next year, they moved to different dorms and got new roommates.  Eventually, Jeanette went back to Happy Pawn and got another crappy hand-me-down microwave – one that barely heated food, much less reanimated it.  The old man never asked what happened to the other microwave, and she never mentioned it to him again.

The year after that, Mr. Nibbles died of old age.