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There’s a spot in the parking lot, not far from the dilapidated old outhouse, and within sight of the diner, where the halogen lights that serve to illuminate the spaces between the parked cars and trucks go dim. Like a circle of darkness, but not that obvious. A single darkened light, in its center, the tall metal base rising up from the asphalt like a cenotaph to an unknown war, surrounded by a ring of others, each with one bulb burnt out. An electrician might fault the wiring, or blame rodents for somehow getting to the cords, though they’re laid beneath the pavement (although above the dragon’s lair).
The young couple, however, thought of none of this. It had still been light when they parked their car, and after a meal and a couple slices of pie, they only figured to crash for a few hours in the parking lot before driving on. Walking back across the pavement, hands entwined, they approached the dark spot.
Josh grinned, and Lanie looked up at him. “What?”
He smiled, and tugged at her hand. “What?” she asked again.
“Yeah.” They were in the darkness, cocooned by the velvet blackness. Josh stopped moving and pulled Lanie to him, his hand caressing her cheek, her neck, as they kissed. She let him – did more than let him – moaned softly against his ear as he nipped at her bare shoulder, pushing aside the strap of her snug tank top. Her hands gripped his worn and dirty jeans jacket, trapped between their bodies.
His teeth pulled at her earlobe, and her knees went weak. He had a way of… with the... and his... and she couldn’t help it. She kissed him back, hard, then pulled away, glancing over at their nearby car and then back into his eyes. “C’mon.”
He grinned. “Nope.”
“Baby…” her voice stretched the word beyond two syllables, then changed it to a squeal as he lifted her up, whirled her around, and set her down again, back against the pole of the darkened light.
She shook her head. “Josh, no. Anyone could come by.”
His hands played around her waist, fingers gripping her hips, sliding softly against her hip bones. Lanie’s muscles tensed, and she twitched, half ticklish, half turned on. Mostly turned on. “No one’s going to see, baby. It’s just you…” his fingers dipped lower, “and me.”
Josh fell to his knees in front of her, and Lanie stopped arguing, rubbing up against the cool pole behind her. “Oh… oh… oh…don’t stop…Josh… oh…”
At the sudden cessation in movement, she opened her eyes and looked down at him. “Josh?”
His mouth hung open in astonishment, and as she watched, his legs gave out, and he sat, suddenly, on the cracked concrete. Lanie took a step towards him. “Josh? Baby?” Finally, she turned around, to see what he seemed to be staring at so intently.
She froze, and her mouth dropped open. Small mewing sounds were coming out of Josh’s throat, as they watched a form – some kind of person – appear actually IN the post of the lamp, coalescing out of a swirl of light, like he’d been trapped in there. The pole shook as it – as he – pushed against it from the inside, then suddenly POPPED out, with an audible burst of air.
“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmman, does that feel good to get out of there!” he exclaimed.
Lanie’s mouth still hung open, and Josh started crying. The figure towered over them some 15 feet high, or more. It was hard to tell. He didn’t seem to actually have feet, or legs, for that matter. Just a stream of smoke that tracked back to the pole. To the darkened halogen lamp.
Rubbing his face and yawning like someone waking up from a nap, the figure grinned down at Lanie and Josh. “You. You lucky two. You did it. You did it!”
“We didn’t mean to?” Lanie found the words to say.
“Even better! You still get all the benefits!”
Josh sniffled. “Buh- buh- benefits?”
The thing made a face and held out his hands. “Wishes? Three of ‘em? Man, don’t you people even READ anymore? What is this place?”
“Texas,” Lanie offered.
That stopped him. His face turned quizzical as he glanced around them, taking in the old outhouse, the diner, the gas pumps, the souvenir shops, tattoo parlour, and the fences, seeming to see more than the obvious. “Are you sure?”
Lanie wasn’t sure of anything any more. She shook her head. Josh wiped at his runny nose with the back of his hand and scrambled to his feet. “So, you’re like… some kind of genie or sumthin’?”
“Got it in one, young man!”
Lanie looked the… genie?... up and down. Sure, he didn’t have legs so much as a plume of smoke, but the double breasted black suit jacket he wore didn’t look anything like what she’d seen genies wear in movies. “Aren’t you supposed to be, like, bald and blue?”
The djinn sighed, and ran his hand through his luxurious head of black hair. “Don’t believe everything anyone tells you, young miss. We come in all shapes and sizes. Oil lamps, crystal tabletop numbers, lanterns – hell, I had a buddy, back in ’65, I think, who set up shop in a lava lamp. Spent the next decade high as a kite, but happy as a clam. Me, I like the industrial stuff. It’s got a certain… style.”
Josh grabbed at Lanie’s hand like a lifeline. “So, we get to wish for anything? Anything we want?”
“That’s the way it works, bucko. You ask, I give.” He jerked his head back at the pole. “Then I git along home.”
“Shit! Awesome!” Josh dropped Lanie’s hand and rubbed his own together. “Ok, get this. I want… a million dollars! And a new car – something fast, and sporty. In red!”
“Done, and done!” The genie snapped his fingers and a crimson Porsche appeared in the empty parking spot beside them. In the front passenger seat, through the windshield, Lanie could see a leather satchel with wads of cash spilling out of it.
“Fuck yeah!” Josh grinned widely, then opened his mouth again to ask for the third wish. Lanie cut him off.
“What happens after we get our third wish?”
“I told you, little angel. I get gone.” He winked at her.
“And you just… wait for someone else to rub up against the light pole and set you free again?”
“There’s a…” He pursed his lips. “A kind of checks and balance system in play. But yeah, basically.”
She crossed her arms and tapped her thumb against her lips. That sounded… what was the word? Sounded…
Josh clapped his hands. “I got it! My third wish. I wanna be famous, baby! I want everyone to know who I am!”
Lanie finally thought of the word. Loophole. “Wait!”
The djinn grinned, and his smile stretched from ear to ear, too wide to be pleasant. His voice boomed across the parking lot. “DONE.”
With a gesture, Lanie fell to the ground, and as Josh watched, unseen weapons slashed at her. Blood pooled in her mouth and splashed across her lover as cuts covered her skin, tearing her clothes, ripping screams from her throat until her neck was severed, and her head fell back against the pavement, open eyes unseeing.
“Noooooooooo!” Josh howled, and the genie vanished, the halogen bursting into light as a crowd poured out of the Midway rest stop. In the sudden illumination, the fresh red blood covering Josh matched the paint of the Porsche beside him.
A woman in the crowd wearing a waitress uniform screamed, “My god, he killed her!” and a large black man moved with a quickness that belied his size, knocking Josh over and away from Lanie’s body, holding him down against the blood-soaked parking lot. “Cherise! Call the troopers! Get ‘em back here NOW!”
The papers spoke of it for months, naming Josh the Midway Slasher, blaming him for a series of mysterious disappearances that had occurred there recently. The money was found to come from a bank a hundred miles away, robbed at gunpoint with six employees bound dead in the vault. The Porsche was stolen from the driveway of a house in Houston, the owner found floating in his swimming pool, naked and full of bullet holes. His wife upstairs remained in a catatonic state for months before overdosing on Valium, prescribed by a friendly doctor to help her get over her rape at the hands of her husband’s killer.
A year later, Josh was sent to the electric chair still proclaiming his innocence, blubbering a story about a genie in a lamp. The surge knocked the power out all the way back to the Midway, and though the lights came back on seconds later, the halodjinn in the middle of the parking lot remained dark.