by Christina Murphy
Harry Shipley was growing warts.
He had received the power in a special dream.
Now, whenever he concentrated and turned his mind to a silvery haze, he could point his finger and grow a wart on the exact spot the finger indicated.
He was growing his warts everywhere: in the kitchen, on the lamp shades, on the windowsills, the chairs. Warts were in his laundry basket, in the potted plants, on the ceiling, the floor.
Harry was very happy with his warts. They were wonderful company and took a lot less time than a garden. He was most proud of his six-foot wart in the basement, Godzilla, a rose-colored wart that was growing a hair. The hair had started quietly one day when Harry was down in the basement checking on his supply of coal for the winter. When he reached for the light, he noticed a small projectile, much like a blade of silver grass, sticking out of Godzilla’s head. The hair grew three feet in two weeks and took on a lustrous, almost iridescent sheen. Harry took very good care of the hair and washed it regularly. One evening he curled the hair with a rolling pin and was very proud when the hair looked like a little silver snake coiled on top of Godzilla’s head.
When Harry went down to the basement one night late in the winter, he was stunned by what he saw. The hair had grown to an enormous length and had wrapped itself around Godzilla several times. To his horror, he watched the hair uncoil, stretch out the basement window, and stroke the thigh of the choir mistress of the All Saints Episcopal Church as she walked by.
“Oh my heavens, my God, what was that?” he heard her scream as she ran to the back of his house and started pounding on the door.
He raced up the steps and opened the door.
“There’s a thing, a monster in your basement, it just…it just reached up and…”
“I’d better go check on it.”
He slammed the door and bolted it; then he was in the basement digging around, searching. He found the garden shears and advanced upon the hair, ready to cut it off at the root, but the hair gave off a low, humming sound and turned into a puff of blue smoke. A little man the size of Harry’s fist appeared in the smoke. He looked at the garden shears.
“I’d advise against it.”
“Why?” Harry asked, holding the garden shears even tighter.
“Because you won’t get your wish.”
“I’m a genie, pal. I can make your deepest wish come true.”
“How do I know that?”
“Try me. Think of what you want most in life, and I’ll give it to you.”
Harry considered his desires. He thought he might like a wife, but she might turn into a shrew and make his life miserable. Wealth would be intriguing for awhile, but soon he’d run out of things to buy and be very bored. Physical beauty, maybe, but that would always be more interesting for the people looking at him than it would be for him. Youth and a long life would be good things to have if the world weren’t so rotten and getting worse by the minute. The more he thought, the more he was getting stumped and confused, but then he knew what he wanted.
“I want power,” he said to the little man who was sitting in the cloud of smoke, his legs crossed, his foot dangling.
“Okay, then Power it is,” the genie said, making a puff of smoke appear on the basement floor, out of which stepped a woman about three feet tall with a buttercup shaped proboscis, large floppy, elephant-like ears, and red eyes that rolled around in her head like pinwheels.
“What’s that?” Harry said in horror.
“But that’s not what I wanted!”
“But it is what you asked for. Always be specific with a genie, pal,” the little man said as the puff of smoke he was sitting on got smaller and smaller and disappeared with a pop, leaving only Harry and Godzilla and this strange creature that looked at Harry now with eyes that spun.
“Jesus H. Christ. What am I supposed to do with…”
The creature came over and hugged Harry’s leg. He tried to shake her off, pull her free, but he couldn’t move her.
He dragged himself up the basement stairs, Power holding on to his leg, and sat down at the kitchen table.
“Get off my leg!”
Power looked up at him, spun her eyes, and made a soft sound like a mechanical purring.
“What a goddamn mess. I could have had wealth, I could have had beauty, and I get this thing, stuck to my leg.”
He went into the living room and sat on the sofa. Power scurried up his leg and sat on his lap. The soft mechanical sound became deeper.
He looked at Power. Her eyes were spinning so quickly they seemed to be giving off crimson sparks. Then Power was standing in his lap, hugging his neck.
“Sit down!” Harry said, but Power only hugged him tighter.
Harry contemplated what to do and was stunned when Power kissed his cheek. It was an odd little kiss, what with her proboscis maneuvering into place, but it was very tender. Power put her head on Harry’s shoulder and quickly fell asleep. He could tell she was sleeping deeply because of the rhythmic sound she was making, which sounded very much like snoring.
Harry decided to go to sleep himself and carried Power into the bedroom. He placed her on the loveseat by his bed, gently unwrapping her arms from around his neck. Then he got into bed. He had just begun to doze off when he felt Power get into bed beside him and snuggle up against him. Soon Power was snoring again, and Harry fell asleep entranced by the sound and the feel of Power’s tiny body against him.
When the morning came, Power was already standing beside the bed when Harry woke up. She put her arms up like she wanted to be carried, so he complied and took her downstairs to the kitchen. He made his breakfast, a wide selection of everything he could find in the house, and ate ravenously. He could not interest her in bacon or eggs, hash browns or grits, but she did unfurl her buttercup proboscis and suck up a biscuit off his plate. Later in the day, he read the sports section of the paper and she watched TV.
This isn’t bad at all, he thought to himself. He remembered the tenderness of her snuggling and decided that maybe he hadn’t made such a bad choice after all.
When he went to work the next morning, he left Power eating a biscuit and watching Good Morning America. He closed the door, content with his choice, and thinking that life with her might be rather pleasant.
When he got home, he was sickened by what he saw. She had rearranged the furniture and stacked up all his warts in a corner. When he found her, she was potting plants in the kitchen. He was triply mad because, in her repotting, she had overlooked one of his favorite pale pink warts, which was now lying on its side in the sink, nearly buried in a mound of dead roots and chunky peat moss.
“Hey, what’re you doing? My plants, my furniture? And my warts? They’re not happy like this.”
He went over to the pile of warts in the corner and began unstacking them. Power came over and put them back. Harry got really mad and grew two butter bean-sized warts on the ceiling. Power wiggled her ears, and the warts changed to cobwebs.
Harry was furious and pointed his finger to grow a wart on Power’s nose. Power wiggled her ears and Harry’s finger curved back around toward him, and he had to jump out of the way to avoid getting the wart that now grew on the floor between his feet. Power picked up that wart and put it on the pile.
“I’m not going to stand for this, I’m really not!” Harry said. “This is my house,” he said, hitting his chest with his thumb, “mine, and you’re not in charge here, I am. You hear me?”
Power wiggled her ears, and Harry’s pants fell to the floor.
That evening was a very unhappy one for Harry. He tried to watch TV, but Power kept changing the channels. He tried to read, but, right as he got to an interesting part in his book, Power made the next two pages disappear. He missed his warts hanging off the light fixtures and growing on the footstools. He didn’t like the way Power had rearranged the room. Once while she was in the bathroom he grew a little amber wart on the edge of the coffee table and hoped she wouldn’t see it, but she spotted it right away and turned it into a bouquet of flowers.
When Harry left for work in the morning, he thought of never coming home, but where would he go, and what would he do? He knew he had only his house and his belongings, and, as he came home that day, he didn’t know what to expect. He wasn’t even sure his house would be in the same place he had left it, but when he got home, everything seemed sane and calm and he was greatly relieved. Power was in the kitchen frying some eggs. Harry said hello and went into the living room. He didn’t lose his temper until he saw that his furniture was no longer rearranged but gone. In its place was a prissy French Provencal living room suite that nobody could sit on and tapestries hanging from the walls of knights in full armor riding out to war.
Harry stormed into the kitchen, grabbed Power by the shoulders, and began shaking her.
“I don’t want any of this stuff in my house, you understand? I want my old furniture back, and I want it back now!”
Power did not like being shaken. Harry caught the warning glance but he couldn’t stop himself.
“Give me my furniture! Just give me my furniture!”
Power left him his eyes when she turned him into a paperweight. He watched her carry him into the living room and place him on the little writing desk by the door. He glared at her, shot her looks of bloody rage as she sat on the sofa and calmly ate her eggs. When she put on the TV, she turned him around so that all he could see was the wall. He stared at the pocked and grainy surface of the wall and wondered if she would leave him like this forever. He counted nubs on the plaster and plotted revenge. Late in the evening, she turned him around and looked at him. She wiggled her ears and Harry was himself again. He wanted to kill her, but instead told her thank you and went upstairs to his room. Power came up later and lay down beside him. Harry knew it would be futile to try to leave. Power snuggled against him and held him close all night while she slept.
Harry went to work and came home for seven days straight and tried not to agitate Power. He didn’t want to be a paperweight again. She was better behaved but still she got on his nerves. For one thing, she was learning to speak a few words. No was one of her favorites.
“Let’s go to the movies.” No.
“Well, I’m going to the movies.” No.
“I’m getting hungry. Let’s eat.” No.
“I need some time to myself.” No.
“I’m going to watch the baseball game.” No.
“Well, why don’t you get a job, then?” No.
No. No. No. He was sick of it, and he was sick of her. He was sick of the way she unmade and redid the bed every time he made it, sick of the way she rearranged everything in the house to suit her fancy, sick of not having his warts around for company, and sick of being abused at will.
One day when he was eating his lunch at work, he knew he had reached his limit. He had packed a bologna sandwich, some Cheez-Nips, and two Twinkies, and, unbeknownst to him, she had changed his lunch to a tuna fish sandwich, two carrots, and an apple. At the bottom of his lunch box was a note that said, “Eat better.” He slammed his lunch box down, punched out, and drove home.
He was so angry he could hardly keep his car in its lane. He gripped the steering wheel and tried to figure out what to do. He knew he could never sneak up on her, she was too clever for that. And catching her while she was asleep wouldn’t work, her hearing was too good. Sometimes he felt that she always knew what he was thinking, so he might as well not try to hide it. He figured a split second was all he had. That and a red glass bead he carried in his pocket for good luck.
He came in the back door. She was watching TV. He knew he had to time this perfectly. He stood in front of her and took the bead from his pocket. She was looking at him, watching him carefully, intensely curious about the bead and what Harry might be doing. He ignored her, focused on the bead in his palm, and began getting his finger into position. He knew it would take an infinitesimal fragment of time before she could respond to any action of his by wiggling her ears, and in that tiny moment he could be saved. He continued to look at his palm and pretended to concentrate. He could tell she was getting irritated with him, not knowing what he was doing. When he saw that first shake, that first miniscule wiggle of her ears, he really did concentrate and zapped her one with his precisely pointed finger. There was a shrill noise, a puff of smoke, and then she was a blue-gray wart the size of a golf ball.
“I did it! I did it!” Harry said, jumping up and down. He was laughing and dancing and hugging himself with glee. He turned back to look, just to be sure, and the wart was the size of a softball, then a basketball, then it was a huge dark globe coming toward him. There was a whirring sound, and the globe was spinning and spinning and then exploding into shards of glass that sliced his skin. One piece ripped into his shoulder and sent blood running down his arm and onto the floor. From the blood, hundreds of miniature Powers emerged—coming together and forming an enormous ball of dark glass. The whirring sound began anew, and Power materialized as a massive form.
She came toward Harry and grabbed him with her proboscis, holding him up to her angry red eyes and shaking him hard.
“No,” she said. “No!”
Power was holding him so tightly that Harry could feel his heart pounding wildly in his chest. He struggled to get free, and Power threw him down on the floor and into his own blood. Harry felt a searing sensation and watched in horror as his hands turned into blue-gray warts. Only one finger remained on his right hand, and it was pointing right at his heart, ready to zap him as Power looked on.
CHRISTINA MURPHY lives and writes in a 100 year-old house along the Ohio River. Her work has been published in Modern Short Stories, Counterexample Poetics, Blue Fifth Review, Crescent Review, Greensboro Review, and Descant, among others, and has received an Editor’s Choice Award and “Special Mention” for a Pushcart Prize.