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Rise and fall, rise and fall. That’s how the world works.
Civilizations are built and toppled. People fall in and out of love. Time moves on like a ship tossed on ocean waves, rising and falling with the waters of life.
I have seen all this happen in the blink of an eye. I breathe in, I breathe out, and the world has changed yet again.
But I remain the same. Constant. Forever. I am the pebble that stays still while the river rushes by overhead.
Immortal. I used to love the word. It was something I desired, more than love or riches. I knew my life was nothing more than a grain of sand in the hourglass, and I resented that. My mortality was a restraint, and only turning my back on death would set me free.
I was so ignorant.
I remember it all too clearly. The pictures are still fresh in my mind, even after all these millennia. I can still smell the dust that I brushed off the lamp. I can see my reflection in the gold surface, and I can feel m shudder as an ashamed mortal face stared back at me.
I gently stroked the lamp. Once, twice, three times. I waited in fearful silence until steam poured out of it and engulfed me. It swirled around me like a whirlpool.
Then it gathered itself up into a tornado, swirling down into the form of a beautiful girl. She had hair darker than midnight, falling in ringlets down past her waist. A simple emerald green dress hung loosely from her figure, but all I could look at were her dark, sad eyes. They spoke of a great longing, a regret beyond any I could imagine.
Finally she spoke. “It is within my powers to grant you three wishes, not one more. Anything you ask, I will give.” She spread her hands out in front of her, as if she were offering me the world. “What is it that your heart truly desires?”
I didn’t have to think of my reply. “I only have one wish. I want to be immortal. I want to look death straight in the face and laugh, because he will never be able to catch me.”
She shook her head sadly. “You are just a young, foolish boy. You know not what you ask.”
“Of course I do,” I protested. “It’s a simple wish, really. All I want is to live forever.”
The girl sighed. “Very well. So be it. I will trade my own immortality for your mortality.”
And I agreed gladly, without hesitation. Now I walk the roads of life alone. I have seen so much, but it all blurs after a while into a dull, dreary sameness. There will never be enough pennies in the world to count every time I have regretted my decision.
But it is too late. I am condemned to live.
I hear the wind whispering my name, and I know I am being summoned. The threads of my being are pulled across space, bringing me to stand in front of a boy.
He is so much like I was that day. His eyes glitter eagerly, and his knuckles are white from gripping the lamp so tightly.
I go through my usual routine, like an actor that has practiced his lines too many times, but still the curtain will not go up. Each wish I have granted brings me one step farther from being human. “What is it your heart truly desires?”
The boy carefully sets the lamp down, and comes closer, wary. “First, I have a question. What is it that your heart truly desires, Master Genie?”
I laugh, but there is no humor in it. “What do I wish for?” I lean down, my mouth almost touching the boy’s ear. “I wish to be human.”
“Oh.” He blinks, and I can tell my answer has thrown him off.
“Oh, yes. Surprising, isn’t it? But now, it’s your turn. What do you wish for?”
The boy straightens, and proclaims, “I want to be immortal, Master Genie. Can you do that for me?”
Images flash through my mind. I remember how I once feared death, how I so carelessly tossed it aside like an old cloak, stomping it under my feet. I never once thought that the weather would grow cold and I would want the cloak back.
“Be careful what you wish for, my boy. You may live to regret it. But, if that is what you wish, I will offer you a deal. I will trade my immortality to you, and in return I will become human. Just remember—I warned you.”
And with that, I feel myself solidify. My feet touch the ground, and I am once again traveling Mortality Road towards a dead end. I can feel a number hanging over my head.
But this time, it is welcome.