by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, July 2020
Angie and Tyler’s hands touched the green-gold brass of the magic lamp at the same time. The metal was slick with creek water, and they had to dig away the mud and wet moss that had half buried the lamp using their bare hands. Their fingers smeared the mud, leaving their hands and the lamp dirty. Someone must have thrown it into this creek, deep in the woods, years ago.
Angie and Tyler had strayed from the trail hours ago, and Angie kept oscillating between feeling thrilled to be alone with him in the forest… and terrified that she was making a dangerous mistake. She and Tyler had only been dating a few months. He seemed perfect and kind, but she knew that abusive men used a honeymoon period to lure their girlfriends in and then isolate them. Right now, they were pretty isolated.
Still, how many men would dig up old junk in the forest with her and pretend it was a magical treasure? Most adults didn’t seem to remember how to play and have fun. Tyler did. She loved that about him.
Both Tyler and Angie washed their hands off in the cold creek water, and when the brass lamp looked as good as it was going to — still rusty and mis-colored — Tyler said, “Shall we make a wish?”
Angie smiled. “Yeah, we should. What would you wish for?”
“You first,” Tyler said, sitting down on a big sun-baked boulder beside the creek. Angie perched on a smaller rock beside it.
“Okay…” she said. “You won’t laugh?”
“I won’t laugh.” He held one hand up, palm out, as if he were solemnly swearing.
Angie tugged at the edge of her hiking shorts, slightly shorter and tighter than she’d like, and she straightened the t-shirt that had always been too boxy for her but now was also a little too tight. She didn’t want to get a larger one, because that would involve admitting that she needed a bigger size. And there were far fewer fun t-shirts in the next size up. “I want a seamstress robot.”
“You know, like, a robot that can measure me and sew clothes that fit absolutely perfectly. Sort of like a cross between a 3D fabric printer and… well, a really, really good tailor.”
Tyler didn’t laugh, but his mouth quirked kind of like he was tasting a lemon. “Can’t you just go buy clothes? Or order them online?”
It was easy for him to think that, sitting there in his jeans and shirt, made from fabric several times thicker than the flimsy stuff used for women’s clothes, that came in sizes measured in inches instead of a numbering system come up with by cthulu. Shopping for clothes in stores took hours, and the selection was so limited… And when Angie ordered stuff online, it was like playing roulette. Half of the time, the object that arrived looked nothing like she’d ordered, and sure, she could send it back, but that takes time too. And it was demoralizing. Trying on clothes that were too tight in all kinds of random places and too baggy in others? Ugh. It was Angie’s least favorite activity.
“Besides, you already have a lot of clothes that you look good in.” Tyler grinned in the way that Angie always felt like she was supposed to feel was a loving compliment… but somehow felt more like a leer.
“They’re too tight,” Angie mumbled.
Tyler laughed. “Yeah, that’s why they look so good. But I mean, if you really want a seamstress… couldn’t you just do it yourself?”
“Sewing takes a lot of time,” Angie said. She tugged at her shirt again, wishing it didn’t show the exact curve of her breasts and belly underneath it so well.
Tyler shrugged. He didn’t care about Angie’s time.
“Yeah, whatever, what would you wish for?”
Tyler’s grin shifted into the one he got whenever he knew he was about to be really, really clever: “I’d wish we were both were-velociraptors who could shift back and forth at will!”
“That would be pretty cool…” Angie admitted. Although, she couldn’t help thinking that it would be even harder to find clothes that fit her then.
Suddenly, the light shifted as if the sun had come out from behind a cloud, but the angles were all wrong. Angie realized that the new light was coming from the lamp, and it glowed brighter and brighter, until it left a sunspot shape in her vision. When her eyes cleared, a lumpy, curvy green-skinned woman with bulbous eyes and a wide, wide mouth like a frog stood… well, hovered… since her extremities kind of disappeared into a green mist… before them.
“You only get one wish,” the genie said. “You touched my lamp at the exact same time, so you have to share it. Figure out what you’re wishing for, and agree on it.”
“Uh…” Tyler looked stunned. But he recovered quickly. “The velociraptor one, right?” He glanced cursorily at Angie, not really long enough to see her reaction. “You said that was cool. We both like that one.”
Angie was having trouble believing what she was looking at. And shouldn’t they be wishing for world peace or something? But somehow, she found herself saying, “Okay…” She did that, when she knew Tyler wanted her to say “okay;” she often started to say it before really thinking through what she wanted for herself. It wasn’t her favorite thing about herself, but it was a habit she didn’t know how to break.
“Granted,” the genie said. She turned her wide, bulbous face toward Angie and said, “Now get rid of him.”
Angie felt her body shifting, rearranging, changing shape: her legs grew thicker and more curved. Her butt extruded out into a long, balancing tail. Her face lengthened, and her toes grew giant claws. And her instincts sharpened inside her belly. She felt the slow boil of anger that she was always pushing down bubble over, and her right leg shot out, extending a claw that sliced across Tyler’s neck before he had finished changing.
Tyler fell into the creek, blood spilling around him, looking like a science experiment gone wrong. Something from a bad b-movie. Half-lizard, half human with a giant pocket knife clutched in his talon-hand. Where had that come from? In his rush to pull it out of his pocket, he seemed to have spilled a pile of white plastic sticks on the ground… zip ties.
Angie shuddered. She looked at her reflection in the creek. Tilted her head. She was a gorgeous velociraptor. She felt so strong. And then — completely under her own control — she shifted back into human form. Her clothes were shredded, ripped and distended.
“Now,” the genie said, “tell me more about this seamstress robot.”
“I thought we’d used up our wishes…” Angie kept herself from looking back at the creek. She didn’t want to see Tyler, dead and half-transformed, with her human eyes. She wasn’t as fierce in human form. Even if she was pretty sure that the genie had just saved her life. She couldn’t believe that she’d been so stupid as to come out here with Tyler. Somehow, all the clues she’d been ignoring for months — stories about his previous girlfriends who were all crazy bitches who’d mysteriously ghosted on him after he’d brought them out here — had been impossible to push aside in velociraptor form.
“Look, you may not have any more wishes, but I can still do magic for myself. And I’m sick of living alone in a lamp at the edge of a creek, abandoned deep in the forest. So, bring me home with you, and well, I’ll see what I can do.”
Angie already had some ideas for flowy tops and stretchy waistbands that wouldn’t be ripped apart by her tail when she shifted into raptor form. “Sure,” she said. She picked up the lamp and tied it onto the shreds of her clothes that had survived her transformation, and then she transformed back.
Angie ran through the forest, talking to the froggy genie woman floating beside her, and they cooked up plans for a wonderful life together, full of practical robots and comfortable, well-fitting clothes.