This was a commision for my good friend Kyle Sandfur.
It was crafts day in Mrs. Mickle's fourth grade class. Every student had their 96-color crayon and pencil boxes displayed prominently on their desk along with a half-colored, smiling genie on a piece of paper. Some students painted with glue sticks and cotton balls around the edges of the little figurine, making sure to leave room for their half typed, half-handwritten message:
"If I had a genie, my wish would be _______."
Some talked about a million dollars. Some talked about vacations to Aruba. Some talked about never having to do homework again. Their conversations filled the air as Mark sat at the head of his five-desk group, quietly coloring his orange genie. A small stuffed fox watched from inside his desk, hidden behind a bookbag, careful not to be seen by any other fourth grader. Not yet. Not until he was ready.
Mrs. Mickle clapped her hands. Everyone repeated the pattern. Mark had his pencil at the ready to fill in his blank. "Any volunteers to share wishes?" she asked.
He scribbled his wish so hard that the paper ripped.
"Remember, you're writing a one-page essay about it. That's a lot of writing!"
His hand shot into the air. "Mark?" she asked, and he jumped to his feet. He stumbled over himself digging out his favorite Tails doll before making the long walk to the front of the class, his genie in one hand and his doll in the other.
Snickers filled the silence.
"Hi, everyone." He stuttered the words. "I'm going to tell you about the wish I'm going to write about. I'm going to tell you with my friend Tails here." He held up the orange doll by the base of its two tails. He was very proud of his speech – he wrote it the night before so he wouldn't forget hot to say it.
"My wish..." he lost his place for a moment. He hugged Tails for support before continuing. "Well, I only have one wish from a genie. My wish is to be more like Tails."
The room exploded in laughter.
"Stop laughing!" he screamed.
One of the boys stood up. "Girl!" he screamed.
"I just like my stuffie!" Mark said. He hugged Tails tightly in his arms. "Shut up!"
"No!" he fell to the ground and closed his eyes. “It’s what I want!”
Silence. The room fell into deep purple. Little by little, wisps of lavender and yellow air circled Mark like so many balls of cotton glued on his project. Mrs. Mickle reached for a dead phone, tried to open a locked door. The students all fell into their seats, frozen by their awe.
The Tails doll melted into his hand. It dissipated like cream into chocolate, swirling around his skin for a few moments before finally blending into his flesh. He wanted to scream but the sensation of the doll becoming a part of him took the voice from his throat.
Winds circled him in a typhoon. Mark's feet lifted from the ground. His body bowed in a perfect crescent. The lavender and yellow became hands that caressed his body, inch by inch. Pass after pass removed his clothing, his gender, his features. He became a plain white slate with an unnatural sheen, waiting for molding.
Hands worked from his toes upward. Red sneakers covered his feet. His legs shrank, becoming thin, sinewy pencils. They twisted and glistened in the pale yellow light as he rotated in air, moving through the still silence of the classroom.
His body rounded, became a small potato sack of a cartoon body. Arms spindled into little hoses. Flashes of white became long, fat gloves with a wide cuff. The fingers extended and balled into a tight fist before crossing over his chest. In his mind he saw green grasses and tight loops flying by at breakneck speed.
The class hid under their desks.
The whirlwind slimmed Mark's neck. It opened into a wide funnel and his head expanded to fit it. His cheeks flared to either side of his now tiny mouth. A long, slender muzzle pushed out from behind his nose. He looked down the length of the muzzle and saw a small button of a black nose at the very tip. A pair of fox ears exploded from the top of his skull, flexing a bit before finally taking their proper shape.
Two tails snaked their way out of his cartoon body. They curled over one another, twisting like ribbons in the wind. They grew wide until ending in a single, tapered tip. When they took a final shape they began to spin over one another, the motion unexplainable but still very, very hypnotic to the classroom around him.
In Mark’s mind he saw the green grass flying by. He wanted to run fast, the wind in his fur, the blue blur in his sights, the world resting on his shoulder. He would run and run and never, ever stop, not even for a moment. Just keep running until every naysayer is staring at one big cloud of dust.
He would fly high. He would prove himself.
The room filled with blinding light.
Darkness. As their eyes adjusted they realized Mark’s body sported a slick, shining coat of orange and white fur. He was a spot of light in the world, glowing with his own radiance. He smiled with a small triangle mouth and laughed a boyish chuckle, the sound like springtime and cool breezes.
The room comes back to light. The lavender and yellow hands wisped through the windows and under the door. Mark slowly and gracefully glided down to the ground. No one spoke. No one so much as moved a muscle as Mark felt over his new body with his gloved hands.
"Are you...?" Mrs. Mickle asked, but Mark's mind was somewhere else. He heard the call of the open road, of the blue blur that ran forever in front of him. The world opened at a seam just above his head. His tails spun. His feet fell away from the ground as he went up, up, through the ceiling and into his proper world.
And, in the stillness that followed, the sound of twenty erasers changing
twenty wishes rushed through the classroom.