Crystal slammed the door as she entered the house. The shock reverberated loudly through the old walls, rattling the nearby windows.
“Lunch date not go well?”
Crystal looked to the young woman sitting at the kitchen table with a trashy romance novel in one hand and a ham sandwich in the other. It was Emily, Crystal’s roommate.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to slam the door like that.”
“I don’t care. You’re just lucky that Katherine and Tina aren’t home right now. You know the sound goes straight up to their room when the door slams.”
Ignored the comment and sat limply in a chair across the table from Emily. “Stephen and I had frank exchange of ideas.”
Emily’s left eyebrow went up. “A fight? I didn’t know you two did that.” She slid an open bag of M&Ms toward Crystal. “Here you just have some nice candy and tell me all about it.”
Ignoring the offering Crystal pulled out a cigarette.
Emily stopped her. “No way. Tina is going to have a fit if I let you smoke down here.
Crystal scowled and put the offending cigarette back. “She’s the one that needs a cigarette. Loosen her up some.”
“She lets you smoke in our room. You’re just lucky that I let you smoke in our room. Those things can stink the place up pretty bad.”
“I thought we were talking about my discussion with Stephen?”
Emily smiled politely and gestured for Crystal to continue.
“Anyway, yes, we fight. But not often, not anymore. But today I brought up the topic of marriage.”
“I thought the guy was supposed to ask the girl.” Emily commented.
Crystal pushed up her glasses and faced Emily, “We’ve been dating since high school. Now we’re juniors in college. I figure it’s time to move beyond just dating. But as soon as I bring it up Stephen gets all evasive and nervous. He put of a hasty defense, talking about finishing school first and building up money. He was unwilling to even consider it.” Crystal collapsed back into her chair, “I still love him, but I’m just so tired of where we are. We’ve been in holding pattern for years. I need more.”
“Did you tell him that?”
“Yes, but by this time we were here and I was out of the car. I think he said something about sleeping on it, but he was so nervous he could barely get his words out straight.”
Emily leaned back in her chair while Crystal grabbed a handful of M&Ms and popped them into her mouth. “Sound’s to me like he’s hiding something. Something he’s afraid he’ll have to tell you if you get any closer. Maybe he’s got webbed toes or something.”
Crystal stood and waved Emily’s comment aside. “I don’t want to worry about it anymore. I’ll call him in the morning and finish the discussion then. I have homework to do now. It’ll take my mind off things.”
“It’s Saturday, you should relax.”
“I can relax after I do my work.” She started up the stairs.
“Hold on. You got a package in the mail today.” Emily grabbed a small cardboard box off the kitchen counter behind her and tossed it to Crystal.
Crystal caught it and looked it over. “I’m not expecting any packages.”
“Well open it up. Let’s find out what it is.” Emily replied.
Crystal turned and continued up the stairs. “After I get some work done.”
Emily shrugged and went back to her romance novel. She’d find out what it was eventually.
* * *
Crystal casually tossed the package on her desk and sat at her stool. She sighed and looked into the large vanity mirror she had set up on the wall above the desk. She sure didn’t feel like doing any work, and Emily was right.
She pushed the thoughts aside. She had work to do….but maybe she would at least see what was in the mysterious package. That wouldn’t take long.
Crystal examined the box. It was a simple small cardboard box. On the top her name and address were printed in neat handwriting. There was no return address anywhere. She shrugged and quickly sliced through the tape with her fingernail.
Inside, wrapped in newspaper, was a small box made of dark polished wood. Inside the box a folded slip of paper rested atop a silver choker necklace with a large white stone set into the front. She examined the stone closely. It was roughly triangular, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom and appeared to be made of pearl. But a pearl this size would cost a fortune, and Crystal didn’t know anyone who had a fortune to spend on her. She put the necklace back in the box and unfolded the paper.
Congratulations! You are the winner in our annual drawing. Your prize is this beautiful silver necklace, guaranteed to fit and never tarnish. Set within the necklace is the legendary Chimera Stone. The ultimate in wish gratification. Just make a wish and watch as it comes true.* For further instructions on the use and care of your new necklace see the included instructions on the inside cover of the box. Enjoy your new gift, and once again congratulations!
Then below in much smaller writing.
* Notice: Certain limitations on wishes exist. Not all wishes will be granted. However, those that are granted are guaranteed to be satisfactory.
Crystal reread the entire notice twice, trying to figure out what was going on. Was this some kind of prank? She tried to think of who would have to ability to put this together, or the reason to.
But what if it were true? This could be the answer to all her problems, or the cause entirely new ones. In almost every book she had ever read about people having their wishes granted they always backfired. But the note did say that satisfaction was guaranteed. Though she still wondered what exactly it meant by limitations on wishes.
Crystal picked up the small wooden box and looked at the inside of the lid. There, printed in the same neat handwriting as the note was written instructions.
— The Chimera Stone—
This ancient relic will grant a limited number of wishes. When the last wish has been used the stone will turn black. To make a wish simply state your wish, beginning with “I wish…” The stone will glow yellow while you make the wish. If you are interrupted during the wish making process the stone will cancel processing of the current wish and return to waiting mode. Each wish will be assessed on certain criteria. If a wish is approved the stone will flash green and the wish will take effect. If the wish is not approved the stone will flash red and the wish will not be granted. Having a wish disapproved does not use up the wish. Please exercise cautions in the use of the stone, as its powers are nigh infinite within its guidelines.
Crystal frowned. This was too weird. She had never heard of a magical object actually coming with detailed instructions. Usually it was, “Rub the lamp and get three wishes,” or “Drink under the light of a full moon.” However, the instructions here left out few important points, like exactly how many wishes she got, and what criteria it used for choosing which wishes would be granted and which would not.
She examined the necklace again. If nothing else it was a beautiful piece of jewelry. She held it up to her neck and looked at herself in the mirror. It did look good on her. She was about to snap it on when she thought of something that made her pause.
If this really was a magical necklace, putting it one might be a bad idea. She might never be able to take it off again. Then the rational side of her brain countered, saying that there’s no such thing as magic. She hesitated a moment longer, and then made her decision.
“Screw it, life’s too boring anyway.” She clipped it on.
She looked at herself in the mirror, waiting for some horrible fate to befall her, but nothing happened.
“Well, that was anticlimactic.” She mumbled to herself. She looked in the mirror, seeing how it looked on her. “Still, life is a little boring. Might as well give this a shot. If it works I won’t be bored anymore, if it doesn’t I’ll be saved from a fate worse than death most likely.”
She took a moment to consider her first wish. She wanted to make it good. For all she knew she only got one wish. She didn’t want to risk wasting it on some stupid little test wish. The note had said that satisfaction was guaranteed, but she wanted to make sure it was still a wish that would most likely not come back to haunt her. Wishing for Stephen to marry here was quickly dismissed. She wanted him to want to be with her of his own free will.
She snapped her fingers as an idea popped into her head. She knew what her first wish would be.
“I wish for a long and healthy life free from any sickness or disease.” The stone glowed yellow as she spoke the words. Then a moment later flashed green. Crystal felt a strange sensation seep through her body. It started at her feet and moved upwards. When it reached her eyes the feeling became more acute and she squeezed her eyes closed until the feeling passed. It wasn’t painful, just weird. She suddenly realized that there was something in her mouth. She spit it into her hand. But when she tried to get a good look at it she realized that her vision was blurry and distorted.
She started to panic, afraid that the stone had messed up her vision as some kind of warped joke. Then her brain finally caught up with her and she realized that her eyes were already messed up before. She pulled off her glasses and for the first time in years she saw clearly with her own eyes. She looked around her room in amazement.
Then she remembered the object she had found in her mouth and took a good look at it. After a moment of examination she realized that it was her old filling. The spell had healed her tooth and rejected this old stopgap measure.
Crystal suddenly became somber as the full impact of what had just happened hit her. She had a real, magical, wish-granting stone on this necklace. She could do anything.
She quickly checked to make sure the stone hadn’t gone black yet, and contemplated her next wish. She decided to go to the old fallback of wishers everywhere: money. If she were rich she would be able to afford any house she wanted and finally move out of this dump. And it would blow a hole in any argument Stephen made about marriage that involved money. She made the wish.
“I wish to be rich for the rest of my life.”
The stone flashed green and this time she felt the same sensation in her ears as she had before in her eyes. She started to wonder why the wish was messing with her body at all this time, but was distracted by a loud pop in front of her.
Sitting in front of her on her desk was a thick pile of papers, bound together with brads. Printed at the top of the first page were the words, “Summary of Crystal M. Anderson’s Financial Assets.”
Below that it was written as a letter.
Dear Ms. Anderson,
In accordance with your wish several million dollars have been deposited in banks throughout the world, both in your name and under aliases. Additional money will be added to the accounts on an “as needed” basis. Within this document, you will find detailed descriptions of each account. You will also find a card that can be used anywhere that accepts any kind of credit card, or at any ATM. If it is lost, instructions for receiving a new one are also included inside.
The Chimera Stone
Crystal flipped through the sheets of paper. It would take her a long time to go through all this. She paused and looked at the card. It was solid black except for her name and the identification number printed on it. She grinned in amusement as she realized that the number printed on it was Pi. She set is aside. Now she could afford any house she wanted. She could finally afford to live with just Stephen. Maybe they could even get married soon. She could certainly afford it now. This wish meant they would always have enough money to get by.
Satisfied, she looked into her mirror and smiled, and her reflection in the mirror smiled back.
Then went blank in shock.
Her ears were no longer human. They were…well, she wasn’t sure what they were, but they weren’t human. Instead they were long and narrow, each sticking straight out of the side of her head nearly four inches, and the backs now had a thin layer of soft brown fur, the same color as her hair. For what seemed like hours to Crystal could only stare at her reflection.
Then she tentatively reached up and touched her ears. She could feel it, and it could feel her hand. She found it was fairly flexible, and bent it forward to get a look at it out of the corner of her eye.
She completed the inspection, and finding the shock no closer to leaving, she slumped down on her stool and swore loudly. Of course there was a catch, there was always a catch. Well, she just wouldn’t make any more wishes, that way this mess couldn’t get any worse. At least she was rich. She could get plastic surgery or something to fix this mess. She unclipped the necklace and put it back in the box. She had already gotten two more wishes out of this than most people ever got.
Crystal decided to call Stephen. Talking with him would help her figure out what to do next. As she picked up the receiver she decided that it would probably be best not to tell him what happened until he got here. Otherwise he would never believe her.
Crystal quickly discovered that the phone’s receiver was not designed to accommodate her new ear shape. That annoyed her, but she pushed it aside for now. She would figure it out when Stephan came over.
“Hello.” A familiar voice greeted her.
“Hey Stephen, something really important came up and I need you to come over right away.”
That caught Stephen’s attention. “What’s wrong?”
“Just come over right now. I have something I need to show you.”
“What is it? Just tell me.”
“I can’t. I have to show you. Please come, it’s important.”
There was a brief pause as Stephen considered the request. “Okay, I’ll be over soon.”
“Thanks, see you soon.”
The phone clicked as he hung up. Crystal replaced the receiver and gazed at her reflection again. Something else about her caught her eye. Or rather, her eyes caught her eye. She leaned forward and looked straight ahead, directly at her eyes.
“What the…” she began and then trailed off.
Her eyes were no longer human either. They had become split pupil, like a cat’s eye, or a snake’s.
She realized that that made sense; two wishes meant two changes. At least it wasn’t an especially noticeable change, she was pretty sure she could live with split pupil eyes.
The door to Crystal’s room opened unexpectedly as Emily entered unannounced with a question.
“Crys, do you know where—”
She never finished. Her question was cut short when Crystal reflexively looked up at Emily and watched helplessly as Emily’s flesh changed to stone.
Emily was frozen in mid-motion. The statue stood in the doorway, one hand still clenching the doorknob. Her clothes were unaffected, and they now hung tightly to the stone girl’s form.
“Emily!” Crystal couldn’t figure out what happened. She hadn’t made a wish so it couldn’t be the stone. She looked up at her roommate. Something had to be done; leaving her friend frozen in stone, standing in the doorway was not an option.
A chill went through Crystal as another possibility occurred to her. She had changed into stone, and stone was not alive. It was possible that Emily was dead.
Crystal forcefully pushed that thought aside. Emily was alive. She had a magic wishing stone that would see to that. In a moment the necklace was out of the box and back on her neck. Side effect, or no side effect, Crystal had to do something.
“I wish Emily would change back to normal.”
The stone glowed green and she heard Emily’s voice shout.
“Crystal! What happened?”
She was surprised by her roommate’s voice, but she was even more surprised by the suddenly strange sensation of pain at the base of her spine. She reached back to the source of the pain, and after all that had already happened was only mildly surprised to find a tail growing there, pushing painfully against her jeans. The pain suddenly subsided as her tail broke through the fabric. She could feel it extend outward, bushing against the carpet as it continued to grow. Then the strange feeling suddenly subsided and she knew that her tail had finished growing.
“You’ve got a tail!” Emily exclaimed.
“Yes, I do.” Crystal replied absently as she examined her tail. It was about a yard long, and had a tuft of hair at the end the same light brown color as the rest of Crystal’s hair. The skin was the same human skin as on the rest of her body, a little paler perhaps, but a day in the sun would fix that.
“And I was just changed into a statue! Crys, what’s going on?” Emily asked, exasperated and confused.
Crystal looked up to answer, but stopped short when Emily changed into a stone statue again.
Crystal groaned in frustration and buried her face in her hands. Everything was going wrong. Her friend was a statue again and she was rapidly loosing her humanity. She yelled in frustration. The stone was playing with her; she knew it. For every wish it granted it created another problem for her. But why? There had to be a more logical explanation to what was going on.
“Crystal! Are you…alright…” Stephan had come running up the stairs and down the hall, his long black hair trailing behind him, but stopped short when he entered Crystal’s room and saw statue-Emily.
Crystal looked up at Stephan with a smiled that quickly vanished as he too became a stone statue.
Crystal screamed in frustration again and made another wish without thinking about it. “I wish I knew what was going on!”
Again, the stone flashed green and again Crystal felt the same strange sensation of her body changing a thousand time faster than normal. This time she felt a pressure in two places on the top of her head on each side. She simply watched numbly in the mirror as she paid the price for her latest wish. Two horns were growing steadily out of her head. As they grew they curved around, following the basic curve of her head until at last they reached maximum length with the tip of each horn ending at about the center of each cheek. She reached out tentatively and felt one. It was ridged, with a peak about every inch along the length as it narrowed until it ended in a dull point.
“Well, at least my ears don’t stand out so much any more,” she commented dryly. She noticed a slip of paper sitting on her dresser that hadn’t been there before. She quickly read it. It was the answer to her last wish.
Dear Ms. Anderson,
In accordance with your last wish a brief description of your current situation follows:
The Chimera stone grants wishes at a price. For each wish it grants it changes its owner in a certain way. As a result, your first wish gave you the ability to change any person you look at into stone. You have no control over this ability, and its effects cannot naturally be overridden. The change that comes with each wish is the reason your ears changed and why you have a tail and, due to the most recent wish, horns. The changes caused by the Chimera Stone are irrevocable by its power.
The Chimera Stone
“I can’t change back?” Crystal repeated softly, staring vacantly at her reflection in the mirror, working that thought through her head. Now that she thought of it she was surprised it hadn’t occurred to her sooner to try to wish the changes away. But that was no longer an option. She looked at statue-Emily and statue-Stephan. More wishing would be necessary, and that meant more changes that are permanent. She looked again at her reflection. She wondered how much longer she would keep her face. Her next wish my change it beyond recognition. She didn’t want to loose her humanity like this. But she couldn’t leave them as statues.
She looked at the two statues again. “Don’t worry, I’ll change you back, but I’m going to try to get the most out of this wish." She took a moment to consider exactly what to say. Once she figured that out she took a long look at her reflection and made her wish.
“I wish that I could change people from stone back to normal just by thinking about it, and also that I could set a time delay before they return to normal.”
This time the feeling was more intense than ever before. All up and down her legs she felt strange, and her shoes suddenly felt much too small. She managed to pull off one shoe as her foot continued to enlarge and grow longer. Before she could get the other shoe off the seams popped at the toe of her, easing her pain. She pulled her sock off the other foot in watch in both fascinations and horror as her foot and leg changed. Thick hair was growing all up and down her leg, except for the inner thigh, which remained normal. Her thighs remained mostly human shaped, but below the knee the situation was different. Her foot was growing longer and her shin was shrinking, getting shorter and more compact. But, the most extreme change was in her feet.
Her toes had merged into three toes, her big toe, and the other toes in groups of two. Her toenails seemed to be growing backwards, covering her two merged toes while her big toe shrunk to nothing. As her toenail spread, she could feel it thickening and shaping itself into a split hoof. The shape reminded her of a goat’s but this was much larger than any goat hoof she had ever seen. The change slowed and came to a stop.
Suddenly more curious than afraid she carefully tried standing, keeping one hand on the dresser in case she lost her balance. To her surprise, she had no trouble at all standing and balancing. She tried taking a couple steps, and after those were successful, she walked around and tried a few move, as if testing out a new pair of shoes. Moving around on her new digitigrade legs and hooves was just as easy as walking had ever been.
“I guess my shoe wearing days are over,” she said idly to the statues, “and my leg shaving days,” she added, examining her now very hairy legs. She began to feel new pangs of fear about losing her humanity. She pushed it aside and focused on the problem with her friends.
Crystal returned her full attention to the statues and said, “Now lets see how well that last wish worked.” Crystal turned her back to statues and sat back down. “Okay, here goes nothing.” She thought about Emily and Stephan changing back to normal.
There was a brief moment of silence, and Crystal wondered if perhaps it hadn't worked. Her concern disappeared as she heard Emily speak. “That was the weirdest experience of my life.”
“Ditto.” Stephan added, sounding a little dazed.
“You’ll have to describe it to me sometime,” Crystal replied, keeping her back to them.
Emily decided not to wait. “It was weird! I could still hear, see, and feel, but I couldn’t move. Just stare straight ahead, never blinking…it…it was just weird.”
“Yes it was weird,” Stephan agreed, “But I just want to know how you’re having wishes granted.”
Crystal snapped off her necklace and held it up so they could see. “This is the source of the wishes…and curses.”
“Where did you get it?” Stephan asked, but Emily spoke before Crystal could respond.
“That’s what was in that package you got today?” She exclaimed.
“You got it in a package,” Stephan repeated, “do you know who sent it?”
“You can’t wish yourself normal again?” Stephan asked.
“No, it’s expressly forbidden, and conveniently not mentioned in the instructions. So I’m going to have to make another wish so I can live with this whole “turn-people-into-stone” thing.” Before either could reply, she clipped the necklace back on and spoke the wish. “I wish that I had some way to prevent everyone I look at from changing to stone.”
This time the green flash was accompanied with a much smaller feeling of change in her teeth, her upper incisors to be precise. She felt them grow longer and sharper into fangs.
“You didn’t change that time,” Emily announced eagerly.
“Yes I did,” Crystal corrected her, “I grew fangs. Poisonous fangs.”
“Are you sure they’re poisonous.” Stephan asked.
Crystal nodded, “I’m not sure how I know, but I’m certain they’re very poisonous. One bite and you’re dead.” Another bit of lost humanity the thought sadly. She looked over to her dresser and saw a pair of dark sunglasses. She picked them up. They had a wire frame and two circular pieces of tinted glass. Each side had small raised blinder sections that shut out most of her peripheral vision between the glass and her face. She put them on.
“I think this is the answer to my last wish. I’m going to turn around now. If you get changed to stone again I can always change you back.” I just can never look at you again, she added mentally.
She turned and breathed a sigh of relief when Stephan and Emily remained flesh and blood. “Maybe I can still function in society after all,” she said with a smile.
Emily looked her over, “Not looking like that.”
Her spirits fell as she realized Emily was right. If word ever got out that a strange creature like her existed she’d be lucky if the government didn’t drag her off to a military base to be dissected. “I wish this stupid rock didn’t work.” She muttered angrily.
She clapped her hands over her mouth as she realized what she had said. Unfortunately,
it was too late, the stone glowed green and then went black as the strange feeling
of change crept over her body, but was especially strong in her throat.
The feeling subsided and she looked at her reflection to see if anything had changed. But nothing was immediately apparent.
“Did anything happen?” Emily asked.
“No.” Crystal replied. I look the same, but still I feel like…something is different. Wait a minute…let me try something.” Crystal stood up and turned away from Emily and Stephan. She took a deep breath and blew out. A brief burst of flames shot out from her mouth and quickly dissipated in the open air.
Emily and Stephen simply stared, shocked at what they had seen.
Crystal swore again as she sat heavily on her bed, a deep scowl on her face. “I’m a walking freak show! How can I ever live a normal life now?”
“C’mon it’s not all that bad.” Emily said, “Now you don’t need a lighter for your cigarettes anymore.”
“I could use a cigarette about now,” Crystal answered as she pulled one out. As per Emily’s suggestion, she lit it with small burst of her new fire breath. She closed her eyes and took a long drag and started to calm down.
The sound of voices and the front door slamming wafted up the stairs.
“My housemates are home! Close the door.” She hissed quickly.
Emily quickly jumped up and closed the door, then looked back at Crystal. “You can’t hide from them forever.”
“I can’t let them see me like this.” Crystal replied. “I look like a monster.”
“I’ll go down and tell them that you’re not feeling well.” Emily said as she exited.
“It’ll be the truth.” Crystal mumbled flatly, before taking in another puff of cigarette smoke.
Stephan sat down beside Crystal on the bed and put his arm over her shoulders. “You’re not a monster,” Stephen interjected. “I think you look beautiful.”
Crystal gave him a weak smile, “I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t need you lying to me. It’s all this stupid rock’s fault.” She angrily pulled off the necklace and threw it to the floor. “What am I going to do, Stephan? I can never go out in public again.”
“Come on, it’s not all that bad. Didn’t any of your wishes turn out right?” Stephan asked.
“Well…yeah, I wished for a long healthy life, and then I wished for wealth.” She managed a weak smile, “Haven’t you heard? I’m now a multimillionaire.”
“See, I knew there was something good in all this. We’ll get a nice big house, just the two of us. Then we can live happily ever.”
“That sounds wonderful. I’ve wanted to hear you say that for a long time.”
“I’m sorry about what happened earlier” Stephen said. “You are the only person I want to spend my life with.”
Crystal smiled and embraced Stephan in a passionate kiss, and thought for the first time that maybe; just maybe, this would all work out in the end.
* * *
“Sir. We’re detecting another surge.”
Commander Norris frowned and his brow creased with concern. He was not in a good mood. Bad enough being awakened in the middle of the night. Even worse to wake up to a problem like this. “Is it from the same source as the others?”
The young cadet at the computer consol replied immediately, “Yes sir. It appears so.”
“Can the satellites get a lock on the source?”
“They’re tracking as we speak.”
Commander Norris’ aide stepped up to his side. “Sir,excuse my impertinence, but what could possibly cause eight wish level events? ” She said with a hint of confusion in her voice. “I thought all wish granting artifacts were destroyed.”
“They were, except for one we never found. Its existence was classified. There's no way you would have heard of it.” He paused and looked at the screen. “But now, it appears the Chimera Stone has been found.”
“This is serious, isn’t it sir?”
Commander Norris simply nodded in response. His aide knew what this meant. It wasn’t just another rouge witch or stray shape shifter. This was easily the greatest threat they had faced in centuries.
“Shall I notify the Illuminati World Council?”
“Yes, they’ll need to know about this.”
The computer operator interrupted them. “Sir, we’ve locked onto the source of the event. It’s originating from the southern California coast, near the city of Santa Barbara.”
“Keep me appraised of any changes.”
Commander Norris turned to his aide. “One more thing. Prepare a strike team. It’s time to go chimera hunting.”