Two and a Half
by Russell Lutz
forum: Two and a Half
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Two and a Half


           Ronnie drove down Highway 6 in near pitch-black darkness.  It was after two in the morning.  Driving south from Waco to College Station on a Wednesday in the middle of spring break, the highway was even more deserted than usual.  Gone were the endless SUVs filled with drunken revelers going up to Dallas or down to Padre.  He had the narrow highway to himself to ponder what a complete bitch Sheryl was being.

          It wasn’t like he had cheated on her.  If he had, he’d deserve everything he was getting, and more.  But he hadn’t.  He’d gone on one lousy date!  Was that enough to treat him like a dog, making him beg and scrape?

          Okay, so the one lousy date was with his ex, but that didn’t really mean anything.  He hadn’t even kissed her… except just once.  No, it didn’t mean anything at all.  He shouldn’t have even told Sheryl about it.  He was just too honest.  That was his problem.

          So much for his Spring Break with Sheryl.  He was driving back to his apartment on Northgate, where his two roommates were long gone back home to their families.  This was just the lousiest vacation ever.

          At the peak of Ronnie’s self pity, he heard an explosion.  He felt the Wrangler shimmy dangerously.  He backed his speed down from a marginally illegal sixty-five to a sedate forty.  The shimmy remained.  Ronnie had felt this before.

          “Damn it!”

          He pulled to the shoulder, slowed to a stop on the gravel, and flipped on his hazards.  If there was one thing Ronnie never liked to do it was change a flat.  If there was a second thing Ronnie never liked to do it was drive on one of those undersized spares.  That’s one of the reasons he got the Jeep in the first place.

          There was a little bit of starlight; the moon wasn’t up yet.  He couldn’t stand the flashing red tones of the hazard lights.  He rummaged around in the back of the Jeep.  He knew he had a flashlight back there somewhere: one of those big halogen jobs with a battery the size of a coffee can.  He found it, grimed with dust from his many drives up and down Highway 6.  He rubbed the front of the lamp a few times to clear it up.

          The light coming out of the lamp didn’t look right.  It was sparkling, like water shining off the ocean.  It seemed to only shine in one place, next to the Jeep.  Ronnie shook the lamp.  He noticed that the switch wasn’t on.  The shimmering white light grew brighter as it seemed to take the shape of…

          Ronnie blinked.  The weird light show was gone.  Standing in front of him was a guy in a cream-colored suit.  He had his white shirt collar undone, with no tie around his neck.  He was tall, taller than Ronnie, and thin.  The suit hung off of him almost comically.  The guy’s face brought to mind visions of terrorists from the Middle East: dark complexion, black beard.  The hair didn’t fit, though.  His hair was long, draped over his shoulders in a cut that would have looked better on a woman.

          The man glanced around at his surroundings, took a deep breath, and turned to Ronnie.  When he spoke, his voice was soothing.  Ronnie could imagine this guy recording lullabies for a living.

          “I am the genie of the lamp.  I grant you two-and-a-half wishes.”

          Soothing or not, the voice also carried a certain amount of boredom.

          “What?” was all Ronnie could manage to say.  He flicked on the halogen and pointed it at the man’s face, in a strange way expecting the more run-of-the-mill light to make him vanish.  The man blinked.

          “Put that down,” he said.  Ronnie obeyed.

          “So you…”  He couldn’t say it.  This didn’t make any sense at all.  He looked at the lamp in his hands again.  “This is a halogen—”

          “I don’t mean to rush you, but could we move this along.  If it makes you feel better, you should assume this is all a dream.”

          Ronnie liked that idea.  He had fallen asleep while driving, and…  Fallen asleep while driving?  That didn’t sound good at all.

          “Am I dead?”

          “Not yet.  What’s your first wish?”  Under his breath, the genie mumbled, “as if I didn’t know.”

          “I wish I had a million…  No, make that a billion dollars!”

          “Very original.”

          Nothing happened.  Ronnie suddenly became very worried.  He’d read a story once where a genie would grant wishes, but he’d grant them in a way that would really screw over the guy doing the wishing.  He had just asked for a billion dollars.  This genie might make a billion dollar coins fall on him and kill him.  He looked up at the sky fearfully.  Nothing but stars and the moon, just cresting the horizon to the east.

          “So, I don’t…”

          The genie pulled a folded sheet of paper from the breast pocket of his jacket.  He handed it to Ronnie.  Ronnie unfolded the sheet and saw three columns of numbers.

          “Those are the account numbers and passwords for fifty savings accounts in banks around the world.  I gave you their phone numbers, too.  Each account has twenty million dollars in it.  Enjoy.”

          “Thanks!”  Ronnie didn’t know if this really was a dream or not, but a billion dollars is a billion dollars.  He was overjoyed.  He didn’t need Sheryl.  He didn’t even need Vickie, his ex.  He could get—

          “Second wish?”  This was one impatient genie.  “Let me guess.  You’re going to wish for a woman.”

          “How’d you know?”

          “You’re a guy.  It’s usually money first, woman second.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, you see.”

          “Okay.  You’re right.  I want to marry…  Who do I want to marry?”

          “Marry?  Really?  You sure you don’t just want—”

          “I’m ready to settle down.  I need stability.  Particularly with all this money.”  Ronnie ran through the catalogue of actresses and pop stars he found particularly hot.  Finally, a face cut through the fog.

          “Adriana Lima.”


          “She’s a model.  She does Victoria’s Secret catalogues and—”

          The genie held up a hand.  “Forget I asked.”  He pulled another sheet of paper from the same jacket pocket.  “This is a phone number for an old friend of yours.”  Ronnie looked at the name.  It was a kid he knew in middle school.  He hadn’t thought of that guy in years.  “Call him.  You were thinking of old times, whatever comes to mind.  He’s going to invite you to a party.  Accept.  She’ll be at the party.  Talk to her.  In no time, you’ll be tying the knot.”

          “That’s excellent!”

          “I make no guarantees on how this marriage will fare…  But you’ll have some fun.”

          “Great.  Okay.  So, I have three wishes.”

          “Two-and-a-half, yes.”

          “Why two-and-a-half?”

          “Trust me.”

          Ronnie had more money than he could ever spend.  He was going to have the most beautiful woman in the world on his arm.  What more could he want?  He didn’t have a clue.

          “I can’t ask for more wishes, can I?”

          The look on the genie’s face as he shook his head made it clear that he’d heard that question a few thousand times.

          Did he want to be powerful?  Smart?  Tall?  Did he want some sort of super power, like Spider-Man maybe?  This was going to be tough.

          “Come on, kid.  What’s it going to be?”

          “I don’t know.”

          “Okay, think big, think huge, think… cosmic.  Does that help?”

          Ronnie was studying engineering at A&M.  He was one semester from graduation, so he’d taken more than his share of math courses.  One thing about math always bugged him.  You can’t divide by zero.  Why not?  Why have numbers and division if you couldn’t use it.

          “I want to divide by zero.”

          The genie tilted his head.  For the first time, he seemed intrigued by Ronnie.

          “You want to what?”

          “I want to divide by zero.  I’ve had teachers tell me over and over I can’t.  So I want to do it.”

          The genie paused to think about that for a second.  He raised his eyebrows in surrender and nodded.  Ronnie pulled the sheet of paper with the account numbers out of his jeans.  He checked his pockets, but couldn’t find a pen.

          The genie pulled a pen out of his breast pocket.

          Ronnie carefully set up the long division on the paper.  He divided 0 into 1.  He got the answer: four and a third.  He smiled up at the genie.

          “Just wait,” the genie said.  Wait for what?

          The sky was getting brighter.  Ronnie checked his watch.  It was only about 2:30.  Dawn shouldn’t have been breaking yet.  But it wasn’t the sun.  It was the stars.  They were getting brighter.  And there were more of them.  As he watched the sky, the black spaces between the stars gradually filled.  There were stars everywhere.  The sky was white with them, and they were only getting brighter.

          He realized he could feel their light.  It was hotter than the sun on a summer day.  It was burning him.  He shrieked in fright and dropped to the ground, the star light baking into his back at a thousand degrees.  He scurried under the Jeep, but that didn’t spare him.  He could feel the light pounding on him from between the wheels, through the body of the Jeep itself, up through the earth below him.

          The entire universe had turned into a microwave oven, and he was the chicken pot pie.

          And then it stopped.

          “You can come out now,” the genie said.

          “Don’t wanna.  What was that?”

          “Oh, you see, if you can divide by zero, then there’s no limit on the speed of light.  You were just hit by every photon of light generated by every star in the universe that happened to be traveling in your direction.”

          Ronnie carefully peered out from under the car.  He glanced to the heavens again.  There were just the normal number of stars again… but they seemed like they were in the wrong places.  He couldn’t find the Big Dipper.  He was looking at the stars as they were now, not looking at them as they appeared the dozens or hundreds of years earlier when their light left for the long journey to Earth.


          “Well, not so much,” the genie cautioned.  “That blast of radiation just killed every living being in the universe.  Except for you and me.  I was able to do that much.  You’re welcome.”

          Ronnie, still clutching the ground for comfort, looked across the road.  In the light of the moon, accented by the blinking idiot lights on his Jeep, he could see the trees well enough.  And they were indeed all dead, cooked down to black hunks of charcoal.  The grass was burned away to nothing.  A sickening cloud of smoke hung over everything.

          “I killed… everyone?”

          “Yup.”  The genie didn’t seem very concerned.  Ronnie immediately got angry.  This was one of those tricky genies who try to twist your wishes into curses.  He jumped to his feet to yell and flew off the ground into the sky.  He looked down and saw his Jeep, the hazards still stupidly blinking.  The genie watched Ronnie fly away for a moment, then kicked off from the ground himself.

          “What’s happening?” Ronnie asked in a panic.

          “Gravity’s gone, too.  Division by zero shows up all over the place, it seems.  The atmosphere of the whole planet is bleeding off into space right now.  The oceans will be gone soon, too.”

          “But I didn’t want…”  Ronnie was tumbling end over end.  The genie steadied him so they could continue to talk as they drifted away into space.

          Then the moon caught fire.  One second, it was hanging in the sky in its normal, safe, familiar way, a slim but bright crescent of white.  The next moment it was a full circle of red, burning and churning, streams of moon dust shooting off the “dark” side.  It cooked like that for a couple of seconds before exploding in a flash of red hot rock and superheated white gas.

          “I… I…”  Ronnie was having trouble breathing.  He wasn’t sure if it was panic or the steadily dissipating atmosphere.  He estimated he might be a half-mile above the Earth by now.

          “Without gravity to hold it together, the sun exploded a few seconds ago.  An expanding wave of fusion-driven hydrogen and helium just hit the moon and destroyed it.  All the other stars are doing the same thing.”

          Ronnie saw them now, blinking out one by one in the sky.  Each little point of light would flash bright for a millisecond, then go dark.

          “Eventually,” the genie continued in his lullaby voice, “the entire universe will be a smooth, uniform, cold expanse of elementary particles as the molecules and atoms themselves slowly dissolve.  You won’t have to worry about that, though.  The shockwave from our sun will be here momentarily.”

          Ronnie saw it on the horizon – a horizon that was noticeably curved at this height.  A planet-wide line of yellow-white death broke over the edge of the world and headed their way.  It didn’t simply burn the surface of the Earth, it tore it to shreds.  The tectonic impact was already obvious below them, as the ground trembled and groaned – audible even at this great height – and tore to pieces.  Ronnie watched in horror as chunks of bedrock flew past his head, shoved into the air by the pressure of the red-glowing magma beneath.  Sheaves of dead plants, shards of broken asphalt.  A Buick lazily floating a few feet away made Ronnie unaccountably nostalgic for his Wrangler.

          And still the white-hot fury of the sun’s destruction advanced, making the monstrous earthquake beneath them look like child’s play.

          “I take it back!  I take it back!” Ronnie cried, never more sure of anything in his entire life.  He had ventured too far.  He had asked for too much.  He should have been happy with what he had.  He had tempted fate by interfering with the nature of the universe itself, and this was the result.  He’d learned humility.  He didn’t know if that was the lesson he was supposed to learn, but he learned it anyway.

          When he opened his eyes, Ronnie was laying on the ground, next to his Jeep, the hazards still blinking.  He sat up too quickly and got a head rush.  It was all a dream.  The flat tire?  That was real.  He could see it right there.  But there was no genie.  That was just stupid.

          Ronnie pulled himself to his feet, and saw the man in the cream-colored suit leaning casually on the hood of the Wrangler.

          “Good thing that last one was your half-wish, huh?”



copyright 2005 Russell Lutz.

Russell Lutz:
Russell Lutz is a writer of short and novel length fiction in a variety of genres.  He has been published in "The SiNK", and online at  He will be featured in June on  He lives, works, and writes in Seattle.