Ernie’s Free Lunch

by Chesney Parker

Ernest Fillery sat back in dismay, for on the work bench in front of him was a little green man. Ernie’s holographic experiments had not been going well, but this was ridiculous!

He stared at the motionless image for several seconds, then quickly checked the transmission target area. The red cigarette lighter was still in place there and that’s what should have been showing up in the display area; not a little green man. He looked back at the display and jumped with fright as the small green image stood up and spoke.  “Ok. You’ve caught me. What’re your two wishes?” The voice was rapid and clipped.

“What?” said Ernie, incredulously.

“Come on, I haven’t got all day.” The little man had green skin and green clothes (seventeenth century style). The only things about him that were not green were his eyes, which were bright orange and seemed to spit fire as he stared back at Ernie with unbridled antagonism.

“Just a minute,” said Ernie, grabbing wildly for his notebook. “What are you talking about… and where did you come from?”

“Oh, for heavens sake!” said the little man, throwing his arms back in exasperation. “Do I have to explain this every time? Look! You get two wishes. I deliver one tomorrow and the other the day after and you don’t need my home address in order to make a wish. Now come on, I wanta get outa here.”

Ernie began to regain his composure, becoming intrigued, rather than annoyed. He sat forward on his laboratory chair. “Two wishes?  Shouldn’t that be three?”

“Ha! That’s what they all say”, said the little man as he pulled a tiny square device from his pocket. “Now, how much do you earn?”

“I get just over $50,000 a year, but what’s that got to do with it?”

The little green man looked down at the device in his hand and punched a few buttons, then he looked back at Ernie. “OK. What’s your first wish?”

Ernie grinned, and said, “Well, I’ve always wanted a Rolls Royce.”

“Done!” said the little man, punching it into the device.  “And the second?”

“Hey, wait a minute!  That wasn’t a wish.”

“Too late,” said the other, his orange eyes sparkling. “Come on. What’s the second wish?”

Ernie folded his arms and sat back in the chair. This was utterly ridiculous, he thought.  I’m a scientist. What am I doing talking to a… a… leprechaun? I should just switch the whole thing off and start the experiment over again from scratch.

But, as he thought about it, his greed got the better of him. He leaned forward on the bench. “OK, I’ll play along with your little game. My second wish is for a billion dollars in gold. You pull that one off for me and I won’t have to worry about research grants for the rest of my life!” He grinned as he watched the tiny green fingers flashing over the miniature keyboard again.

“Are you sure?” said the green image, looking back at Ernie with a quizzical expression on his old wizened face.

“Sure I’m sure!  You didn’t hesitate about the Rolls Royce. What’s your problem with the billion dollars in gold?”

The little man looked at him for a moment, then shrugged his tiny shoulders and said, “Well, all right, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch, you know.” His nimble green fingers punched the miniature keyboard once more, after which, he promptly disappeared.

“Hey, wait!” yelled Ernie, standing up and knocking over his chair. “Where did you come from? How did you get here?” But it was no use; the little man was gone.

Ernie went to bed that night pondering the events of the day and, just before he fell asleep, he had a fleeting concern about that final ‘free lunch’ comment. The next morning he woke up feeling tired and as he went about his morning routine, he noticed his joints were aching slightly, which was not normal. Maybe he was coming down with something, he thought.

Then he looked outside and could not believe his eyes. There, in the driveway, was a black Rolls Royce; the early morning sun reflecting off its shiny surfaces in brilliant cascades. He ran outside and gaped in wonder at the magnificent machine, then he carefully opened the door and slid into the luxury leather seat.  The car was brand new.  In fact, it had zero kilometres showing on the odometer, which seemed a little odd to Ernie, because even brand new cars had a few KMs clocked up.

As he slowly wrapped his fingers around the cool firm steering wheel, he began to laugh. And, despite the tiredness and stiffness that still pervaded his body, he laughed uncontrollably for a full five minutes as he thought about what would arrive tomorrow.

Then, when he was all laughed out, he began looking around the car in more detail. He opened the glove compartment and found a note from his small green benefactor. As he read it, however, his shoulders began to sag and the blood drained from his face. The note read:

“One Rolls Royce, as promised. At $50,000 per year income, this $500,000 item has resulted in a 10 year debit to your life account. Consequently, you are now ten years older. Your billion dollars in gold will be delivered tomorrow.” 

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