BBW Three Wishes

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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020
(Most of my stuff violates the rules here in some way or another but I think this one clears the bar... I posted it a couple years ago on DeviantArt, where the rest of my stories and comics are parked. User name: mrwrong1)


It was mornings like this Amy wondered why she bothered. She was having coffee with her grandma while her grampa was out shoving metal disks back and forth across concrete and arguing politics with the other octagenarians, when she dared pour a couple extra spoonfuls of sugar into her World’s Best Grandma mug.

“Honey, do you think you should...?” her grandma asked.

The sour look of disapproval on her face indicated she wasn’t so much concerned for Amy’s dental health, but rather the way her grandaughter took up quite a bit more of her tiny kitchen than she had during her previous visit. It was a recurring theme, going all the way back to Amy’s chubby childhood.

“Well I don’t know if I should, but I know I did,” Amy shot back, a little harsher than intended.

Her grandma wisely dropped the matter, but Amy couldn’t and so she got up and announced she was going… out. Where, she had no idea, but anywhere other than the stuffy little condo or one of the huge, depressing big box stores they kept making her take them to.

After a consoling mocha Frappucino at the nearest Starbucks (avec extra whipped cream — fuck you, grandma), she found herself heading towards the ocean and then up A1A, where she saw a turn-off into a secluded-looking park, which a small, discreet sign identified as Lakeland State Beach. Though she was scared of sharks and hadn’t owned a swimsuit since she was eight years old, dipping her toes in the reliably chilly Atlantic seemed like a smashing idea. Florida’s subtropical climate was not at all fat girl-friendly.

She pulled into the tiny, tree-shaded lot, happy to be the only person there as she parked and shut off the engine. All she could hear as she unpacked herself from her little compact rental car were bird calls and the nearby crash of the surf — exactly what she needed. It was an overcast day so the water was slate gray rather than turquoise but even more dramatic for it, and the sand was deliciously cool.

It was hard work hauling her big body across the soft terrain and she was a bit winded (not to mention extra-sweaty) by the time she made it to the shoreline. The trek was well-worth it though, as she was instantly revived by the first icy wave that swamped her plump, pale feet. She walked a bit further up the beach, a steady, crisp wind now keeping her blessedly perspiration-free.

There were so many cute, colorful shells littering the sand, her hands were soon full and she stopped collecting them, and frankly with her considerable frontage all that bending down wasn’t easy. Legs tired and wheezing a bit after trudging the sand, she plopped down into its soft, gritty cushion to watch the ocean for a while. Nervous little birds ran back and forth through the surf, dodging soft-edged little bits of beach glass and tufts of black seaweed.

Head clearer, body cooler, after a while she was getting hungry and it seemed like enough beach time for one day. As she headed back toward the lot (the return trip feeling much longer for some reason), something caught her eye, a shiny object sitting half-buried in the sand a few yards from the surf. Not wanting to add any distance to an already arduous journey, at first she wasn't going to bother though something urged her to go over and check it out.

At first she mistook the amber-colored vessel for a gravy boat (hopeless fat girl that she was) but she quickly realized it was an old-fashioned oil lamp with a small, delicate handle at one end and a long, narrow spout at the other. It was much heavier than it first appeared and as she looked closer she saw it was etched all over with a fantastic, flowery script, vaguely Middle Eastern though it didn’t look like Arabic or any other language she’d seen. It was somewhat tarnished and caked with sand so she grabbed a corner of her shirt and rubbed the side of it.

Just as the lamp began to reveal a brilliant shine beneath the grime, it became very warm to the touch and started shaking violently, as if something was alive inside it. She dropped it with a shriek and as she backed away blue and pink smoke start to billow out from its spout. She tried to run away but stumbled as she turned around, toppling down onto the sand so hard she was left breathless and dazed as she struggled to scramble away on her hands and knees. Crawling in the soft sand was even harder than walking and she collapsed again, going face-down in it and coming up sputtering.

She dared to look back and to her horror a figure begin to coalesce from the smoke, several feet from the ground, a large, powerfully-built man, or rather a man’s upper body, the lower half blending into the colorful cloud still emanating from the lamp itself. The half-man was hairless and black as coal, with long, powerful arms crossed over its chest and a face like an ebony statue. When it opened its eyes they were sapphire blue and bright as laser beams.
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020
1 (continued)

Too scared to scream much less move, Amy sat there staring wide-eyed at the apparition as it unfolded its arms and spread them wide as if conducting a symphony.

“WHO ARE YOU?” the monster boomed. It had an incredibly loud, basso voice that shook the ground like an earthquake.

“I’m… I’m Amy,” she bleated back, not sure if it was Astroglide running down her thigh or if she’d peed herself. “Amy Shoenstein.”


“Excuse me, I am no one’s concubine,” Amy insisted. “But you’re welcome, I guess.”


“Oh jesus, really?” she asked, incredulous. “This kind of thing really happens?”


“Prove you’re real,” she said, wondering if some jokester barista had dosed her Frappacino with LSD. At that the spirit reached down and grabbed the tender, flabby back of her upper arm between two zucchini-sized fingers and squeezed, hard.

“Ow, fuck!” she yelped, rubbing the now-throbbing wad of arm fat. “Okay, you’re real!”

“THEN GET ON WITH IT!” Zoroxos told her, crossing its arms again over its massive chest.

Though her mind reeled with the gravity of what was being offered, it took her mere seconds to arrive at her first wish: Make me thin.

Still, she hesitated before telling him. Was she really that shallow? Yes, she was, she decided, and told him to make her a size 2. She’d always wondered what it would be like to be able to wear literally anything — shorts, miniskirts, skinny jeans (that were actually skinny), a swimsuit — a bikini! She could hardly imagine the novelty of having not just a thigh gap but a body that didn’t rub together at all.

“No, wait — size 4!” she quickly added, thinking she wanted to retain a few curves, albeit far smaller and slinkier ones than she currently sported.


She immediately looked down and was disappointed to find she still possessed the same big, matronly boobs sitting atop the same stack of thick, meaty tummy rolls, spread across the same tubby round thighs. She could even feel her second chin jiggle as she lifted her head again and glared back at the spirit.

“This is not a size 4,” she stated.

“PATIENCE!” Zoroxos thundered, rolling its unearthly blue eyes. “LET’S SEE WHAT ELSE YOU HAVE IN MIND!”

“Okay, okay,” she sighed. “How about make me a billionaire?”


Like many people, she’d daydreamed about such a moment all her life, and each time she assured herself she’d use at least one of her wishes to help others — world peace, a cure for cancer, something like that. But unfortunately this last wish was as selfish as the others, and had nothing to do with the civil war in Syria or lymphoma sufferers.

“I want to meet the love of my life,” she told him.


Always a catch, she thought to herself.


“Jesus, I don’t even know where this temple is,” she sighed. “How the hell do I get there by tomorrow?”


“Oh right,” she said, relieved. “Sorry, science was my worst subject. I’m sure I can take care of it by then, though.”


And at that, like being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, Zoroxos disappeared back into the lamp in an instant, and again it lay there in the sand like the pretty little antique it was. She sat still for a long minute just staring at it, wondering what the hell had just happened to her. Had she fallen asleep on the beach? Fainted? She looked up and down the beach and into the dunes for a witness but didn’t see anyone. She wasn’t sure which rattled her more, the apparent psychotic break she’d just experienced, or how vulnerable she’d been (apparently) passed out on the beach like that, alone.

Not at all athletic even on solid ground, it took her a depressingly long time to get herself up and walk tentatively back over to the lamp. She kicked the nearby ground at first, retreating a few feet as she waited for it to start shaking again, but it remained still. Eventually she just picked it up with her fingertips and carefully looked inside the spout. There was nothing to be seen inside, just sand and darkness.

For a second she considered rubbing the lamp again but then thought better of it, irrationally worried she’d piss off Zoroxos and void her precious wishes. Then she began to laugh, a titter at first but then with blubber-shaking, tear-inducing gusto, so hard she nearly dropped the lamp back onto the beach, wondering how she could be so silly.

The heat, the overall weirdness of South Florida, the stress of being with her grandparents, three nights of bad sleep on the fold-out couch… She’d obviously had some sort of mini-breakdown. And yet she felt better than she had in months — years, maybe — oddly refreshed, lighter even. She gazed down again at her body only to be disappointed that it appeared to be the same size, big and flabby as ever. She took one last look at the ocean and then waddled the rest of the way back to the parking lot with the lamp in hand.


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

Two weeks after she’d returned, Philadelphia was treated to a freakish early spring heat wave, Amy thinking she may as well have stayed in subtropical Florida for all the relief the temperate Northeast was now providing her. The management of her building had sent around an apologetic note about the broken air conditioning that morning, promising to have it fixed by tomorrow, but for the moment she was once again out of her own apartment, camping at her sister’s place.

“We can’t stay inside forever,” Lynn insisted.

“Not forever, just for the next four hours, til the sun sets and it maybe drops below 90 degrees.”

“You’re such a wimp.”

“So be it,” Amy shrugged.

Lynn’s foot hit the floor with a crash and she let out a mighty sigh. She’d been struggling with her sandals for five minutes now, hindered by the enormous breasts crowded between her lap and her face.

“Careful,” Amy said with a smirk. “Don’t want to drown in your own cleavage.”

“Shush!” Lynn barked, her face buried halfway in her boobs until she’d managed to pull the back of her slingback up over her heel. She then sat up with a huff and adjusted her bra straps, as she did at least a hundred times a day.

Amy could relate, to a point. Two years between them, they’d often been mistaken for twins when they were younger, sharing the same diminutive height, pudgy Russian doll bodies, and dark, annoyingly thick curly hair. Then after an early childhood as roly-poly bookends, somewhere in elementary school Amy became “the fat one.” Not that Lynn had gotten any slimmer — hardly — just that Amy had gotten much, much fatter.

Insult to injury, the minute she hit puberty Lynn popped out like a packet of Orville Redenbacher, the only girl in their middle school with C-cups and the devoted attention from boys that came with them. The glory was short-lived however as those sexy Cs swelled to Ds and then hefty double-Ds and beyond. The attention became more of the freak show variety, her assets becoming increasingly embarrassing, back-busting burdens. At this point Amy may have envied the sixty fewer pounds her sister carried but certainly not those monster mams.

“You alright?” Amy asked.

“Yes!” Lynn shot back. “I just need to get the fuck out of here.”

“Okay, okay.”

Lynn grabbed a worn-out hoodie and pulled it as tight as it would go across her chest, which still left a foot-wide gap from zipper to zipper. It was at least thirty degrees too hot outside for a sweatshirt but with her exceptionally buxom figure she couldn’t just wear a more weather-appropriate t-shirt or halter in public without stopping traffic. Of course Amy had similar rules, grabbing her own cover-up from the back of the couch, but that was more about her back fat than her bosom.

“I don’t know,” Amy sighed, looking out the second floor window at a sizzling Frankford Avenue. “It looks horrible out there.”

“Come on, you won’t die, I promise.”

They went squinting into the blast furnace heat, the air shimmering over the lava-like concrete. After walking all of a half block, Lynn suggested they hit the new coffee shop down the street rather than their original plan to go shopping downtown. Amy said that was absolutely fine by her.

Besides her frequent visits to Lynn in Fishtown, she rarely hung out in the city’s hipster hoods. But she felt she knew the place nonetheless, from its pierced, vintage-clad clientele to the mismatched furniture and mumbly indie rock on the sound system. Par for the course, the wheezy old air conditioner barely made the place cooler than outside, but at least there was shade and cold beverages. Anyway Amy was too hot and distracted to think of another option so she moodily planted herself on a ratty old easy chair closest to the air conditioner and told Lynn to get her something frozen and sweet while she recovered.

“This seat taken?”

Amy looked up from her phone at a tall scarecrow of a guy looming over her. He was a bit older than the other customers, mid-thirtyish, and refreshingly square like herself, clean-shaven in cargo shorts and a baggy blue polo shirt. His hair was a funny shade of reddish brown buzzed short and neat and he wore small squarish glasses rather than huge hipsterish Buddy Holly hand-me-downs more typical of the neighborhood.

“Um, no,” Amy said, instantly forgetting she was supposed to be saving the chair for Lynn.

“Ah, cool,” the guy said and flashed a goofy but endearing smile as he sat down and began thumbing his own phone.

Amy liked skinny guys, unlike some fat girls who were ashamed of the visual contrast between themselves and their beanpole beaus. After a few seconds he looked up and caught her staring at him and smiled again.

“Do you live around here?” he asked, putting his phone down on his pale, bony knee.

“Me? Uh, no, um, Spring Garden,” she stumbled. “You?”

“Yeah, a couple blocks away. I just moved here actually, from Cherry Hill.”

“Jersey Guy.”

“‘Born to Run.’”

She laughed, a little harder than the joke was worth.

“Oh, uh, hi,” Lynn said, having arrived holding their drinks in front of her formidable bazooms like a chubby Semitic version of the St. Paulie Girl.

“Oh, sorry, did I take your seat?” Mr. Skinny said, getting up. “Here.”

“No, stay!” Amy practically shouted, and told her sister to sit on one of the rickety metal chairs next to her.

“Okay, okay,” Lynn said with a smirk.

She handed Amy her frappe, which looked too decadent to be allowed by law, the contents generously marbled with chocolate sauce and enough whipped cream piled on top to decorate a wedding cake. Placing her own similarly indulgent beverage down on the table between them, she plopped down next to Amy with a bounce.

“I think I’ve seen you around, no?” Mr. Skinny asked, looking at Lynn.

Amy shot hot daggers of jealousy from her amber eyes as her sister co-opted Mr. Skinny’s attention, even though he wasn’t close to her type. Unlike her, Lynn liked her men dark and beefy, her long-time boyfriend Fred at least 100 pounds heavier and many shades darker than Mr. Skinny.

“Yeah, I think so,” she said. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Mr. Skinny replied. “I’m Mark.”

Lynn introduced herself and Amy did the same.

“So you’re local, right?” Mark asked her.

“Yeah, I am,” Lynn said, and took a big sip of her sugar death frappe. “Been on Frankford five years.”

The three of them slipped into easy conversation from there, Philly stuff, comparing the Pennsylvania burbs where they’d grown up to Mark’s New Jersey version, and then onto urban real estate matters, bitching about high prices and changing neighborhoods. They were eventually interrupted by the buzzing of Lynn’s phone. She dug the device out with effort, shaking her chest seismically in the process.

“Ah shit,” she cursed, reading through a text. “I’ve gotta go back to the apartment. Creepy-ass super needs to come in to fix my shower and I don’t trust him alone in there.”

“You gotta go too?” Mark asked, looking at Amy. She was excited by how disappointed he seemed with the prospect.

“Nah,” Lynn interjected, after hauling herself up with a mighty grunt. “You stay, this won’t take long.”

Amy didn’t argue and they both wished her good luck as she hurriedly bounced out the door.

“She seems cool,” Mark said.

“I’m the pretty one so she has to be,” Amy cracked, and he laughed.

It turned out they worked barely two blocks from each other downtown. Mark was a researcher for a private wealth fund (“too boring to get into”), and he listened with undue attention as Amy described her duties as a copywriter for a marketing firm. The conversation then moved on to movies and TV shows, and then more intimate subjects, their childhoods, their families, and so on.

All the while customers came and went, the AC chugged along ineffectively and at some point Mark got up to get them fresh drinks. Amy’s phone buzzed while he was at the counter. It was Lynn.

| How’s it going

| Good where are you
, Amy wrote back.

| At the apt chillin

| Coming back???

| No - go get it girl

| lol

“What’s so funny?” Mark asked upon his return, catching Amy mid-chuckle.

“Nothing,” she said, quickly hiding her phone. “It’s my sister, looks like she’s gonna be there all afternoon.”

“Bummer. You want to go back?”

“Not particularly.”

Mark smiled and Amy sipped her frappe, thinking she liked this new coffee place a lot more than she thought she would.
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

For the first time in months Amy found herself looking at the lamp, which she’d placed on her bookshelf beside a few other random tchotchkes. It reminded her of her last visit to Florida, already ten months in the rearview and further reminding her it was time to do her familial duty and schedule a return trip.

Her grandparents weren’t getting any younger, after all, her mom kept reminding her. Though sometimes it seemed that way, how they just kept hanging on. She felt guilty for harboring such thoughts, worse that the only thing really holding up her trip down there was that she was at least 30 pounds heavier than the last time she’d seen them. She just didn’t want to see the disapproving look on their faces, much less hear their thoughts on the matter.

She picked up the lamp and examined it, realizing she still didn’t know what really happened on the beach that day. She hadn’t told anyone about it, not Mark or even Lynn, and as she’d had no similar incidents since (thank god), she’d decided to keep it her weird little secret.

It was early on Thursday morning and though the clock kept warning they’d both be late to work she was reluctant to roust Mark from his deep, snoring slumber. He’d gone out like a light after drunky, sloppy late-night sex but she’d stayed up a while longer for no good reason, only to be woken up at dawn by a riot of fire trucks blaring down her street.

She put the lamp back on the shelf, thinking it was possible at least one of her wishes had been granted. Mark might or might not be the “love of her life” she realized, but he was certainly a contender, or at least way closer than any of the other guys she’d ever dated.

The other two wishes had yet to materialize, as she was no wealthier than she’d been before the Florida trip and certainly no thinner, as the failing elastic and split seams of her once-roomy pajamas could attest. She’d been too afraid to step on the scale for several months now but evidence of serious outward expansion seemed to be compounding by the week, subtle changes like the more prominent dimples in her cheeks or more overt and alarming evidence such as the new folds she’d sprouted on both the outsides and insides of her thighs. Her “fat” clothes were tight, her “skinny” stuff collecting cobwebs. Bras were pushed to their load limits, panties stretched and shredded. Even her shower seemed small to her now. She’d never blown up so big so fast, even during her first semester of college, and under normal circumstances even a steadfast sybarite such as herself would have been prompted to take drastic measures.

But that was before she’d met Mark, an enabler so masterful she hadn’t even considered his role in her expansion until quite recently. It was the way he looked at, and more to the point, touched her body, making it subtly (and not-so-subtly) clear there was no such thing as too much when it came to her ever-more bountiful curves. He was savvy enough not to actually talk about her chub but his hands, lips, and other parts were articulate enough. He had the uncanny ability to make her feel like her fat wasn’t something to conceal or ignore, but that every wiggly, jiggly part of her was yet another undiscovered wonderland, every bulge an erogenous zone. It was hard to explain even to herself how liberating it was to be able to lie back and enjoy the way he fondled former no-go zones like her belly and back rolls, her inner thighs, even her damned double chin.

The only possible downside was that he loved her fat so much he seemed hell-bent on making more of it. Virtually all their dates so far had been food-related, and while this was not atypical of urban thirty-somethings, he took it to another level. He would map out entire evenings where they’d sample everything from tiny Pho cafes to buzzy chef-run bistros to soul food joints in far Northeast where Uber drivers feared to bring them, and then cap it off with hot from the fryer donuts from Dotties or crunchy-gooey cannolis from the best South Side bakeries.

During nights in, more frequent as the weather had grown nastier heading into winter, Mark never showed up empty-handed, always sure to bring chocolate or cheese or gourmet potato chips, in at least three varieties — “So you don’t have to decide.” Later in the evening they’d order takeout like pashas, often from two or more sources depending on their whims. Cartons of Chinese, Mexican, and Thai delicacies were systematically devoured during long DVD and Netflix marathons (TV shows not the only things being binged...). And no matter how late or inclement the weather, Mark was always keen to go on an ice cream or cookie run if her cravings demanded it.

Amy was defenseless against temptation but not delusional, and she knew that continuing such hedonistic behavior indefinitely would take her to into frightening and uncharted levels of corpulence. Yet she was reluctant to end her blissful, love-addled denial so soon. She liked to eat, he liked fat girls — why fuck up a good thing? After all, there would always be time to hit the salad bar and the gym once their new lovers’ passion inevitably cooled.

Her phone rang and she jumped to grab it, the toll-free number unfamiliar.

“Ms. Shoenstein?” the woman at the other end asked, her voice an officious alto.

“Yes?” Amy answered tentatively.

“This is Carla Briggs from Sterling National,” the woman continued. “I’m the manager at the Walnut Street branch. I was wondering if you have time to come in today and meet with me?”

“Uh, what’s it about?”

In twelve years as a client, she’d never received a personal call from her bank, and certainly had never been asked to come in for a meeting.

“It’s best we discuss this matter in private,” Briggs told her. “When can we expect you?”

“Well, um, I can come in during lunch, like twelve-thirty?”

“Yes, that would be fine. I’ll see you then.”

Amy, not sure whether to be worried or not, wound up staring at her dormant phone for a few seconds after Briggs hung up. Certainly she didn’t have enough money at Sterling National or anywhere else to warrant such personal attention. Had her account been hacked? Her identity stolen?

She showered and did some minimal primping and then slipped into a pair of stretchy, generously cut slacks and a favorite cream-colored blouse, a recently-purchased outfit and thus one that actually fit her, and rousted a groggy and slightly hungover Mark. When she told him about the call from the bank he told her not to worry, that it was probably some error they had to double-check. He'd become her guru in all things financial and so she tried to heed his advice. Still, two hours later at work she was unable to concentrate on anything else so she put a note on the doorway of her cubicle and left, rushing as fast as her tubby legs could take her over to Sterling National’s flagship on Walnut.
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020
3 (continued)

Sweating and breathless but hardly caring, she arrived at ten-thirty. The young man at the reception desk summoned Carla Briggs on the phone and told Amy to have a seat. Within five minutes a middle-aged, bright-eyed black woman emerged from the glass-enclosed “private banking” offices at the back of the bank, where she’d never been. She was short like Amy, stocky and heavy-hipped, wearing a smart pinstriped pantsuit. Her expression was pleasantly neutral, betraying nothing, and she led Amy back to her office and closed the door, inviting her to sit down.

“So Ms. Shoenstein,” Briggs began, clicking away at her computer.


“Amy… ah, here,” she said. “When was the last time you checked the balance on your savings account?”

Amy laughed. “A very long time ago,” she admitted, “since I know there’s not enough in there to worry about.”

Briggs looked at her, flashing a sly, skeptical smile.

“What?” Amy asked, and Briggs turned the monitor towards her.

“Line two is the current balance in your savings account,” she said.

Amy stared blankly at the number, so many digits it barely made sense.

“Is that a hundred million?” she scoffed.

“One billion, three hundred forty-six dollars and thirty-three cents,” Briggs intoned. “The deposits have been coming in varying amounts for the past day or so, wire transfers from accounts all over the world.”

“Oh jesus,” Amy exhaled, slumping down low in the uncomfortable leatherette chair.

“And by your expression I can see you have no idea what’s going on,” Briggs said, smiling now. “We assumed this was an error.”

“Well yeah!” Amy replied. “I mean, am I in trouble…?”

“We may contact you, and you may have to sign some things down the road,” she said, passing a card across the desk. “But, no, no trouble. Though if you think of anything that might be relevant, please call me.”

“Of course.”

“Imagine if that was all yours,” Briggs mused as they both stood up. “Be nice, right?”

“Sure would.”

They shook hands and Amy was barely out the front door when she suddenly turned around and made her way back to the front desk, where she had the same receptionist again summon Briggs for her.

“Yes?” the bank manager asked as she came through the glass doors again. She was still cordial but with a confused, slightly impatient look this time.

“I was wondering if I could get a copy of the statements, where it shows the transfers,” Amy told her. “I’d like to show it to my lawyer, you know, in case I have to deal with any legal stuff.”

“Well, I don’t think —”

“Please?” Amy asked. “You understand, this is a little freaky for me.”

“Okay, give me a minute,” Briggs relented. “I’ll get those for you right away.”

It seemed to take more time than Amy thought would be necessary but finally Briggs returned and she saw why, as the statement turned out to be a surprisingly thick stack of paperwork. Amy took the bulging folder, thanked her and headed back out onto Walnut feeling somehow both nervous and relieved at the same time.

Such were the ingredients for some therapeutic midday stress eating, and so she grabbed a food truck cheesesteak that was as big as her forearm on her way back to the office. She then devoured it in the empty break room as she flipped through the statement with greasy fingers. The transfers were in amounts from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions, a cascade of names and institutions she mostly didn’t recognize. She texted Mark the broad details of what Briggs had told her and he said he’d look at the records when they saw each other later on.

The rest of the day was a blur, brightened somewhat when Mark texted her at four to meet him at Pedro’s for happy hour, a trashy, happy hour-friendly margarita joint on Spruce. Sipping her sweet, powerful drink slow, her oversized booty barely balanced on an inadequate bar stool, she watched as he pored through the statement page by page under the red, white, and green bar lights, stopping once in a while to look closer at certain entries.

“Yeah, I know all of these places,” he told her, shouting a bit over the mariachi-heavy jukebox. “A lot of them I’ve researched myself.”

“But why are they depositing money in my account?” she asked.

“Got me,” he shrugged. “Maybe they’ve mistaken you for a Russian oligarch or something.”


“Yeah, this is pretty wild. Don’t be surprised if you get contacted by authorities.”

What?!” Amy blurted, more than a few sips in and already feeling tipsy. “Shit, the manager told me the bank might be calling me. I didn’t even think about that.”

“Well I’m sure the FBI, SEC, DEA, NSA, CIA, Interpol, and a dozen other agencies are thinking about it — I would. No one drops this kind of cash into a consumer bank like Sterling without triggering some sort of investigation.”

“They must think I’m some sort of master criminal.”

“Nah, I’m sure they’ll know right away it’s a fuck-up,” Mark said. “Because if this were an actual scheme, it would have to be the worst I’ve ever seen. Honestly I’m surprised it took this long for it to trigger the usual alarms — you could have run in and grabbed at least ten mil in the meantime.”

“Serves me right for not checking my balance more often.”

“You’d be a fugitive for the rest of your life but you’d be running in style.”

Nachos arrived, loaded with cheese, guac, salsa, and sour cream alongside a half dozen crema-soaked flautas still sizzling from the fryer.

“I’m thinking we should try that new noodle joint by your place later,” Mark suggested as she grabbed for the choicest, most cheese-laden chips. “Got really good Yelp ratings. This place fine for apps but the actual food here is pretty lousy. What do you think?”

“Sounds good,” Amy said, and leaned over the table to crunch into one of the oily, yummy flautas after drenching it in salsa and yet more sour cream.
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

“Honey, you gotta stand still,” the seamstress ordered, her already thin patience now barely a membrane. “I’m almost done here.”

Her accent was pure North Philly; her voice, and breath, courtesy of Virginia Slims. Her name was Jen or Jane or maybe Janet, Amy not caring to commit it to memory, forty-something, stocky and hatchet-faced with a ratty ponytail and tired eyes.

“Ow!” Amy cried as the stiff, sturdy wiring underpinning the dress’s bustier grabbed a delicate wad of flab beneath her arm. She flinched and the seamstress backed up and took a deep, rattling breath.

“You alright?” she asked, in a tone that indicated she was about as concerned with Amy’s comfort as Torquemada with his more reluctant converts.

“Yeah, sorry,” Amy mumbled.

She looked down and couldn’t see much evidence of the dress at all, just a sprawling boobscape parted by a nine inches of Grand Canyon-deep cleavage. The musty nicotine radiating off Jen-Jane-Janet was making her want to cough but she was sure the bustier barely holding it all up would explode if she dared. Thankfully the dresses came with gauzy scarf meant to wrap around her shoulders, lest Lynn’s special day become a plus-sized softcore porn exhibition.

She could kill Lynn for putting her through this, her erstwhile low-maintenance, boho sister having decided she needed a full-on haut-suburban-style wedding and tapping Amy as her maid of honor. Now fully involved in planning the extravaganza, she vowed that if — when — she and Mark were ready to tie the knot she’d elope at city hall and have everyone to her favorite 9th Street pizza joint for the reception.

And what a difference between the front and back ends of Butterfly Boutique, Amy mused. The front of the shop was all deep-pile carpet, soft lighting and velvet couches, free-flowing champagne and high-end chocolate. Comically obsequious staff brought them one designer schmata after another while demonstrating near-superhuman patience. But then once she and Lynn had selected the bridesmaids’ dresses, handed over the deposit and signed on the dotted line, they were introduced to the rear fitting room, with its dusty, drafty cubicles, lit like a third-world hospital ER with about as much privacy.

This was the first fitting and she was entitled to two more adjustments, though she’d already decided twenty minutes ago that if she couldn’t cram herself into this incarnation she’d wear a potato sack rather than set foot in Butterfly Boutique again.

Yet it was supposedly the best fat girl bridal shop in the city, something Amy doubted though she’d yet to hear any arguments otherwise. Of course other places carried plus-sized wedding gear but only Butterfly Boutique carried more than a few token items in the size she — they — required. Because thankfully besides Lynn, the other members of her bridal party, fiancé Fred’s sisters Bella and Azure, were big gals as well, which meant bigger than Amy herself. There was comfort in knowing that even if she put on another forty pounds by June she still wouldn’t be to the fattest woman on the dais.

“Who measured you?” Jan-Jen-Janet demanded, taking a rest from trying to cram two gallons of Amy’s back fat into the one-gallon bustier.

“Linda?” Amy ventured, having been half-buzzed on champagne at the time.

“Ok, well I’m gonna have to talk to her because I hate to be the one to tell you, but you’re not a 3.”

“Good to know.”

The boutique knew their clientele well enough not to use real-world sizes, realizing the last thing a woman wanted to be reminded of while selecting a dress was how far into double digits she’d strayed. Calling out numbers like 22, 26, 34, etc. worked better for quarterbacks counting off plays than emotionally vulnerable fat brides and bridesmaids. To that end, they had their own system, starting at 1, which corresponded more or less to a 14-16, and 2, which was 18-20, and so on. That way, at least in the safe space of the store, you could pretend you were runway model-sized rather than plus.

“Did you gain weight in the meantime?”

“I don’t think so,” Amy lied.

“Anyway yeah, it’s just a number,” the seamstress said unconvincingly, “but if they have me working on a 3 and you need a 4, we’re gonna have a problem. There’s a lot of wiggle room in these things but I think you may have out-wiggled it.”

“Oh well,” Amy mused. “I always wanted to be a size four.”

“At least you have a sense of humor about it,” Jan-Jane said with a raspy chuckle. “Some of these girls come in here and not just want me to fit them into their dresses, but play therapist too. My advice is ‘put down the fork, put on the Nikes,’ know what I mean?”

Size four…

“Honey, you with me?” the seamstress growled. “Give me two more minutes — please. I swear, I should get a blessing from the Pope with the miracles I’m working here…”

“Sorry,” Amy said, cringing, wondering why she kept feeling the need to apologize, paying to be physically assaulted and emotionally abused. Jan-Jen-Janet could maybe get a side gig as a dominatrix, she thought.

“No biggie,” Jane-Jen assured her. “Just do me and you a favor and lay off the bonbons for the next couple months, okay?”

“Size four,” Amy found herself saying out loud.

“Exactly — what I should have been working on in the first place. Not your fault, of course. Fucking Linda… can’t use a tape measure for shit…”

“So you’re saying I’m definitely a size four?” Amy asked. “I mean, here of course?”

“Yeah,” Jan-Jen-Jane said through a mouthful of pins. “Listen, it’s not the end of the world. Just cut out the carbs and take the stairs once in a while and you'll be able to wear this thing. At least you’ve got a pretty face. That's the kind of thing you have no control over...”

After another five minutes of having her most intimate above-the-waist anatomy pushed, pulled, poked, and prodded, Jen-Jane-Janet brought Amy to the full-length mirror for an assessment. While it was in the seamstress’s interest to allow her to go home with the dress as-is, she seemed unconvinced.

“Listen, I’ll work something out with Linda and we’ll put you in a four, right?” Jane-Janet suggested. “You really do look like the last time I forgot I’d brought a bottle of lotion on the plane with me.”

Amy had a hard time arguing; there was more of her out of the dress than in it. Still, she insisted it was absolutely fine.

“Honey, you eat one more hoagie between now and June you ain’t getting this thing on again,” Jen-Jane-Janet warned. “Next fitting will be too late.”

“There won’t be a next fitting,” Amy announced. “It’s bloody fucking perfect.”
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

Outside she checked her phone while waiting for the Uber back to Spring Garden when Mark texted her.

| How’d it go?

| Nightmare – gonna need PTSD treatment

| Yikes sorry

| Nothing some omakase sushi and a sake cocktail won’t fix - hint hint...

| On it.

| <3

| You got time this afternoon?

| Nothing but time… took the whole afternoon off for this wedding bullshit. What’s up?

| Can you meet with someone about your Sterling account – could be kinda important.

| Am I in trouble???

| NO! The opposite. This could be really good news

| whu...?

| gotta go - meet me here at 3:30...

Next came an address near Rittenhouse Square, “K. Lance, Esq” and she receieved no further response when she texted him back. Double checking on Google Maps, it was walkable from her place though “walkable” had become an iffy concept at her size. Never the most avid pedestrian, she’d really been feeling the last eight months’ extra pounds in her knees and other parts.

It was just after two p.m. so she had the Uber driver drop her near the address where she found a cozy coffee shop to linger. Rittenhouse Square was the wealthiest part of the city and the cafe was reliably filled with tall, blonde real size 2s and 4s buying their Splenda’d no-fat lattes. The fitting had left her feeling like someone who should be exhibited on a circus midway with the name “Daisy” or “Bertha”, and so being among the ectomorphic upper crust wasn’t doing wonders for her fragile self-esteem at that moment. More than anything she wanted one or six of the CD-sized chocolate chip cookies they had up by the register but damned if she was going to go up there and get one.

With time to kill and no snacks to kill it with, she began to think about Florida again. Not another trip (blessedly cancelled, as she’d be seeing her grandparents at the wedding), but the now-fading memory of her crazy beach hallucination. She’d asked the genie — Xerox or Hydrox or whatever his name was — to make her a size four, and now here she was, a “size four,” not to mention a billionaire, if strictly on paper, and in a rather temporary way. And then there was Mark, “the love of her life.” Of course it was all a coincidence, but a hell of a coincidence nonetheless.

The coffee shop was empty by 3:00 which gave Amy a brief window to grab another mocha as well as a short stack of cookies, all of which cost her the better part of twenty dollars but seemed worth their weight in gold at that moment. Buzzing three inches off the ground on caffeine and sugar, she was more than alert when it came time to wander over to K. Vance, Esq. on South 18th.

The office was located in an imposing gray townhouse right off the square, the kind of place Amy had walked past a million times but never thought she’d ever see the inside of. She pushed the bell, glad for the delay after climbing the front steps so she could catch her breath. The door buzzed open and inside she could immediately feel the obscene wealth oozing from the oak-paneled walls, crystal chandeliers, and museum-caliber carpets.

A trim young man in a crisp gray suit and $1,100 glasses greeted her in the foyer and then led her down a hallway lined with paintings of horses and into a cozy office where Mark was waiting. Across an ornate wooden desk was a man with steel gray hair, twenty years older than Mark but just as tall and skinny. He smiled as he stood up to greet Amy, betraying no shock at how fat she was which put him in rare company these days. The antique upholstered chair he directed her to sit in looked sturdy but was so narrow she may as well have been parking her ass on expensive kiddie furniture.

“Miss Shoenstein, so wonderful to meet you,” he said, in a gentle Mainline accent so posh he could have been a lost member of the British royal family. He introduced himself as Kenneth Lance, and lavished praise all over Mark for his research skills.

“I keep telling him the firm is undervaluing him, but then loyalty is an underrated attribute these days,” he added as a wry coda. “However Mark has informed me you have six o’clock reservations at Kenzo An, so let us get to the point, shall we?”

“That sounds good,” Amy said, looking back and forth between the two of them. “Since I have no idea why I’m here.”

“I see,” Lance said. “Well let me fill you in — Mark has been pursuing the matter of your account at Sterling National for months now through our office. And I understand you’re unaware of this, so allow me to apologize for him, as I assure you he was only looking after your best interests.”

“Wait, what?” Amy exclaimed, throwing Mark a stiletto of a look. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, I —” Mark began to stutter, his pale face going crimson.

“Miss Shoenstein, as I said,” Lance interjected, “he was being a responsible friend and nothing more.”

“That’s not the point!” she fumed.

“Amy, please hear him out,” Mark mumbled.

“I’ve investigated the matter as fully as possible based on the documents Mark provided,” Lance said, plowing through their little tiff. “As well as my own contacts at many of the institutions who’ve handled the transfer of funds into your Sterling National account. As simple as I can put it, I believe you are likely entitled to the entire amount as stated.”

After an uncomfortable few seconds staring blankly into Lance’s narrow gray eyes, then at Mark, and then back at Lance again, she spoke.

“So you’re saying the money is mine.”


“But Carla Briggs, the manager at the Walnut branch, told me it was a glitch,” Amy protested. “That she had no idea where the money was coming from in the first place. Mark, you thought the same thing, right?”

“I’m not aware of a Ms. Briggs,” Lance intoned, “but my Sterling National contact in New York is on their board, so I assume he’s a bit more knowledgable than she. The fact is that although the transfers were from anonymous entities, they were made with legitimate funds, through proper channels. Simply put, it’s not illegal for these entities to give you money for no apparent reason.”

Amy felt like the coffee and cookies in her belly had been replaced by chicken feathers as her mind struggled to process what Lance was apparently telling her.

“Please understand I can’t make any promises at this point as to how quickly I’ll be able to resolve this with Sterling, but I’m convinced I will be able to,” Lance continued. “And in case it comes up over sushi this evening, Mark has not paid me a single dime for my work on this — it’s strictly been a favor.”

Amy looked over at Mark again, who returned a bashful smile and shrug.

“However as you’ll soon be among the wealthiest woman in Philadelphia, you will require more assistance with your affairs than the consumer division of Sterling National can provide,” Lance said, showing all 32 of his veneers. “And so moving forward I do hope you will give me due consideration when it comes time to select a financial advisor.”
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

If Ken Lance had been refreshingly unconcerned with Amy’s size, the kimono-clad hostess at Kabuki An more than made up for it but giving her a thrice-over before seating her and Mark. But this time she hardly cared — she was a motherfucking billionaire after all, and once she was able to write checks on it she’d buy the whole fucking restaurant, shitcan Tokyo Rose and hire the biggest, fattest woman she could find to hand out menus. That settled, at least in her imagination, her emotions were complicated to say the least through their seven-course omakase dinner.

“I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell me,” Amy said as Mark poured her a second sake from a crystal bottle encased in two inches of ice.

“Because I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t want to get your hopes up, or freak you out,” he explained sheepishly.

“Yeah, but I just don’t want any secrets between us, you know?” she said. “That’s what breaks couples up.”

“Come on, I’m sure you have a few secrets, no?”

She didn’t have a good answer for that, and by his contrite attitude she could tell he’d gotten the message and so she dropped it. Anyway it was much more fun to talk about what they’d do once they officially joined the ranks of the freakishly wealthy. Amy had a hard time thinking it was at all real, and their conversation felt like the musings of two people who’d just bought a lotto ticket rather than having been all but promised by a top wealth advisor that her billionaire status was a sure thing but for the waiting.

As the sake flowed into her glass and the raw fish and rice into her tummy, she considered telling mark about her experience with Zorbee (or whatever his name was) on the beach that day. That she was now apparently going to be a real billionaire rather than a temporary paper one was just too unbelievable to not mention her “three wishes.” But every time she tried to sound it out in her head it all sounded three degrees past batshit-crazy. Everything with Mark was going so wonderful, the last thing she wanted to do was make him worry she was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

The next day after work, with Mark off playing basketball, Amy insisted on a girl’s night out with her wedding-addled sister. She didn’t know if she was going to tell her about the money or not (Mark had insisted they keep it a secret as long as possible) but felt she needed a little Lynn-time anyway. The whirlwind romance she’d had going with Mark for the better part of a year had made her less available than she’d ever been and she was feeling guilty for neglecting her only sibling.

Splitting the difference between workplaces, they met at a touristy sports bar close to Penn’s Landing, mainly for the three-for-one wings special. Amy might soon be a billionaire but in the here and now she was was still a cubicle jockey with a mortgage and a stubborn five-figure credit card balance.

“You know we really shouldn’t be doing this,” Lynn said as she destroyed another fried poultry limb, licking blue cheese dressing off her fingers and tossing the bones onto an ever-growing pile between them.

“Yeah, I got that speech from Ms. Lung Cancer over at Butterfly too,” Amy sighed, crunching celery to clear her palette.

“Tell me,” Lynn groaned. She took a sip of her rum and Coke and shook her head dolefully. “I’m in the same boat except I put on ten pounds since the last fitting and my dress costs ten times as much as yours.”

Surrepticiously looking her sister over, Amy thought ten pounds was an optimistic assessment, unless she was referring to each boob and her stomach separately.

Next month.

The lamp…

“Oh fuck,” Amy said suddenly. “What day is it?”

“March eleventh, why?” Lynn replied through a mouthful of wing meat.

“When was I in Florida?”


“When was I in Florida, last year?!”

There was enough panic in her voice that Lynn was now freaking out a bit herself.

“What the fuck, Amy — why?”

“Like around the twentieth?”

“Something like that.”

“Shit shit shit,” Amy chanted as she went through her phone for clues. She found the dates on last year’s calendar, indeed March seventeenth to the twenty-first. Which would have put her on that beach the twentieth.

Eight days.

She slipped off her stool with all the grace of a half-crippled elephant and made up a quick Mark-related excuse for her early exit. Lynn smelled bullshit and was both baffled and annoyed at her, but Amy knew she had the rest of her life to make it up. A billion dollars could buy a lot of forgiveness.

“You’re home early,” Mark observed, slumped on the couch with a beer.

“I may need to go on a trip. Like, far away. Not for long though,” she babbled. “And you can’t ask me any questions about it. But I need your help.”

“Babe, calm down,” he told her, grabbing her by the leg and setting her down on the couch next to him.

“Sorry to be so cryptic,” she sighed.

“So much for no secrets.”

“Do we know anyone who knows anything about antiques?” she asked, ignoring the dig. “Like, Middle Eastern antiques?”


Amy pointed to the lamp on her bookshelf.

“I need to get rid of that thing,” she said.

“That weird piece of junk?” he scoffed. “Say the word and I’ll toss it in the trash. Thing gives me the willies anyway. Maybe because I saw Alladin right when my parents divorced….”

“No, it’s not about that,” she insisted, which made him even more confused. “It’s… an heirloom. I told my grandparents I’d find out what it is, where it’s from, that kind of thing.”

“Ok, but you seem downright panicked. What’s the hurry with it? You’ve had it since I’ve known you.”

“I don’t know, I guess I feel guilty for procrastinating?”

“I love you but you’re a terrible bullshitter,” Mark said, shaking his head.

“Listen — just trust me. I swear I’ll explain everything after March twentieth and never keep a secret from you again. Do you know anyone or not?”

“Well, I have an old dorm buddy from Penn, Alonso. He’s pretty high up at PMA and I’m sure he could hook you up with someone.”

“Can you call him?”

“Now?” Mark said warily. “It’s eight-thirty at night.”


He took a deep breath and reluctantly grabbed his phone off the table. A few minutes later Amy had a number, Dr. Mazia Haddad at PMA.


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

Amy had been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at least a dozen times in her life, school trips and later for cultural enrichment — though really mostly to show out-of-town visitors the famous “Rocky” steps out front. After the Uber dropped her off, she looked around for an elevator and found it was around the back, which seemed like an awfully long way to walk. With few fellow visitors so early in the morning to gawk at her, she decided to head up the steps just like the Italian Stallion had, if at a tenth his speed. Halfway up she regretted her ambitiousness, and as her thighs screamed and her lungs burned the only thing still propelling her forward was her eagerness to see Dr. Haddad.

Haddad met her just inside the lobby, friendly if wary. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties like Amy, darkly gorgeous with her black hair pulled into a tight bun and eyes like a silent movie star despite minimal makeup. She was ethereally, elegantly thin as well, an olive-skinned Audrey Hepburn, and Amy hated how happy it made her that the woman walked with a pronounced limp.

“I will say, this is pretty unusual,” Haddad said as she led Amy down into the basement, past the bathrooms and coat check and beyond a door marked STAFF ONLY. “But Alonso said you were a friend of a friend and based on the photos he sent of your lamp, I’m intrigued.”

Her handicap slowed her down just enough that Amy had no trouble keeping up, no doubt an unintended courtesy but one Amy appreciated. They were now heading down a long hallway with low ceilings and a plain tiled floor, quite the contrast to the museum’s pink marble grandeur upstairs. The irregular clack-CLACK of Haddad’s pumps echoed from end to end.

“So let’s take a look,” the professor said once they’d finally reached her windowless shoebox of an office. The room looked like it had just been violently searched by the Philly PD, books, papers, and boxes haphazardly stacked upon any surface that could hold them. Amy didn’t mind the mess, far more concerned there was only one chair and it was behind the professor’s desk.

“Oh sorry,” Haddad said, noticing Amy’s poorly-concealed fatigue as she set her own tiny ass down. “Barely room for myself in here, much less another chair.”

“It’s fine,” Amy lied, her legs feeling like stretched-out rubber bands. “I’ll stand.”

She took the lamp from her bag and put it on the desk as the professor’s enormous ebony eyes lit up like she’d been handed the Hope diamond.

“My god — where exactly did you find this?” she asked, turning on a bright desk lamp, leaning over to examine the lamp more closely.

“On a beach, in south Florida,” Amy told her, figuring there was no reason to lie about that particular detail. “I’ve had it on my bookshelf for almost a year. I figured it was nothing special but I liked it, and then I guess I thought I may as well find out for sure if it’s worth anything or not.”

“Well honestly I’d have to examine it more closely and do a little research, and some tests as well,” Haddad said, “but offhand I’d say this should be upstairs in our collection rather than on your shelf — you have a real treasure here. I would contact an insurer right away while you decide what you’d like to do with it.”

Despite having almost sweat through her coat earlier, Amy felt a chill run through her from head to toe. Oddly, part of her wanted Haddad to tell her the thing was a piece of Chinese-made junk. That would help confirm she was in fact a lunatic, but a year in a psychiatric hospital would be a lot easier than trying to return it to… wherever she was supposed to return it to.

“I hate to take up more of your time, but can we play ‘Antiques Roadshow’? Tell me a bit about it?” Amy asked. “I seriously have no idea.”

“Sure,” Haddad said with a chuckle. “It’s Maramanian, sixth or seventh century BC, an oil lamp as you’ve probably guessed, and based on the etching I’m guessing whoever owned it had some status, maybe royalty.”

“Forgive my ignorance, but where’s Maramania?”

“Oh, it doesn’t exist anymore, a small kingdom that pre-dated the Persian Empire. In modern geographical terms most of it was located in a country now called Dar-al-Jammara. Well, sort of a country — it’s complicated these days, like everything in the Persian Gulf.”

“Fuck,” Amy mumbled.

“What’s wrong?” Haddad asked.

“Oh, um, nothing,” Amy said quickly. “I lost a bet, because I told my boyfriend it was from India.”

“Ah, well, ‘if you were to sell this at auction,’” she said, chuckling as she quoted Antiques Roadshow’s signature line, “I assume you’d cover that bet handily. Anyway, the Maramanians were interesting, I, um…”

She trailed off suddenly, with a strange, embarrassed smirk, a blush quickly rising inside her swarthy cheeks.

“What?” Amy asked.

“Nothing,” she muttered. “You should Google them some time, they were a very interesting culture.”

“I’m in a bit of a hurry to find out as much as I can about this thing,” Amy said, trying to sound anxious but not desperate. “I would gladly pay you for your expertise, or…”

“No, no, that’s not necessary,” Haddad said. “How about we make a deal? I’m a bit busy this morning, but if you allow me to study this lamp later today I promise we can meet tomorrow and I’ll hit you with so much Maramanian culture you’ll be able to write your own book on it.”

“Hmm,” Amy murmured, hesitating as she calculated how many days she had left. “It’s hard to explain, but I’m in a little bit of a hurry with this.”

Haddad tilted her head and gave her a skeptical look.

“You said it’s been on your shelf for a year,” she said. “Why the hurry now?”

Amy was again unable to offer a decent excuse, so she mumbled something about being behind on her credit cards.

“Then you should be talking to an auction house, not me,” the professor answered disdainfully. “I don’t mean to be rude, but this is a cultural institution, we’re not sales consultants.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you,” Amy stumbled, sensing she was losing control of the situation, and well over her head either way.

“I’m not insulted,” Haddad said, her posture fully erect and her tone now arch, “but let me also inform you that I’m ethically required to report any suspicion of illegally traded antiquities. Had you told me you got this from a relative or something I’d maybe understand but Maramanian brass doesn’t just wash up on some beach in Miami.”

“Closer to Fort Lauderdale, actually,” Amy told her. “Listen, like I said, I really appreciate your time…”

Amy leaned over to take the lamp back and Haddad put her hand out to stop her.

“Would you like to tell me the real story?” she asked. “I’m not sure you fully realize what you have here, and the responsibilities that come with it.”

“Not really,” Amy said, and snatched the lamp away, stuffing it back into her bag.

“What are you doing?” Haddad demanded, standing up.

“Taking my fucking lamp, doc.”

Amy turned and headed out the door.

“Miss Shoenstein, wait!” Haddad called after her, Amy not daring to turn around as the click-CLACK of the woman’s heels sped up.

The clacking stopped just as she made it to the door at the end of the hall and burst through it, back to more familiar territory as she passed the restrooms and coat check again. Her legs now dangerously wobbly and so breathless she was seeing stars, she was forced to slow her pace as she approached the stairs. It hadn’t been more than a hundred yards, but it was more than she’d run in two years — cumulatively. There was no way she could climb the steps back to the main floor, at least with any speed. She then saw one of the elevators opening slowly with two elderly women stepping out, looked back quickly toward the STAFF ONLY door and to her relief didn’t see Haddad coming after her. Either she’d given up entirely, as Amy hoped, or more likely phoning security or the Philly PD to intercept her outside.

With as much haste as her oversized, overtaxed body would allow, she wobbled herself to the elevator and stepped inside, hitting the main floor button multiple times. She slumped into the corner for a brief, unsatisfying rest and in seconds found herself back in the main lobby. She was perspiring now for real, fear sweat mixed with the physical effort kind, with such avidity it was dripping into her eyes and half-blinding her. She wiped it away with both hands as she looked around wildly, spotting a security guard at the front entrance speaking into his walkie-talkie. Another guard walked over and the two began talking in a way that indicated they weren’t chatting about the Phillies’ pennant prospects.

Either way, the Rocky Steps were a non-starter — she was barely more agile going down than up — and so she headed around the main staircase toward where she thought the other entrance might be located. The search for it took far longer than she wanted or anticipated, all while gushing sweat, heart pounding, throat and lungs burning like she was inhaling acid.

Finally spotting the rear entrance with its glass façade and the panoramic view of the river gave her a boost, enough to get her out the door where thanks to some god or goddess (Maramanian or otherwise) there was a taxi waiting for her. She dove into the back seat, shaking the old sedan on its shocks so hard the startled driver nearly spilled his coffee.

“Rittenhouse Square — NOW!” she commanded.
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Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

“I knew there was a bit more to you than Mark let on,” Kenneth Lance said, arching a well-plucked eyebrow as his assistant handed Amy a glass of water. She hadn’t asked for it, but then she also hadn’t stopped sweating since fleeing the PMA so she likely looked like she needed it.

“Yeah, well, can’t tell a book by its cover, right?” she replied, still gulping air like a walrus surfacing after an hour too long beneath the ice. She’d told Lance she had an emergency, and her (sort-of) lawyer and financial advisor had let her in right away.

“Apparently not,” he said. “So what can I do for you, Ms. Shoenstein?”

She’d Googled Maramania as well as Dar-al-Jammara on her phone on the way over and their Wikipedia entries but there was nothing about genies or lamps. Maramania’s page was frustratingly short and she cursed herself for being too nervous and impatient to take Haddad up on her offer to educate her. Her only hope was to get herself to Dar-al-Jammara ASAP and figure out which temple she was supposed to deposit the lamp at. However when she’d looked up flights there, she found none available.

“First thing, I might be in trouble,” she told him. “Besides that, I need to get to Dar-al-Jammara right away.”

Lance seeemd confused but not alarmed.

“Okay, step by step,” he said. “What kind of trouble?”

“Someone at PMA thinks I stole this,” she replied, pulling the lamp from her bag. She handed it to Lance who examined it passively before handing it back.

“Did you?”

“No! I found it.”

“Ah, okay,” Lance said.

She told him the Spark’s Notes version of what had gone down with Haddad.

“She’s not wrong,” he told her. “You should have gone to an auction house. They’d help you certify it for one thing, and trust me, any of them would be more than willing to… expedite… the process knowing there was a nice commission for them.”

“Well that ship has sailed,” she sighed. “I don’t think I can risk it now.”

“Yes, not a good idea,” he agreed. “So what’s this with going off to Dar-al-Jammara?”

“Haddad told me that was where it’s from. I figured I could bring it back there to find out what it was, and maybe get myself out of trouble.”

“And not sell it?” Lance asked.

“Nah, it’s kinda worthless to me, right?” she said. She could tell by his expression he wasn’t buying it, and admittedly it was a half-baked — or rather, unbaked — explanation. Though it wasn’t like he was kicking her out of his office, either.

“Yes, well,” Lance exhaled. “I’m afraid Dar-al-Jammara is going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment, politically. As it turns out, I have a client with several million dollars invested there who can’t get his hands on any of it. Islamists, reformists, the Jammaran royal family… all of them are right now at each others’ throats. Plus it’s located on an island between Iraq and Iran so you can imagine the complications involved in visiting.”


“Well, the backlog for a visa is several months, and you’d need to go to their temporary embassy in New York in person…”

“What about MasterCard?” she asked.

Lance sucked in his cheeks, looking like his face was going to implode.

“A travel visa,” he explained. “Documentation to enter a foreign country. This isn’t like going to Cancun.”


“Do you even have a passport?”

Amy shook her head in the negative and hung her head, certain her little adventure had come to a screeching halt. She figured her best option at that point was to catch an Uber back to PMA, apologize to Haddad, hand over the lamp and wait to see if she’d just plain lost her mind, or if Mark and her billion dollars would indeed disappear as of next week. The silver lining she supposed was that she was perfectly okay if her “size 4” body disappeared as well.

“However,” Lance continued, “If your interest is indeed in re-patriating your lamp to the Kingdom, I do believe there’s a way to do this.”

Just then her phone buzzed, a text from Mark.

| Alonso just told me you met with the PMA prof and shit got really weird – what happened???

“Sorry,” Amy said, shutting her phone off. “You were saying?”

“You’re going to need money — a lot of it, and… an adventurous spirit.”

“Well I have money, right?” she asked eagerly.

“You will have money,” he corrected. “Right now you don’t. However I can arrange for a line of credit, if you’d like.”

“Great!” Amy exclaimed, and he held up a narrow, finely manicured hand to halt her burgeoning enthusiasm.

“Not so fast,” Lance continued. “I was inclined to continue acting as your advisor on contingency because of my relationship Mark’s firm, until we’ve successfully secured the funds in your Sterling account. However if I’m to arrange a significant loan on said funds I’ll require somewhat more of a guarantee you’ll be retaining our services long-term. Do you understand?”

“Well, sure,” Amy said, though she wasn’t totally certain she did. “I mean, you’ve been great and Mark totally trusts you.”

“I’m flattered,” Lance intoned, though clearly not exactly overwhelmed by her endorsement. “However we’ll need to get something in writing, immediately.”

At that he picked up his desk phone and without formalities told whomever at the other end to fetch “the contract.” Before Amy could ask, Lance’s assistant appeared with a neat stack of papers an inch thick.

“Um, shouldn’t I talk to a lawyer about this?” Amy asked warily as the assistant handed her a gold fountain pen that felt like it weighed half a pound. “I mean, another lawyer?”

“You likely should,” Lance admitted. “However if you want to travel to Dar-al-Jammara within the next 72 hours, I don’t believe you have that option.”


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

The most difficult part was facing Mark, who understandably was in a state of advanced agitation by the time she arrived home. Waiting for word from Lance, she was planted on the couch, speed-eating kettle-cooked potato chips as he paced in front of her.

“Amy, you can’t just not answer my texts,” he said, as much hurt as angry with her.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” she told him. “This was kind of an emergency.”

She reached out to grab his hand but he batted it away.

“And now you’re going where exactly?”

“I can’t tell you.”

Mark stopped and ran his fingers through his hair.

“Does this have to do with that fucking lamp?” he demanded.

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I have to return it. Otherwise I lose everything — all the money, and you.”

Amy hadn’t meant to tell him anything about Florida or Zorro (was that his name?), but here she was, and she now realized she had no choice but to tell him everything, come what may. And to Mark’s credit he listened calmly and attentively to the whole story, without interruption.

“Now you get it?” she asked, once she’d brought him all the way up to speed, come what may.

“You’re going to a war zone,” he intoned, as if hardly believing he was saying it, much less that she was actually doing it. “Do I need to call Lynn? I mean, have you totally lost it?”

“Please believe me,” she pleaded. “I know it’s totally nuts, but I’m telling you, it’s all happening. I mean, the part about me being a size four kinda got screwed up, but I met the love of my life — you — and then I wind up with exactly a billion dollars. Tell me that’s a coincidence.”

“It would be a hell of a coincidence,” he conceded, “but it could also be you’re totally stressed out about various stuff and are now ‘remembering’ it in reverse. I mean, that’s how dreams work, we apply meaning to them after the fact.”

“Well can you just let me have my stupid folly then?” she asked.

“Sure, go drop five hundred bucks at Sephora,” he sighed, exasperated. “Take Korean lessons. Adopt a kitten. But this is just plain nuts. I mean, I know you’re not into following the news, but people are being beheaded there!”

“Lance is taking care of it,” she bleated.

“And he’s a super-capable guy, but I’m not a fucking idiot — I know you don’t travel anywhere in the Persian Gulf with no passport.”

“Please Mark, let me just take care of this and you’ll have your nice, fat boring girlfriend back,” she insisted. “Please.”

Mark stopped pacing, put his hands on his narrow hips and stared down at her. She had her hand in the bag of chips, mid-grab, but stopped herself.

“I don’t know,” he said. “If we’re gonna have a life together, I have to know who I’m dealing with.”

“You do know.”

“Apparently not!”

She was about to say more but he was already grabbing his coat.

“Have a nice trip,” he told her, walked out the door and slammed it behind him.

The hours felt like an eternity, and in the meantime the texts from Lynn kept racking up on her phone.

| Mark called — WTF??? … Ok you’re NOT going anywhere, PLEASE FING CALL!!! …

| I’m telling mom, calling the cops, whatever if you don’t text me NOW…

| Why are you doing this to me? I don’t have enough shit to deal with re: WEDDING???

Lance called, interrupting the stream of pleas from her sister.

“Okay, you’ll be meeting a man called ‘the Griffon,’” he said. “He has your number and will be calling precisely at midnight tonight. Be somewhere downtown.”

“Gotcha,” Amy said, thanked him and hung up.

Having checked current weather for Dar-al-Jammara, apparently a city as well as a country (go figure), she discovered the following day’s high would be a balmy 114 degrees. She didn’t even own a pair of shorts that fit at that moment much less gear for triple-digit heat and so she stuffed the two lightest summer dresses she prayed still fit her and some underwear into her day pack, some personal items, and the lamp of course.

Her phone buzzed again just as she was plowing through the rest of the Haagen Daz butter pecan while standing in front of the freezer. It was Lynn again, of course.

| Coming over — DON’T FUCKING LEAVE

At that Amy knew she had to go. She called an Uber and headed to the downtown Hilton where she booked herself into a room to wait. While working her way through the minibar snacks, she received one more text from Lynn:



Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

He told her to walk over to Broad Street and then head south, two blocks past City Hall, and get into the first taxi that pulled up. The city was quiet, cold, and a little spooky.

A taxi pulled up just as she’d crossed Sansom and though it just looked like… a taxi… she squeezed herself in, as instructed.

“I, um…” she fumbled as the driver looked at her in the rearview mirror.

“You’re Amy?” he asked, and the voice sounded familiar from the phone call, though it didn’t seem to jibe with the dark, round South Asian face it came from. He had longish hair and a bit of wiry black beard under his chin.

“You’re the Griffon?” she replied tentatively.

“Yeah” he confirmed and continued driving down Broad. “Griff is fine. I need you to throw your phone out the window.”


“Your phone. Throw it out the window.”

“It’s only like three months old though, and —”

“DO IT,” he commanded, and she reluctantly did so, cringing as she looked back to see it land on the sidewalk and split into pieces.

“The one on the seat next to you is yours now,” he said as she rolled the window back up. She looked over and saw a big, bulky, old-fashioned flip phone. It even had an antenna, like the phones she remembered from when she was a kid.

“This seems like a really bad trade,” she told him.

“That’s a satellite phone,” he explained. “Untraceable and works anywhere. You try calling on an iPhone from al-Jammara you’ll get jack shit, and arrested by the Royal Police.”

“Gotcha. So anything I need to know, or do…? This is kinda new to me. I’ve been to Montreal and to London on a school trip but I guess I’m not much of a traveller, and —”

“Holy shit, stop — I believe you,” he insisted. “Listen, you’ve gotta trust me. Completely. Think you can do that?”

“I mean, in what way?” she asked.

“Completely.” he shot back. “That doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambiguity, right?”

“Okay, okay.”

“How much do you weigh?”

She looked into his dusky eyes in the rear view mirror, not sure she’d heard him correctly.


“How much do you weigh?” he repeated. “We’re going to be traveling by helicopter so it’s important. Apparently someone didn’t do a great job with the details here.”

“Um, like 230, 240?”

Griff shot her a skeptical look.

“Maybe 250, you know, I always put on weight in the winter, and I’m supposed to get my period like three days ago…”

“Please, Amy,” Griff said. “I’m not your fucking Jenny Craig sponsor. If my pilot thinks you’re bullshitting, and we both know you are, no one is going anywhere tonight.”

“Last time I was weighed was like a year and a half ago and I was 274,” she sighed. “And I’ve put on, like, a lot since then, so —”

“Figure 300 to be sure,” Griff said, though not to Amy, his phone at his ear before she was able to finish her fumphering. “Yeah, she’s a big girl alright.”

“Hey!” she shouted. “Is that fucking necessary?”

“Nothing personal,” he told her, flipping the phone closed and tossing it onto the passenger seat. “Anyway, don’t worry — where we’re going you’re gonna be more plenty popular with the fellas.”

She rolled her eyes, the flattery somehow lost on her. How much was she paying this guy? They were still on Broad though well past South Philly now, heading toward the airport.

“So did Mr. Lance tell you — ” she started to say before Griff cut her off.

“He told me what I needed to know, except about the weight but then I suppose Mr. Suits is too much of a gentleman,” Griff spat.

“At least someone is,” she grumbled.

He gave her a smirk in the rearview and then his eyes were back on the road. They were at the airport a few minutes later, but rather than heading to the main terminal area, they turned at a sign that said CARGO. Amy was in new territory, though she could still see the main terminal in the distance as they passed warehouses and a few old prop planes and then finally pulled off onto a narrow road where they reached a fenced-off area with a gate and guard house beside it.

Without a word exchanged Griff flashed some sort of documentation and the gate went up. Griff drove slowly and then turned left towards a smallish, dilapidated-looking hangar and stopped.

“Okay, we’re here,” he told her, throwing the old Liberty Cars sedan into park.

Self-conscious already about Griff’s reaction to her size, she extracted herself from the back seat as gracefully as she could, which was to say, not very. Griff was shorter than she’d expected and even less prepossessing than what she’d been able to see of him in the car, like a hundred other South Asian cab drivers in Philadelphia. He was no beanpole himself either, she noted with some satisfaction, eyeing the paunch bulging beneath his red fleece pullover.

“Let’s go,” he said and led her into the hangar, which was dark and even colder than outside, and not a little frightening for it.

“Wait, what…?” she started to ask, and then there was a horrible clanking noise. She jumped and let out a little scream that was drowned out fully by the sound of a huge metal door rising at the far end. There she saw a sleek-looking helicopter sitting like a gigantic black insect, lights on, props still.

Her feet and legs were still sore from her hurried escape from PMA earlier that day (which seemed like last month) and started to ache again as they crossed the deceptively spacious warehouse floor. As they came closer, she saw who she could only assume was the pilot outside the craft, goggles up on his forehead, smoking a cigarette. He was a white man, shortish like Griff but younger and thinner.

After he and Griff shook hands he greeted her with a crisp “Ma’am” and a nod of his head.

“You’re paying for a front seat but I’m gonna put you in the back if you don’t mind,” he announced, opening a side door dauntingly high off the ground. There was a ladder leading up to it and the highest step was at her shoulder. “Please stay in the center.”

“Gotta balance the weight,” Griff added.

“Yeah, thanks, I figured that out,” Amy told him.

“Mama’s got spunk,” the pilot observed with a snarky grin, throwing his spent cigarette onto the tarmac. “I like that.”

Amy then felt something inside her brain snap, almost like a physical reaction, a dopio shot of adrenaline surging through her.

“What I got is a billion dollars, dude, so I can buy and sell your ass — and the cab driver’s,” she spat, coldly looking at the pilot and then back at Griff. “Now I expect to be treated like the VIP I fucking AM!”

“Yes, ma’am,” the pilot replied with a slight bow, while Griff raised his bushy eyebrows and said nothing.

New-found bravado aside, it was quite the struggle getting her into the helicopter, with Amy nearly pulling her arms out of their sockets trying to haul herself up the short ladder and both men pushing at places only Mark had been allowed touch any time recently. All three of them were exhausted but triumphant by the time she was safely inside, the effort proving to be something of a weird bonding experience for the three even if Amy’s dignity barely survived it.

Of course the seatbelt didn’t have a prayer of being buckled over her zaftig torso and so the pilot jury-rigged a solution with several wide lengths of nylon, strapping her in like a trussed turkey.

“You got nowhere to go anyway til we land, right?” he told her breezily and Amy nodded her assent, too humiliated to speak at that moment.

As they lifted off, her insides did a quick flip and she then felt gravity pulling her body against the many restraints criss-crossing her midriff. The helicopter tilted and turned and she felt the strange inertia-fueled sensation of her blubber lurching a nauseating half-second behind the helicopter’s movements. She’d always hated carnival rides, even when she’d been able to fit on them, and this was like something from Six Flags over Hades. For a few moments as they flew nose-down over the western suburbs she felt like she was being squeezed by King Kong, sure she’d pop out of the straps and go tumbling into the cockpit, crashing them into the Delaware. But after a few more terrifying minutes the craft leveled out and the ride was noisy but fairly smooth, with a view far more spectacular than anything she’d ever experienced from a plane.

“Where are we going?” she finally asked, the ocean now a black expanse spread out before them.

“Dar-al-Jammara, as requested,” Griff replied curtly. “Eventually.”


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

Altogether the trip took nearly 24 hours, though she’d lost track long before that. The helicopter took them to what seemed be an aircraft carrier with Cyrillic writing on everything, where she briefly experienced the worst bone-cracking cold of her life during the five minutes or so they were outside. There they boarded a military-style jet that was so no-frills inside it barely had seats, just benches, not to mention no bathroom, just a commode that was so narrow Amy was sure it would wind up inside her if she attempted to squat atop it.

She barely managed to hold it in and by the time they landed in what the sign on top of the long, steel shed of an airport said BRAZZAVILLE she was nearly incoherent with nausea. Though it was barely past dawn, the door opened to literally breathtaking heat and humidity that made Florida feel like Greenland. She had to be led, if not half-carried, by Griff and several stoic, camo-clad ebony-skinned men across the tarmac to the terminal, where there was something resembling a bathroom. Inside she peed and then puked so violently she was sure she recognized meals from a week ago in the aftermath.

Though it was exceedingly rare if not nearly unheard of for Amy to refuse sustenance of any kind, Griff had to force her to drink water and eat some sweet, strawberry-flavored goo from a tube before ordering her to swallow a handful of pills, several of which were so big she was convinced they were meant for livestock. Then without warning he jabbed her with a syringe, explaining it was a one-shot inoculation and refusing to apologize despite her pouting and florid cursing.

Making it back to the plane only with Griff’s help again, possibly the worst aspect of that part of the ordeal, she threw up once more on the tarmac as she smelled the fumes from the jet engines, her body so drenched with sweat she stopped trying to wipe it from her face or anywhere else, leaving a dark, damp trail across the cracked asphalt. Back on board, she quickly and blessedly fell asleep on a makeshift mattress of life jackets until their next stop, a dusty airstrip that didn’t even feature a terminal, just a hut covered in corrugated steel. She could feel the heat outside before they exited the plane, Amy was somewhat less wobbly this time though still delirious with motion sickness.

The sky was gray and there was a fierce wind that felt like a giant hairdryer as they stumbled toward the hut, the air so dry even the perspiration locked deep inside her most intimate crevices was whisked away instantly. Inside the hut they were met by a small man in a long brown robe whose face was wrapped in rough cloth, like something from a Mad Max film. He gallantly provided a bench for Amy, who was so grateful she felt like willing him ten percent of her phantom billion, provided she managed to survive long enough to receive it.

Griff exchanged some serious words with him in a language she couldn’t even identify much less understand.

“What’s going on?” she demanded, finding it hard to even open her mouth to speak without dry heaving.

“We’re in southern Iraq and we’re now waiting for an escort by a local militia,” he said. “Hassan here just told me al Qaeda firebombed the old terminal building last month and apologized for the accommodations.”

From there-on she decided she wasn’t going to ask any more questions. In the meantime he handed her what looked like a set of dark black bedsheets.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“A burqa. Put it on.”

She unfolded the garment and he helped her find the top and bottom of the thing. She now knew exactly what he was talking about, the long combination veil-dresses Middle Eastern women wore in Saudi Arabia and such. The fabric was heavier than she’d imagined and she was instantly baking inside it.

“For real?” she asked, frustrated to find the burqa muffled her voice. Not only did these maniacs want to not see women, she thought to herself, they didn’t want to hear them either.

“Absolutely,” Griff said. “This is the Middle East, not Bryn Mawr. That’s what women wear here. You’re paying me to keep you safe — sorry if it offends your ‘pussy pride’ or whatever.”

“How much more do I have to pay for you to be less of an asshole about it?” she asked.

The escort arrived after yet another hour, twelve men total spread among four trucks, each armed with a serious-looking rifle in their hands along with far larger and scarier guns mounted in each payload. They were standoffish at first but all gathered round to watch Amy be squeezed into one of the vehicles like she was part of a travelling show, which she supposed to them she was.

As they headed off into a flat, featureless landscape of dust and scant scrubby brush with no discernible road to follow, Amy soon realized the worst part was just beginning. The unairconditioned truck was an oven inside, and with her inside the burqa as well it was like a sort of double boiler. Worse, the truck had shocks like a bootlegger’s jalopy, bouncing her pitilessly from one end of the back seat to the other while her considerable inertia-fueled weight fought back with its own momentum, which in turn caused her to rock back and forth that much more forcefully. The more she tried to steady herself the worse it got.

Between constant dry heaves and the unpredictable convulsive see-sawing of the truck that bounced her belly flab so violently it squeezed the wind straight out of her lungs, she somehow managed to ask Griff how long they would be on the road.

“Six or seven hours, tops,” he informed her, at which point Amy began to weep and then bawl.

“Come on, now,” Griff said, extending a short, hairy arm back to pat her knee. She pushed it away, fumbling inside the nine pounds of black fabric covering her. “Think of the stories you’ll have to tell your friends.”

“Listen, fuckface,” she spat, using the outside of the burqa to blow her nose. “I know you hate me because I’m fat, which is like, the stupidest, easiest fucking prejudice there is. And I know you’re a person of color so you’re gonna laugh at that too, but —”

“Hang on,” he said, holding his hand up.

“What?” she asked warily, thinking he’d seen something ahead he didn’t like. Though at that moment being killed by Iraqi terrorists or whatever seemed a perfectly fine option.

Griff scootched up in his seat and pulled out his phone from his pocket. Steering with his elbows, he flipped through a few pictures and then handed his phone to her. There she saw Griff smiling — no, beaming — in a yellow polo shirt, the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas recognizable behind him. To his left, right up against him, was a woman in her early thirties a head shorter and easily an entire Griff wider, her spheroid torso packed into a black short-sleeved top and blue jeans. She was moon-faced though very pretty with caramel skin a shade lighter than his and gorgeous ebony eyes, black hair flowing down past her shoulders. She was smiling too, her head tipped slightly toward Griff’s shoulders.

“That’s your sister?” Amy asked, not sure what the point was. Maybe he treated her like shit, too.

“My wife,” he said, and Amy now saw that the body language was indeed more intimate than a normal sibling relationship. “And in case you think she got that way after we were married, she was 280 pounds when I met her. So I don’t hate you because you’re fat. I just think you’re spoiled and naive, and I’m worried you’re going to fuck me up and I’m not going to survive this, and I’ll never get back to her.”

For a brief second she felt contrite, on the verge of an apology, but then the anger returned. If his wife was fat, why would he insult Amy’s weight like that? Wouldn’t he know how hurtful it is? Far worse, assuming he was attracted to big women…

“Wait a sec,” she fumed. “So you’ve been perving on me this whole time, right? Fucking chubby chaser — probably thanked Allah himself when you saw me climb into your cab last night…”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” he laughed. “Trust me, sex is the last thing on my mind when I’m working — I start thinking with my dick, I’ll get it blown off. And even if I was off-duty and wanted a date, I hate to break it to you but you smell like a dead camel.”


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

The buzz of the satellite phone woke her from her slumber.

“Your guide is on his way,” Griff informed her. “Meet us downstairs in twenty.”

She had no idea how long she’d been asleep, hours or days, but it had never been so hard to separate her face from a pillow before, soaked with drool as it was. The room was basic but oh so clean and comfortable, with a low ceiling and a lazy, buzzy overhead fan, white walls and a terra-cotta tile floor. There were a couple of other pieces of rough, simple furniture and a tiny but fully-functional bathroom to her left. The door was locked from the inside with a big iron latch.

It was still hot but not punishingly so, and she could smell and feel a salty breeze from a wide, high window at the other end of the room. She’d been sleeping naked and so wrapped herself in her sheet before padding over to the bathroom, the tiles sweetly cool against her bare feet. Still, she was so stiff she felt like she’d been reanimated from the grave (and given what she’d been through the past 24 hours that was a possibility), cringing and gulping as she lowered herself onto the toilet.

She was very, very glad she’d forced herself to shower before going to sleep, though as she could now smell she’d missed a few spots, laughing despite herself as she remembered Griff’s “dead” camel crack. She now remembered getting through the border with much yelling in Arabic. Or Farsi? At one point Griff was annoyed that she thought they spoke Arabic in Iran. Add it to his list of annoyances. Guns were raised and aimed and she peed herself a bit, adding unneccesarily to the stench (Griff not smelling so hot himself by that point.)

She took a quick, vigorous shower that almost felt like a workout (as if she remembered what a workout actually felt like…), cleansing her still-stinky bits with what was certainly the least effective bar of soap she’d ever encountered, rubbing her skin red before she felt really clean. Her hair was such a rat’s nest she could barely pull it into a pony tail, thinking she was going to need to book half a day at the stylist just to de-tangle it once she was home. Just a tiny, raggy towel had been provided that was fully damp before she’d dried half her body though she did what she could with it before wrapping herself in the sheet again and wobbling over to the window, leaving drippy footprints.

She need not worry about peeping toms, as the window was too high for anyone to see her in her naked, uber-rubenesque glory, Amy barely able to put her chin on the sill. From her limited view she saw there was a courtyard below and a white wall directly across from her that blocked everything beyond. Looking up, the sky was powder blue with wispy white clouds and she could just, just see the top of a palm frond over it, reminding her of Florida.

On the little wooden chair next to the bed, the kind she wouldn’t dare try sitting on lest she reduce it to matchsticks, were her clothes, washed and neatly folded. God help whoever had to handle them, she thought to herself as she squeezed back into gloriously fresh panties and jeans. Seeing it from the perspective of whomever had washed it, her bra looked huge (because, objectively, it was), though as she stuffed herself into it the thing certainly didn’t feel very roomy.

It was too hot for her cardigan, what she’d been wearing when Griff picked her up on Broad street, and though normally she wouldn’t dare wear a t-shirt with no cover-up on top, she was feeling skinny thanks to all the puking and lack of food for the past whatever-hours. Anyway, her favorite burqa was hanging on the back of the bathroom door, black and intimidating like a sleeping wraith. She supposed that was one benefit of traditional Islamic dress, that a woman didn’t have to worry about her back fat all the time.

There was a bowl of oranges on the small table near the window and she prayed they weren’t wax decorations. They were real indeed, thankfully, and though hard to peel, they were delicious, sweeter and juicier than any kind she was used to. She was about to eat another one, face and fingers dripping juice, when the satellite phone buzzed again. She saw she was now five minutes’ late and ignored it, figuring it was Griff anyway and ready to go meet him, and their guide.

Downstairs, he’d told her, wherever that was. She washed her face and hands and then tentatively opened the door to a small landing and the very narrow, wholly unsafe-looking wrought-iron spiral staircase that led up to it. Had she really climbed it last night, in her condition? Either she was tougher than she’d imagined or someone — almost certainly multiple people — had carried her up it. She chose to believe it was the former.

Navigating her way down took some time, the rails squeezing her hips, and the way her blubber bounced with each step inside her flimsy t-shirt made her wonder if she wanted her cardigan after all. The entire stairway protested her weight with loud squeaks and creaks and she was relieved when she stepped off it onto solid flooring. She was now in a dim alcove with white walls and reddish floors like her room, and like the room she’d slept in there were no pictures on the walls, no plants or tchotchkes or rugs or anything else that would indicate people actually lived there.

“Hello?” she called out, as there were several ways to go from where she stood and she didn’t want to wander into the wrong room, or God forbid outside. She knew little about Dar-al-Jammara but had a good idea it was near Saudi Arabia, where she was fairly sure she’d heard uncovered women were gang-raped and then stoned to death.

She heard Griff yell “In here!” from around a corner and followed his voice. A short hallway opened into a large room with a high, vaulted ceiling in the same white-on-red non-decor, with white couches around a low wooden table. The far end of the room opened to what must have been the courtyard she’d seen from her window. Griff and another person were standing just inside, the bright sunlight behind them making them featureless dark silhouettes.

“Good day, Sleeping Beauty,” Griff called out cheerily.

“Morning,” she answered, though with her eyes having adjusted now she was far more intrigued by the man standing next to him, a dusky-skinned, dark-eyed fortyish fox who instantly made her face blush and her body warm and tingly. He was reed-thin and seemed to emit his own luminescence in his trim khakis and white Oxford.

“Ms. Shoenstein,” he said with a voice deep enough to rattle her bosom. He stepped ahead of Griff and bowed slightly as he took both her hands in his. “I’m Amir, a pleasure to meet you.”

“Amy,” she told him, her own voice a nervous croak. “Amir-Amy, kinda funny, right?”

“Please,” he said and nodded toward one of the couches.


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020
12 (continued)

She sat down as gracefully as she could manage, feeling her belly rolls and boobs squish together with her thighs, pulling the t-shirt from her folds as quickly as possible. Why the fuck hadn’t she worn the cardigan, she wondered? She folded her arms in such a way in front of her belly that she hoped would minimize the direct visual impact of her roly-poly frontage and looked up nervously at Amir, hoping he wouldn’t be totally disgusted with her. Though if he was offended by her bulbousness he certainly didn’t show it. In fact maybe she was deluding herself but he seemed to be looking at her with interest, the approving kind, not unlike the way Mark looked at her.

She then heard her stomach growl, hoping it wasn’t as loud as it seemed. The orange was a fine snack but she needed food, and she sure as hell wasn’t asking for it while Amir was there. She was somewhat startled by someone appearing behind her, passing her a glass of water over the back of the couch. A small servant in a white robe, maybe a child, silent as she thanked him (her?).

“You must keep hydrated,” Amir told her. “It creeps up on you here.”

As he said it, she realized that indeed she was parched and drained the glass dry before he’d finished talking. She nearly gave herself a hernia stifling the resulting burp.

“I still can’t believe I’m not dead,” she mused, looking over at Griff. “Did that happen?”

“It happened,” he sighed.

“Yes,” Amir said with a chuckle. “I understand it was quite the journey.”

“You don’t even know,” she sighed.

“I suspect not.”

“So can I ask, like, who you are?” Amy asked, as friendly as she could. Hot as the guy was, she knew this was no time to let her cooch do the thinking for her.

“Yes, of course,” Amir said. “I’m here on behalf of the King, who extends his utmost gratitude. I’m an archeologist myself, and I studied at Oxford and in Tehran and Cairo, and I spent thirteen years at the British Museum. Since then I’ve been working on the other end of the stick, as you say, to help restore my country’s patrimony.”

Griff laughed.

“Amir’s a smuggler with a few fancy pieces of paper,” he said.

“And you’re a low-rent fixer, my friend,” Amir shot back, though with a twinkle in his eye. He then turned his attention back to Amy. “I understand that you possess quite the treasure.”

“So I hear,” Amy said.

She looked around and suddenly realized she didn’t have it — that it had been in her bag, which was back in…?

“Oh FUCK!” she shouted, and both men jumped.

“Jesus, what?” Griff asked.

“The lamp! I fucking left it in —”

Griff leaned forward and pulled it from a bag on the floor in front of him.

“Brazzaville,” he said. “Couple of pairs of panties and some dresses too, and a toothbrush. I guess you thought you were going to the Bahamas.”

She felt her face burn like he’d set it on fire as Amir distracted himself examining the arm of his couch.

“May I?” Griff inquired, and she realized he was asking if he could give it to Amir.

“Sure,” she said, relieved beyond measure yet still wishing a sinkhole would open beneath her and swallow her up forever. Amir must have been thinking she was the stupidest person on earth.

The waiter returned with a large, metal platter of strange-looking items, what looked like square cookies or tiny cakes, some sugar-covered and others glazed like a Dotties donut. Amy followed their progress across the room and onto the table and began to drool in an embarrassingly Pavlovian way.

“Try it,” Griff said, reaching over to grab one of the glistening treats and handing one to her.

It was much appreciated, as Amy would have had a hard time bending forward seated in the deep, cushy hotel chair with all her belly and boobage in the way. She took the cake and bit into it greedily, fighting the urge to pop the whole thing into her mouth. Normally would have pulled out one of her fingernails rather than eat in front of a hottie like Amir but she was sure she’d pass out if she didn’t eat something — now.

The little cake turned out to be like baklava but more delicate, and a bit less sweet which disappointed her. She ate the thing in two bites nonetheless and eyed the rest of the plate like a vulture on the savannah. Amir in the meantime was examining her lamp.

“Oh my,” he said softly. “This is indeed a special object. Very beautiful, and known colloquially as ‘Zoroxes lamp.’”

“Holy shit — that’s it!” she exclaimed, spraying cookie crumbs.

“That’s what?” Amir asked.

“The name, ‘Zoroxes.’”

“Ah, so you’re familiar with Maramanian myth?”

“No, I just um…” she trailed off and then shook her head. “So what’s the story with it?”

“It was one of many treasures the culture ministry tried to send out of the kingdom, just before Sadaam Hussein’s armies occupied us in 1981, during the war with Iran. The ship was attacked by pirates in the South Atlantic and that was the last we knew of it.”

“Interesting,” Amy said. “So the deal is that I need to get it back to some temple somewhere by Wednesday.”

“A specific temple…?”

“Uh, yeah, but I don’t know the name,” she said. “Do you have a lot of temples here? Maybe we can hit them all.”

Griff let out a barking laugh.

“Oh shit,” he scoffed. “Sure, we’ll bring a picnic, some wine…”

“Well Zoroxos is generally associated with the temple of Ka-Barata —”

“Ka-Barata!” Amy exclaimed. “That’s what he said!”

Amir gave her a confused look.


“The… guy… who wrote the Wikipedia article…” she fumbled.

“I’ve learned not to take her too seriously,” Griff interjected, looking at Amir.

“I have to take the lamp to the temple — Ka-Barata,” she told Amir.

“May I ask why? I mean, there’s a Maramanian myth that connects the two, but otherwise it would be wonderful to present the lamp to the king as soon as possible.”

Amy shook her head.

“No way,” she insisted. “That’s the deal.”

Amir looked at Griff who shrugged his shoulders.

“No temple, no lamp,” he stated flatly. “That’s what the lady is paying us for.”

“No matter,” Amir said, waving his hand. “You’re doing the right thing in seeing that such an important artifact is returned to its rightful owners. A few hours’ delay is nothing compared to nearly thirty-five years — or eternity. I shudder to think the lamp would have become another looted bauble at some museum in Philadelphia.”

Amy nearly choked up her last gulp of water.


“Sorry to startle you, but I’m aware you met with Doctor Haddad at the museum,” he told her. “She gave a statement to Interpol — there’s an alert that you’re possibly ‘smuggling’ stolen antiquities. Ah, the irony…”

“Oh fuck,” she moaned. “That bitch.”

“Just doing her job, she’d likely tell you,” Amir said. “Don’t they all say that?”

“So, is this Interpol thing, you know, a thing?” she asked, now munching her third cake while Griff held up the plate for her and she grabbed a fourth.

“Amir?” Griff deflected.

“My government will cancel the alert now that we have the lamp,” Amir told her, “and I assure you the United States authorities and Philadelphia police aren’t concerned with such matters. If only they were.” He rolled his beautiful black eyes. “In the meantime Mister Lance has informed Interpol and the local authorities that you are at a private spa in Arizona and has provided documentation to that effect. Your presence here is unrecorded and once you’re back home there will be no record of it.”

“You may want to avoid the PMA for a while though,” Griff added with a chuckle.

“Yeah, no problem,” Amy said, and gratefully took another not-sweet sweet from him.


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

The burqa was back on but the car air-conditioned so it was far less of an issue, a white Mercedes sedan that compared to the truck she’d endured yesterday rode like a magic carpet. She sat in back again with Griff driving and Amir in the passenger seat. The sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue, the road flat, straight, and smooth. In fact the pavement in far better shape than any highways she knew of back home.

Griff was quiet as Amir peppered her with innocent questions about her personal life, which she deflected. Cute as he was, she was far more interested in where they were going.

“Ka-Barata is one of the oldest Maramanian sites we’ve found here in the kingdom,” Amir explained. “We’ve only begun to excavate, as you’ll see, as such work was halted by our occupation and the… troubles we’ve been experiencing here of late.”

Griff scoffed and Amir ignored him.

“In fact the myth of the lamp itself is somewhat interesting,” he said. “Zoroxos was a prince who became too greedy and was trapped inside a lamp. Of course not this lamp, as your — our — piece was attached to him many centuries later, we believe at sometime during the Afsharid Dynasty. In any case, thereafter he became a trickster spirit — what you’d call a ‘genie.’”

“Interesting,” Amy said.

“Yes, well you may find it even more interesting how he met his fate.”

“Do tell.”

Amir was now nearly turned around in his seat, looking at her, his ebony eyes animated.

“You see, Zoroxos had dominion over all the land,” he said, “and as with many rulers of such power, he had a grand harem with concubines from every realm.”

“Bully for him,” Amy chuckled.

“Yes, well, different times… But what made him different was that he was unhappy with just possessing these women for his pleasure. He wanted to make them his own, so to speak, and he preferred them to be… How do I say it? Large.”

“Large?” she asked, though she knew what he meant.

“He was a ‘chubby chaser’?” Griff butted in, chuckling. “Isn’t that your phrase, Amy?”

“Or he was simply a man of taste,” Amir declared, shooting a stern look at Griff whose eyes were on the road.

“Obviously,” Amy said, ignoring Griff.

“He wanted to fatten all his harem, and had the women in competition to see who could become the biggest, to better please him,” Amir said. “Understand that the Maramanians had a robust fertility cult, and themselves worshipped large women, so this wouldn’t have been odd to them.”

No wonder Doctor Haddad had demurred while talking about the Maramanians, Amy thought to herself — she didn’t want to talk about fat in front of a fattie. She glanced at the rearview mirror and was not surprised to see Griff had a grin wide enough to swallow his own head.

“Understand, harems were potentially dangerous places,” Amir continued, “and there was a delicate balance of power among concubines and their minders to keep peace among them. Unfortunately this competition for Zoroxos’ attentions upset the balance. They began plotting and scheming against one another, and it spilled over into the royal court itself.”

“Sounds like a shit-show,” Amy said.

“Indeed!” Amir agreed, really getting into it now. “Ka-Barata was a high priest, in his own way more powerful as Zoroxos because he was the one who communicated with the gods and decided which mortals would join them in the afterlife. He was the first to see what was going on in the prince’s palace and knew he’d have to put a stop to it.

“He threatened Zoroxos with eternity in limbo unless he stopped his nonsense in the harem, but the prince haughtily rejected him and questioned his authority. And so Ka-Barata lured him into his temple with a woman so enormously voluptuous and lovely, she was beyond the prince’s dreams. There, Ka-Barata trapped the prince within the lamp. He then gave it to sailors and bribed them to take it as far as they could and dump it into the sea.”

“Until someone finds it, and sets him free?” Amy asked, downright happy for the burqa now, as it hid from Amir the fact she was blushing like a big, fat concubine herself.

“Yes,” Amir confirmed. “Until someone finds it and brings it back to the temple, as we are doing now. So I apologize I called your ‘mission’ silly. In a way this is such a beautiful coda to this old, old story. I may put it in my notes.”

“Absolutely,” Amy said, still burning with embarrassment. “Glad I could help.”

Amir turned back around in his seat, and Griff’s perma-smirk had faded into a frown.

“Well to me this is a weird waste of time but whatever,” he said. “But the customer’s always right, right?”

For the next twenty minutes or so the highway passed through low, flat marshland and she saw many huge ships in the distance along with oil rigs and industry. At some point they entered a town of some sort where she saw men standing at various stalls and a few burqa-clad women and pulled into an oddly modern, Western-looking structure that turned out to be a highway rest-stop. It could have been on the Jersey or Pennsylvania turnpikes except that there were at least a dozen well-armed men in fatigues standing at the entrance and various parts of the parking lot, frowning behind wraparound sunglasses.

Amir stayed outside as Griff and Amy walked up to the main building. It was startlingly hot, like standing next to an open pizza oven, made worse by the burqa of course. She began counting the steps to the glass and steel entrance.

“Women are never alone in public here, and it’ll be weird if we’re with Amir,” Griff whispered as they walked. “Of course had we made our little mission a few years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. Saddam was an asshole but under him this was allowed to be a modern country, and so it goes in this part of the world.”

“So this place is run by the Taliban…?” she asked.

“No, dummy, they’re a thousand miles away. There are Islamists here, though, and they’ve got the King’s ear right now, and his balls, so he’s going fundamentalist to appease them.”


“Yeah, it’s a mess. I don’t like this place,” he spat. “Even if you don’t see it, trust me, being here is as dangerous as getting here.”

Indeed it had been a rough trip for him, as much as her, and it suddenly dawned on her she’d only have to repeat it — in reverse.

“I was thinking,” she said tentatively, “maybe Lance can send you more money so we can, you know, go home a different way…?”

“Don’t worry,” he told her. “Amir has it all taken care of. His people are gonna give us papers and a ticket to Toronto by way of Charles de Gaulle. A little walk through the woods when we get to the border, a long drive back home on good old American freeways to the City of Brotherly Love, et voila.”

That sounded beyond fantastic to her, but then she quickly had another thought.

“And why didn’t we do it that way getting here…?” she asked.

Griff laughed.

“Because Amir needed to know he was getting his fucking lamp back first,” he said. “You’re not paying him — the kingdom is.”

They reached the ladies room, far cleaner than in any rest stop she’d ever encountered in the U.S., and dodged the young, burkha-clad attendant’s entreaties with a nod of her head and a quick exit that left the poor girl confused.

Back outside, she and Griff purchased actual food, some sort of lamb and saffron rice dish that smelled so good she didn’t bother to ask what it was until she’d eaten half of it. Amir was inside now at another table, though he wasn’t eating (which was not surprising, looking at him). She and Griff more than made up for it though, wolfing down their food, and back on the road with a full belly she immediately fell asleep in the car.


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020
13 (continued)

At some point she was awakened, the Mercedes rocking and bucking like a carnival ride, and she realized they’d left the highway. They were negotiating a broken road through another grim, grubby landscape, drier and browner than the one they’d been traveling through before. She caught Griff’s eye in the rearview mirror.

“Amir says we’re almost there,” he informed her. “Sorry about the bumps, I’ll try to miss a few.”

For the entire journey, the road signs were in Arabic script (Not Farsi — Griff having informed her Farsi didn’t have its own alphabet, but was written in Arabic. No wonder she was confused…), though with English translations below them. Most were gobbledygook anyway, though she recognized the name on the next one she saw.

“Ka-Barata!” she exclaimed.

“Indeed,” Amir said, looking excited himself.

Griff let out a gigantic sigh.


They turned off a mile or so later, Amy looking out the window like she was a little girl looking for the entrance to Disneyland. They crept along a road even rougher than the one they’d been on and then there was another sign, this one faded and rusty, totally unreadable. Soon after they approached a low, long concrete building with an old Toyota SUV parked outside of it. Griff pulled up beside the SUV at Amir’s direction and killed the engine.

“Where are we?” Amy asked.

“The tomb,” Amir announced. “Well, the archeological site.”

“Everything you dreamed of?” Griff asked, bemused.

He helped her up and out of the car and a short, fat bald man in gray slacks and a too-tight rayon shirt came squinting out of the building. He and Amir spoke for a minute or so and he waved them inside.

Outside was hot, but inside the building was an oven. Amy felt herself swoon and leaned a bit on Griff who grunted as he moved in to support her weight. The only light was from slit windows in the concrete and it took a minute for her eyes to adjust, at which point Amy saw the building was a structure that had been built over and around a shallow open pit with a low stone wall surrounding it, oval-shaped and perhaps thirty feet at its longest side.

“Can I…?” she asked, pointing at the wall, which seemed to be the only place to sit.

“Um, certainly,” Amir said, though he seemed uncertain. Amy sat down anyway.

“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Griff snarked.

“This is the foundation of the temple of Ka-Barata,” Amir announced proudly, ignoring Griff’s snark. “Admittedly unimpressive at the moment however we have a million dollar grant from his majesty and we will begin excavating soon. We hope to build a museum of pre-Islamic culture alongside it and the lamp will be a key part of our collection.”

“Ah,” Amy said, suddenly unsure of… well, anything. “So let’s say offhand someone had told you to ‘return’ the lamp here. Would you just sort of put it inside it? Like, right in the middle?”

“I don’t understand,” Amir said, still smiling.

“Makes two of us,” Griff sighed.

“I mean, if Zoroxes himself was like, ‘Amir! Return the lamp to Ka-Barata!’” she said, awkwardly miming Zoroxes grand hand gestures from beneath the burqa. “What would you do?”

He paused before speaking, considering it.

“I would do just what you’re doing, I suppose.”

“Okay, cool,” Amy said, and then turned to Griff. “Okay, can I have the lamp now?”

“Hey, what the fuck…?”

It was Griff, who was now looking at his shoulder bag, which seemed to be shaking. He quickly took it off and tossed it onto the ground, and Amy, Amir, and the bald man, who’d previously been standing silently in the corner, looked on in shock as the bag began to smoke, as if on fire. Except the smoke was pink, and Amy nodded her head knowingly.

“Ah, right,” she said with relief, taking a deep breath. “Sorry I didn’t mention this might happen…”

“My god!” Amir exclaimed, stepping away, as Griff stumbled back into the corner. The bald man had fled the building entirely and Amy heard a car engine start outside, presumably his SUV.

Zoroxes appeared within seconds and black as he was, he seemed to glow in the dimly lit interior. His eyes were like fiery blue neon as he spread his massive arms wide and looked at Amy.

“CONCUBINE!” he bellowed.

“Here we are,” she said proudly.


“Glad to hear it,” she said. “And I think we’re cool now except that ‘size-four’ thing. I think there was a miscommunication back in Florida —”


“Yeah, but I asked to be skinny,” she insisted. “And I’m still really, really fat — fatter than when I met you, actually. I wouldn’t make a thing out of it, except I could have used that wish to help cancer kids, or end war forever, right? Seems like kind of a cheat — sorry.”

“Fuck, Amy, what the hell is going on?!?” Griff jibbered, now on the floor, his eyes wide as soup plates. Amir had fainted altogether, slumped against the wall of the building.

“FAREWELL, CONCUBINE!” Zoroxos said, and she watched him disintegrate, the smoke sucked back into the lamp.

“Ok,” Amy said, grunting as she stood up from the foundation wall and brushing off her burqa. Amir stirred and Griff brushed himself off as he got up and helped the archeologist to his feet. “I think we’re all set. You guys think we can hit that same place on the way back for an early dinner? That food was awesome.”


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

“I’m serious, take them away!” she whined. “I told you I’m trying not to eat after seven o’clock!”

Mark reluctantly moved the bag of chips from between them to the outside space between himself and the arm of the couch.

“Further!” Amy demanded. “I’m totally serious.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, got up and took them back to the kitchen. “Be nice to me. If you were Zoroxos’ concubine he would never let you go on this silly diet of yours.”

“Yeah, well, screw him,” she spat. “Double-dealing, black-ass piece of shit.”

“Calm down,” Mark said. “You’re talking about him like he’s real.”

“Real or fake, what’s the difference?”

“If I have to tell you…” Mark said with a disapproving look.

She had to give him some explanation once she’d returned and gave the same one to him she’d first first given to herself — a fugue, a psychotic break. The first brought on by the stressful trip to her grandparents’ place, the second due to the stress of her appearing and disappearing fortune, as well as the preparations for Lynn’s wedding. They joked about it now, though the fact she’d suddenly run off to, um, Arizona to deal with it left him understandably wary and confused.

She’d since agreed to “see someone” (though she was procrastinating making an appointment), despite that the last thing she needed was to have yet another doctor make it all about her weight.

“Oh come on,” Mark said, sitting back down next to her and giving her a gentle pat on the belly, which wobbled in response. “You are still a billionaire, right?”

“So not funny,” she sighed, batting his hand away from her blubberous thigh. “I’m not even anymore. I just had to eat the deposit at Butterfly Boutique for Lynn and me and so I’m like a seven-hundred millionaire at best.”

The whole thing had crumbled even before she made it back to Philly. With the help of the FBI, Sterling National had discovered her ‘fortune’ was the result of an elaborate scheme by Russian hackers, stealing from hundreds of international financial institutions and placing it into hundreds of thousands of consumer accounts like Amy’s. Had all gone well, so to speak, a lightning-fast trading script was to be executed that would have made the money vanish from these accounts an instant after it had appeared, and transferred back into accounts back in Russia. However with all the money having gone to Amy’s account by mistake, the trade never occurred.

Mark’s lame joke referred to the aftermath, where after untangling the scheme there was about $25,000 that was unreturnable to its source, the Bank of Iran, due to sanctions. Thus Sterling had no choice but to allow Amy to keep it. The current exchange rate at 40,000 Iranian rial to one U.S. dollar meant Amy’s “fortune” was worth approximately one billion… rial.

Thankfully Kenneth Lance had forgiven the $450,000 he’d loaned her, knowing that in enabling her trip to Ka-Barata he’d broken enough laws to put his scrawny, bespoke-suited ass in prison for several lifetimes. He was even in the process of arranging a significant promotion for Mark, as further incentive for Amy to forget the whole thing had ever happened, as quickly as possible. To that end, the Mainline Brahmin lawyer had been as accommodating as if she had turned out to be the wealthiest woman in Philadelphia, and had offered to help her in any way she needed moving forward.

“I didn’t even get to keep my lamp,” she whined.

“I hated it anyway," Mark said. "That thing creeped me out — now I know why. Clearly it was making you insane.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she sighed. “Sorry I told you about it. Now get me those chips back.”

“Are you gonna hate me if I do?” he asked, getting up from the couch.

“Of course.”

She still had her “size 4” body (though well on its way to a 5, most likely), and Mark as well. Though over the past few weeks she wasn’t sure about that end of the deal, either. Perhaps she was reading into things too deeply, but she felt as if their relationship had been moving quickly but steadily forward prior to her trip, and now that momentum had cooled. They’d discussed moving in together for one thing, and now Mark breaking his lease on his apartment suddenly seemed a bigger deal than he’d first made it out to be. Amy hoped that after she was past the various stresses and distractions of Lynn’s wedding they could get the whole thing behind them and get back on track.

Mark returned with the chips and some onion dip to go with it. She put up a lame, mewling protest and then dug in, finishing most of the can herself as well as the chips. She didn’t bother to protest at all when he followed it up with some butter cookies he’d brought home from a downtown bakery, knowing it would lead to a lousy night, or a fight. After the movie had ended, Mark had tried to put the moves on but she pushed him away, feeling too bloated and disgusting to even think about sex. As she thought about it, over the past month they’d not had sex more nights than they had.

Zoroxos and the “Arizona” trip hadn’t been the only point of conflict between them. She’d been trying to lose weight, or at least not gain any more in preparation for the wedding — particularly after she and Lynn had been forced to void their deposits and be re-fitted for larger sizes. Yet Mark refused to let up on his insistence she stuff herself like a foie gras goose every time they were together. True, she generally didn’t put up much resistance to his enabling, but now she’d asked for his help and his response was to ignore her, or become moody and uncooperative.

It was as if a veil had been lifted from her eyes since her return from Dar-al-Jammara. As much of a naughty, delicious rush as it had been to have someone who loved her fat (and wanted her even fatter), it was depressing to realize he was turning out to be as manipulative and shallow as any man who’d insist on her being thin and staying that way. Whomever the "love of her life" turned out to be, she was fairly sure that love wouldn't be conditional, based on her size.

She called in late to her office the next day and ordered an Uber up to PMA first thing in the morning. She avoided the Rocky Steps entirely this time and entered through the rear entrance, trudging through the museum back to the front where she asked the woman at the info desk to ring Doctor Haddad, giving the name “Adele Atkins,” further lying that she had an appointment. To her minor surprise, after a bit of confused back and forth the receptionist announced Haddad would be up shortly.

The professor appeared a few minutes later, gimping her way out of the elevator, her beautiful face crinkling into a grimace as she recognized Amy.

“Hello, Ms. ‘Atkins,’” the professor sighed. “I had a weird premonition it was you. What can I help you with?”

“Listen,” Amy said with a shy smile. “I’d like to apologize.”

“For what?” Haddad asked, leaning against a pillar, crossing her arms over her narrow chest. “You’ve re-patriated the lamp, done your duty as a world citizen. Made a fool out of me, too, for calling Interpol on a do-gooder such as yourself. There are calls for me to step down from my position here, that I’m a ‘colonialist,’ et cetera.” She shook her head. “Far better the Islamic Republic of Dar-al-Jammara lock its treasures in a vault for eternity, I suppose, than have them on display here for everyone.”

“What do you mean?” Amy asked, knowing she had a right to be upset but shocked at the depth of the woman's bitterness.

“I know you were working with Aziz Mohadi. You’re his type too, I suppose. Sorry — that was low,” she added quickly.

“No offense taken,” Amy sniffed, knowing exactly what she was talking about, unfortunately. “But what…”

“He used to be a legitimate academic, a colleague, but now he makes his very nice living smuggling pre-Islamic art to the new royal regime so they can bury it,” she explained. “Seems in order to shore up their power they’ve turned fundamentalist, and by grabbing back these objects and then putting them out of sight, they score points with the Islamists who are propping them up right now.”

“Obviously I had no idea…”

“No, I don’t believe you did,” she sighed. “Anyway I would advise you watch yourself with Aziz. He’s using you, for what I assume are multiple purposes.”

“I have nothing to do with him now,” Amy protested. “Or with Islamist-anything. I mean Jesus — I’m Jewish! I work in a cubicle with a little condo in Spring Garden. This was just like a…”


“No!” Amy insisted. “I have a fiancé — here in Philly.”

Haddad glanced down at Amy's ringless right hand.

“Well, not technically,” she fumbled, “but a really serious boyfriend. We’re moving in together.”

“Oh right, Alonso’s friend,” Haddad said, likely reminding herself of how she’d gotten into this mess in the first place. “Congratulations. So anyway, what exactly are you apologizing for…?”

Amy took a deep breath, absorbing it all and knowing Haddad had a right to vent.

“You were very nice and helpful, and I was weird and cagey, and put you in a bad position, I know,” Amy said, all in one breath. “That’s it.”


“I was kind of… crazy — like, hallucinating, a really long hallucination,” Amy continued, babbling in a way that didn’t make a great case for her current sanity. “I actually thought I’d met Zoroxos, you know?”

“Did you rub the lamp and then he popped out and offered you three wishes?”

She was smirking though for a second Amy thought perhaps Haddad knew.

“Yeah, in fact,” she admitted.

“Good day, Ms. Shoenstein,” Haddad said icily. "My advice is to get help — the psychological kind."

She pushed herself away from the column with a grunt, turned and click-CLACKed back to the elevator.


Active Member
Aug 7, 2020

“Ms. Shoenstein!” Aziz greeted her cheerfully. “How nice to hear from you.”

They exchanged five minutes of pleasantries before he asked how he could help her.

“I’d like to see the lamp again,” she told him.

There was a static-filled pause, their connection across a dozen time zones not a great one.

“May I ask for what reason? It’s being studied at the moment.”

“Personal reasons. It was so, you know, crazy that day…”

“Yes, I know. The gas leak!” he exclaimed. “The stupid cow I had guarding the place could have killed us all, leaving those canisters open inside like that. It was a good thing our friend Griffon kept his wits about him and could crawl outside and get help.”

Through the long trip home (though not as long as the trip there) she tried to talk about it with Griff, with him insisting that’s what had happened — a gas leak. Maybe she was crazy, but she didn’t remember smelling any gas, at least not enough to knock all of them out like that. He got bitchy though when she pushed him on it so she dropped it. She still needed him to get her home, after all, and so it wasn't wise to antagonize the man. Though even as he let her out on Broad Street and sped away she wondered what he actually believed.

“So can I come back?” she asked. “You can help me with the visa this time, I presume.”

“Well I suppose someone can,” he said. “If your government approves the travel. But perhaps it’s best you let us see to the lamp from here on, no?”

“Well it’s not just that,” she told him, lowering the pitch and volume of her voice just a bit. “I mean, I’d like to see you again. I feel like we have some unfinished business too, right?”

There was another pause, long enough for her to wonder if he’d hung up.

“Right, um, yes,” he said. “It would be very nice to see you again under more… relaxed circumstances.”

“I’d really love to see Dar-al-Jammara just as a tourist, with someone as knowledgeable as yourself as my guide.”

“Can I call you back at this number?” he asked.

“Any time,” she purred. “Though sooner would be better.”

Of course he called back, and right after they'd made a plan she blew her last “seven hundred million” on a first-class ticket to Dar-al-Jammara (knowing she’d never fit into a coach seat) and let Lance handle the rest. He let her know this would be the last favor he’d perform for her. She told him that was fine.

Aziz met her at the airport and was a charming and discreet host and guide. In fact he hadn’t put a hand on her the whole day as he showed her around the city, patiently waiting for what he likely considered his hard-won reward. She’d kept the ruse up just long enough to get him back to her hotel room, at which point Griff came out of the bathroom and grabbed a rather surprised Aziz by the ear.

“No nookie for you tonight, pal,” the fixer informed him, aiming a pistol as long as his forearm up at Aziz’s chin. “We’re going to take a midnight trip down to that little vault you have below the culture ministry building.”

“What — what is this?” Aziz demanded, his “anticipation” of a night with Amy suddenly dissipating beneath his boxers.

“This is you showing the lady her lamp one more time,” Griff said. “We know about that little fund you set up for yourself in the Caymans, skimming your acquisitions budget from the royal treasury. And if you don’t comply, the King will know about it too. I’d say His Majesty might lose his head over it, but I think it’s way more likely you will.”

“Thanks, Griff,” Amy whispered as Aziz hurriedly put his clothes back on in the corner.

“Thank Lance,” he sighed. “He’s paying for this. You’ve got that Brahmin bastard wrapped around your finger for some reason.”

“I have my ways,” she shrugged.

“You have fifteen minutes,” Aziz hissed as he led her through the narrow, cave-like corridor, three levels below the Dar-al-Jammara’s Ministry of Culture.

“All I need,” she huffed, struggling to keep up.

Griff was waiting outside and so they hurried, Amy feeling the flowy fabric of her burqa brushing against the walls. It was a long walk from the entrance and besides her fatigue, she had a serious case of chub-rub going on, having had her Astroglide seized from her by security at the airport.

Finally they arrived at the room itself, large, windowless but well-lit, its walls completely covered by glass shelving. There were at least a hundred items stored in there, from pottery jars to tiny golden figurines, though she spotted the lamp immediately. The center of the room was dominated by a huge table, upon which a long tapestry was laid out. Amy wondered what Dr. Haddad would think of all the treasures secreted down there.

“Okay, I’ll be out in fifteen,” she said, pointing toward the door.

“You want to be alone?” Aziz scoffed. “Out of the question. How do I know you won’t steal something?”

“Pat me down if you want. I know you’ll enjoy it.”

He glared but then left her there. She went to the lamp and lifted it carefully, taking a deep breath before giving it a tiny rub with a corner of her burqa. She quickly placed it on the table and stepped back a few paces, the smoke appearing and then the big, black chubby-chasing prince himself.

“REALLY???” he demanded.

“Shush,” Amy insisted. “He’s right outside.”


“Another set of wishes…?”


“Well, I’ve grown a lot since our first encounter — so to speak — and I think I learned a few things too, so if I just got one little re-do I think I could —”


“Okay, thanks,” she said, sighing with relief. “So, real quick — let’s do a cure for cancer…”


“World peace…”


“Cool, and last, there’s a certain professor at the Philly Museum, Mazia Haddad — she knows all about you.”


“Well, she’s super-attractive but she’s got this limp, and she’s been trashed all over the internet for being a colonialist, a thief, et cetera, you know, just for doing her job…” Amy paused to take a breath, getting a bit too excited. “Anyway, this is kind of a combo I guess, but since I almost died a million times getting you back here, I’d appreciate if you do a two-fer for me — get rid of her limp and clear her name. In fact, give her a promotion. Something big.”


“No,” she said, shaking her head and itching her belly, the burqa feeling a bit scratchy now. “I'm thinking that’s what screwed me the first time, right?”


“You can’t do one more, can you?” she asked, cringing. “Help my sister Lynn lose fifty pounds by next week? She’s getting married, and you know, it’s not like she’s against being a little curvy, but —”


And at that, Zoroxos vanished back into the lamp just as she heard an insistent knock at the door. She opened it.

“Okay, he’s gone nighty-night,” Griff said, nodding down toward a prone Aziz, stretched out in the hallway. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

The late-night drive out to Ka-Barata seemed much faster than the first time, the air through open windows cool, dry, and delicious even through the burqa. Thankfully there were no other cars outside the protective structure as they rolled up to it.

“Let’s make this quick,” Griff told her, looking nervous.

He followed her inside, which he lit up with a pen-sized flashlight aimed over her shoulder. She stepped over the low wall with a grunt, barely making it with her short, fat legs fighting each other beneath the burqa, which itself was hell-bent on tripping her up.

Now standing inside the temple itself she really had no idea what to do, tempted to rub the lamp again and ask the prince himself. Tired of holding it, she placed the lamp on the ground and waited.

“Five minutes, whatever the fuck you’re doing,” Griff warned. “Then you walk back to town. It’s not if the King’s guard will find us here, but when.”

“Yeah, yeah, just wait outside,” she told him, waving him away.

He left and when she looked back down, the lamp was gone.

“Satisfied?” Griff asked as they drove away into the black desert. “I told Lance this shit stops here, I don’t care how much you maniacs want to pay me. I don’t like this fucking country.”

“Yeah,” Amy said. “I’m good. Really good.”


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