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SF short-shorts: ``Nellthu'' by Anthony Boucher

Ailsa had been easily the homeliest and the least talented girl in the University, if also the most logical and level-headed. Now, almost twenty-five years later, she was the most attractive woman Martin had ever seen and, to judge from their surroundings, by some lengths the richest.

"...so lucky running into you again after all these years," she was saying, in that indescribably aphrodisiac voice. "You know about publishers, and you can advise me on this novel. I was getting so tired of the piano...."

Martin had heard her piano recordings and knew they were superb---as the vocal recordings had been before them and the non-representational paintings before them and the fashion designs and that astonishing paper on prime numbers. He also knew that the income from all these together could hardly have furnished the Silver Room in which they dined or the Gold Room in which he later read the novel (which was of course superb) or the room whose color he never noticed because he did not sleep alone (and the word superb is inadequate).

There was only one answer, and Martin was gratified to observe that the coffee-bringing servant cast no shadow in the morning sun. While Ailsa still slept (superbly), Martin said, "So you're a demon."

"Naturally, sir," the unshadowed servant said, his eyes adoringly on the sleeper. "Nellthu, at your service."

"But such service! I can imagine Ailsa-that-was working out a good spell and even wishing logically. But I thought you fellows were limited in what you could grant."

"We are, sir. Three wishes."

"But she has wealth, beauty, youth, fame, a remarkable variety of talents---all on three wishes?"

"On one, sir. Oh, I foxed her prettily on the first two." Nellthu smiled reminiscently. "'Beauty'---but she didn't specify, and I made her the most beautiful centenarian in the world. "'Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice'---and of course nothing is beyond such dreams, and nothing she got. Ah, I was in form that day, sir! But the third wish...."

"Don't tell me she tried the old 'For my third wish I want three more wishes'! I thought that was illegal."

"It is, sir. The paradoxes involved go beyond even our powers. No, sir," said Nellthu, with a sort of rueful admiration, "her third wish was stronger than that. She said: 'I wish that you fall permanently and unselfishly in love with me.'"

"She was always logical," Martin admitted. "So for your own sake you had to make her beautiful and...adept, and since then you have been compelled to gratify her every---" He broke off and looked from the bed to the demon. "How lucky for me that she included 'unselfishly'!"

"Yes, sir," said Nellthu.


Copyright (c) 1955 by Anthony Boucher.
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Last updated: 2005/04/16 05:30:45
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