The Amulet Test
Warning – the spoiler starts here. Do not read the next two paragraphs if you intend to read the actual novel.
The main character, Tim, is an aspiring writer working on a book about the eccentrics of New Orleans. He puts an ad in the paper searching for people who have “lived an unusual and exciting life”, and an old lady answers the ad. It takes five interviews for her to tell the complete story of her life, which is no wonder given that she was born in 1294, or “sump’m like dat. Course it’s long ago, and it all gets smoggy, like”. In case you’re wondering, the lady was born in Italy, and has somehow managed to retain a thick Italian accent after all these years. She tells Tim a story about how in her younger days she came across an ancient Chinese amulet that gave its owner infinite luck and longer life for the first five hundred months that the person owned it. But if the owner tried to hold to the amulet any longer, both the luck and the long life were taken away from him. Needless to say, the lady had got rid of her amulet just in time, and has therefore lived for another six or so hundred years to follow its route around the world. And, in an amazing plot twist, she proceeds to tell Tim that the amulet is now right there in New Orleans, more than that – that it is on sale in the antique shop on the first floor of her apartment building, and that Tim has to buy it, otherwise he cannot publish her story – in her own words, “Well, I’ma gonna make you rich whether or no. If you don’t buy da amulet, you canna use my story in you book”.
Tim, who doesn’t believe a word about the amulet’s magic qualities, reluctantly pays eight bucks for it, then gets rid of it on the spot, giving it to a crippled neighborhood bum in place of the spare change. He proceeds to write the book, which sells “exactly fifty-seven copies”, and there his writing career ends. This is not the end of the novel, though. It ends with a small scene wherein the bum shows up in a stretch limo, looking rich and having even magically grown a pair of legs he didn’t have before. So, there you have it in a nutshell, although I suggest you read it anyway, if only to enjoy the language.
By now you’re probably wondering how this story managed to get me thinking. Well, I started by imagining what I would do if I got a hold of the amulet. Of course, my wild dreams always start with “First, I’m gonna pay the house off…” I was right in the middle of dreaming about quitting my job when I realized that, from the Christian standpoint, I have no business having the stupid amulet in the first place! I mean, it’s magic and it’s cheating and overriding the will of God and all other bad things. So no, I could not have it even if I were offered.
Now that really blew the wind out of my sails. In the meantime, my brain kept working. Can I only have it for one day, just to pay the house off? Or, better yet, maybe I can get it on the day when my kids get their report cards, this way, for once in their lives, they may get all A’s. Yeah, that sounds good. Keep it for one day, then get rid of it. Um, no, that’s still cheating. Or how about I keep it as a souvenir? You know, pretend that I don’t believe it actually works. Would that be okay? Nope, afraid not.
But what if the amulet were forced on me, like it was on Tim? Can I have it then? I mean, if I give it away, wouldn’t I be doing that person a disservice, it being magic and a bad thing and all? Wouldn’t it be an act of self-sacrifice for me to keep it? Okay, probably not.
All right, so I need to give it away… who do I give it away to? Cannot be my family, what with the magic and all. What about donating? Will it work that way? If I give it to an AIDS research foundation, will it help them find a cure for AIDS? Or what about giving it to a pet? Say, you tie it around a dog’s neck. What’s going to happen to the dog? What is infinite luck, for a dog? One can only wonder. Growing his family jewels back, maybe? Will the dog's owners thank me for giving their pet an extra thousand years of life? I've never had a dog so I'm really not sure.
Will it work on inanimate objects? If I attach it to a production server at work, will it mean that the server will never crash? All of a sudden I realized there are so many things to try with the amulet. Instead of just holding on to it for forty years, you can do all sorts of experiments with that thing. Now wouldn’t that be fun?
Of course, that’s just me. Other people might react very differently if they got hold of this amulet. I11, for example, just might take it apart to figure out how it works!