Plot Summary:

"The Ultimate Wish"
by E. Mayne Hull

"The Ultimate Wish" appeared in the same issue as van Vogt's "The Witch," and is the first of E. Mayne Hull's Wish series of stories. Forming a loose trilogy of permutations of the same idea, the other two are "The Wishes We Make" and "The Wellwisher."

A bitter, hunchbacked woman named Lola Pimmons is a secretary at a contractor's firm and is abused verbally every day by her co-workers.

One morning she is visited by a creature who will grant one wish for her, and she has until six that evening to make it. (He had lost a bet with another of his kind, and the price is to grant one of her wishes.) The creature appears to her throughout the day in various guises to ask her if she is ready to make her wish. She takes her time in considering it. At one point she is in the process of transcribing a letter for her boss, for whom she has a raging desire, and asks the creature if it can make him love her. The creature explains that it can only do so to an extent, and he would merely pity her. The possibility comes up of having him suffer an accident in which he will likewise be mutilated, and marry her out of desperation; or of the creature creating a financial scandal, allowing her to blackmail him into marrying her. However, Lola complains that the first instance isn't exactly what she wants, and there are numerous complications to the second (including his arrest and ten-year prison sentence shortly after their marriage, since the government will find out about the scandal no matter what).

Later, she asks the creature about money. It can only bestow on her a hundred thousand dollars, and even then only if she obtains a sweepstakes ticket; but what she does with it is her own affair, and it will not be able to bring her love. Frustrated, she then asks if there is an ultimate wish that would solve everything, get rid of all her problems and worries. The creature reluctantly responds that there is, but she wouldn't like it and he is not permitted to reveal what it is. She then asks about beauty, and the creature explains that although she may become beautiful, her repulsive character and exploitive nature would repel men more than her beauty would attract them. And besides, the only way the creature would grant that wish would be for her to get in an accident and have her face mutilated; the doctors would fix it up to be better than before, but she would be in heavy debt once she tries to pay the bills for the operation. Lola is outraged, and then asks what kind of bet he won. He explains that a week ago he bet no-one could be so base as to be nasty to the little old lady standing on the street-corner minding her own business; Lola walked by and was quite spiteful to her. Now very angry at the creature, she argues about all its conditions and trickery. The creature, seeing what a state she is in, then asks if she wants revenge on people who were unkind to her; however, he can only kill up to twelve people. Lola admits that that would be useless, because another group of people would simply replace them and continue mistreating her. The creature offers contentment with her lot, and she angrily refuses.

Convinced that nothing except the ultimate wish would be enough for her, she choses it. The creature warns her that she has no idea what it is; however, the word "ultimate" has triggered her greed and she wants it no matter what it is. He grants it and disappears. Even more angry, apparently cheated of her wish, she storms off and onto the street where she is hit by truck, killing her instantly. The ultimate wish is death. All her problems are solved and she'll never have to worry or be unhappy again.


A strange, rather confusing but quite memorable story; the creature granting the wishes is very similar to the one in her other wish stories. The idea of an "ultimate wish" is quite a satisfying one, though. In pages 74-5 of his autobiography van Vogt related the development of this story:

One of the stories Mayne wrote for Unknown Worlds was titled "The Ultimate Wish." When she got the idea, she said to me, "What is the ultimate wish?"
I said, "Well, you'd better start figuring."
So, as she was doing housework, she'd come in to me once in a while and say "It's not money, is it?"
"It's not beauty?"
The idea was that somebody — the main character — is given one wish, and wants it to be the ultimate wish. So what could it be?
I said, "All these others are things the main character should toy with; you must have these along in connection with the story idea. You can't just have a wish story. There has to be a story idea with it."
Finally, after about three weeks, she got it. As soon as she told me, I knew it. No other wish would have the proper suspense — it had to be that, and so the mood must lead up to it. I said, "Okay, you've got it now."