Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2009 Results




The Djinn

Copyright © Margaret Hayes 2009


"LIV'LL BE HOME SOON. AHH-HH, HAPPY HOUR. Where's that gin?" Tim shut down his computer, stretched and reached for the bottle. WHOOSH! a rush of air scattered his papers and the room was filled with white light. Instinctively, he covered his eyes with his right forearm, while groping to hold down pages of his embryonic novel with his left hand.

"I, the Djinn, am at your command, Master!" The voice was deep and as rich as chocolate.

Tim whipped around and almost collided with the most handsome young man he'd ever seen. "The wha... WHO? How the hell did you get in here?"

"You summoned me, Sire."

"I what? I didn't summon anybody. I was going to call it a day and have a gin."

"No need to call it a day, Sire. It is a day: Friday... And you have a Djinn: Me!"

"Come off it. Who are you, for Pete's sake?"

The intruder's brow furrowed. "Come off...? Who's Pete? I told you..."

"Yeah... you told me! You said you're one of those... Hey, I suppose you'll tell me next that you can make all my wishes come true, or something. Look here, one of my blackguard mates is behind these shenanigans... has you pretending to take everything literally; dressed you in that getup."

"Getup, Sire?" Injured, the Djinn touched his turban reverently. "By Muhammad, the one true prophet!... You've never before met a Djinn?"

"Met? I drink the stuff. I have a Sundowner at this time every afternoon: Gin and tonic." Tim reached for the bottle again.

His visitor brightened. "Tonic with me? Tonic is medicine, yes? Makes you feel better? Me?"

"Don't know about you - or the tonic. The Gin works wonders."

"Yes, yes. I do work wonders." The Djinn's eyes sparkled. "Let me show you, Sire."

"Let me show you a drink. Do you want one, or don't you? This, here, is a bottle of gin." Tim waved it and put it down. He reached into the bar fridge and pulled out a small bottle of tonic-water. "This is tonic. We put ice in the glass, some gin, some tonic and a bit of lemon..." He suited his actions to his words. "...And," with a flourish, "Bob's your uncle."

"No, I have not an uncle Bob." The young man leaned across, picked up the gin bottle and scanned the label. "Spelling incorrect, g-i-n. Should be d-j-i-n-n. Purest neutral spirit: That's right, spirit just one step lower than angels... I don't know this ALC/VOL 37.1%."

"A bit over a third alcoholic content. A good brew."

Luckily, Tim's reflexes worked well. He caught the bottle, as the other dropped it like a hot coal. "Watch it, Mate... Nearly lost the lot!"

"Alcohol! In Allah's name, I cannot let you drink this. This spirit is evil. I will save you, as well as serve you." He put his hand out to take the gin.

"Oh no, you don't!" Tim pushed it back into the bar and slammed the door. "Anyway, who are you really? Who put you up to this stunt? I still don't know what you're doing here."

"You called: where's that Djinn? So I came. I'm here to serve you."

"It sure doesn't sound as if you're going to serve me my gin. Where did you come from?"

"I came through the arches of the years. I can appear like this," he swiped his hands down his body. "Or like this:" A cobra, hood raised, prepared to strike. Tim gasped and drew back. Cold sweat trickled down his spine. In that instant, the cobra became a purring kitten and rubbed around his legs. Then, there stood the young man, grinning at him. Or did any of it happen? Tim gulped and shook his head to clear it.

"So... you're a Djinn? Kid's fairytale stuff: Genies coming out of lamps and bottles... pull the other one!"

"I beg your pardon, pull what other one, please?"

"You're kidding... joking! Where's the fancy-dress party?"

"No joke. I give you one wish. You'll see I am the Djinn."

"One wish? I thought you lot always made it three. What if the only thing I want is for you to buzz off, leave me alone?"

"Sire, do you know what you'd be asking?" the Djinn fretted. "If that were your one wish and you said, I wish..., that would then occur. But, yes, only one wish."

"You're telling me that if I say I wish... something, anything... it will come true?"

"That is correct. I urge you to think very carefully. Consider all the possible consequences of your desire. A wish, once granted, is irrevocable." The Djinn turned away. "Perhaps it is better I go?"

"Nah... this I gotta see! You reckon you can really do this wish-granting stuff?"

"It is so, Sire."

"Well go on, then. How about power... say I wanted to be the most powerful man in the world, boss of the lot. Or, even, just the leader of the country: perhaps I'd be able do a bit of good. I couldn't make a worse bloody hash of it than some. And I could do with the dough."

"You must state your wish clearly, Sire. Take very great care with the words. Remember, once said they cannot be recalled."

"But you could produce the goods... er, you could do it?"

The Djinn nodded.

Tim rubbed his chin. What a chance! Liv would look great as First Lady. But this was serious business - could be dangerous, even. No room for error... He groaned. His heart thumped against his ribs. He forced himself to breathe regularly. Top man in Oz... Australia... He had a few ideas he'd like to try. They sounded spot on, down in the pub with his mates. Hey, he wouldn't want to try anything anywhere else - what if something went wrong with his wish, and this weirdo put him in a garb like his own and dumped him in the Middle East, or somewhere? Didn't they assassinate their leaders over there? And, whoops! This fellow's very literal: dough wouldn't mean money to him. Would it be leavened or unleavened he wondered, wryly.

"Take your time." The Djinn produced a magic carpet and settled comfortably on it.

"Thanks, I'll give power a miss; could be complicated. How about fame? Rock star, movie star: something along those lines." Tim paused. Boy, I could do with a drink, he thought. Fat chance, with this fellow around! "Then, again..."

Tim's brow creased and he bit his bottom lip. Rock stars and movie stars lived in the limelight, had no privacy. Liv wouldn't like that. Anyway, fans were a fickle lot. You could soon be down on your uppers.

"My novel... lots of successful books, film rights, fantastic property in the Southern Highlands... Liv could have the lifestyle to which she'd like to become accustomed. What do you reckon?" he asked the Djinn.

"You, and you alone, must decide, Sire."

Tim restacked his pages lovingly. He was already guaranteed publication. No, he didn't want any help with this. He had something to prove, here... not only to himself, but to Liv. She'd seemed happy enough when he decided to take the year off teaching to finish his book. Encouraged him... even made a suggestion or two. Lately, though, she'd become a bit snappy, making the occasional snide remark about his drop in income. He didn't make a motza, with his casual bar job, but that was the agreement: he could have this year... make or break! She'd be fine, when his advance came through. But, for now, she'd become definitely snappy. Look how she'd reacted when he suggested they get a puppy: "A puppy! More work dumped on me. I know who'd have to look after it. Feed it. Clean up after it... "

He sighed. He loved Liv so much. But lately...

"It'd be great to win Lotto, though," he thought aloud. "Though why stop there? I could become filthy rich: another Richard Branston or Bill Gates, a multi-multi-millionaire. Liv and I could fly to Paris for dinner. Have our own plane. A yacht... But I wouldn't really enjoy too much frippery. Possessions don't always seem to bring happiness."

"That's very true, Master," nodded the Djinn. "Requests for wealth have always topped the list. But wealth can bring tragedy and despair. Happiness comes only to those who use their abundance wisely and well."

Happiness for me, right now, would be sipping my Sundowner, Tim reflected. He glanced at his watch, then checked the time with the wall-clock.

"That can't be right? We've been yaking on for ages. The clocks must have stopped. Unless you believe time can stand still."

"Your time is not relevant to me. I have been around for thousands of your years. While I am with you, you have all the time there is. When I leave you, your timepieces will tick on, as before. There is no need to rush your decision."

"Hmm-nm... My decision. I wonder... You know, I'm a pretty contented fellow. I don't really want a lot of material things. But love... they say, 'Love makes the world go round. Love conquors all.' I think we all need love, more than anything else."

"Ah. A harem, Sire. You are thinking you would like many wives; young, graceful. The epitome of womanhood. Beauties to match your every mood and grant your every whim."

"There's a thought - If I could get away with it," Tim grinned. "No, no. Nothing like that ... think of all the different kinds of love. The relationships that affect our lives. Man's ability to feel those emotions - to give and to receive... Look, I'm in this, way over my head. And I'm supposed to be a writer... What I'm trying to say is, don't you think this ability to love and be loved is what sets man apart? Ennobles him?"

"I have seen men ennobled by love. I have also seen them destroyed, Sire."

"Take Liv - my wife: I love her with all my heart and all my being. When I feel she loves me, I could save the world, single-handed. My self-esteem is right up there with the gods. "

"When you feel she loves you? You don't feel she loves you all the time?"

"Of course she loves me. It's just that sometimes, lately... Hey, I know what I want. I want to be sure. She's under a bit of a strain, while I'm getting this novel off my chest. If I could only be sure she'll hang in there with me... Oh, you know what I mean!... Until the 'Death-do-us-part' bit."

Tim struck his forehead with his fist. "Talk about having to watch your words! If I said that... about 'Death-do-us-part'... you'd probably bump - er, arrange for us to die - pretty soon. The idea seems to be to keep it short and to the point."

The Djinn's even, white teeth flashed in an angelic smile: "When you are ready, please express your wish clearly and accurately. Your exact request will be granted."

"Right. Here goes! I wish for enduring love. Unconditional love..."

"For you, Sire, the most devoted love known to man. Unconditional, indeed."

In the blink of an eye, the Djinn was gone, carpet and all. Tim shook his head, opened the bar and reached for his bottle. At last! he thought. "That didn't happen. If any of my mates found out, I'd be locked away, for sure. Or they'd reckon I'd already had 'a few too many'."

He found a fresh glass and was putting the ice into it, when he heard a whimper. He looked around. There it was, again.

"Nee-ee!

Where the magic carpet had been, sat a pup. It thumped the floor with its stumpy tail, cocked its head to one side and looked at him - one ear up; one ear down.

"Nee-ee?"

"Well... aren't you something! You little beauty, come here." He clicked his fingers. The puppy ran to him, leaving a little golden puddle where it had been. He picked it up and it began to lick his chin. "A bit hungry, hey? Let's see what we can find for you."

He put it down gently, just as Liv came in. He hadn't heard her car.

"Oh, Tim... no! Where did you get that? You'll have to find a good home for it. Ooh-ahh... look what it's done to the floor. That'll stain, for sure."

"Liv, you're home."

"You always were one for stating the obvious. Get rid of that dog. We can't keep it."

He put his arm around her, and leaned towards her for a kiss. She pushed him away. The excited pup was dancing around them.

"Let's talk about it, while we have our 'Sundowner'. I was just getting..."

"First, who's going to clean up that mess? And what do you plan to feed this pup?"

Feed it? he thought. That's a breakthrough. "I'll fix all that. Right now, I'll clean up the mess and give it some Weetbix... mince... something. Get yourself comfortable. Then, I'll tell you all about it, while we have our drink."

"You never change, do you?" she said, as she went to change her clothes. He noticed her little smile. Things were looking up.

*****

Tim drained the last of his gin, and said: "So, that's the story." The pup, its tummy now full, was curled, sleeping, on his lap.

Liv sighed. "Ask a writer a question, and what do you get?... A good story. What else would I expect?" She kissed him lightly on the forehead, as she took his glass. "Another?"

He nodded. Just then, the sound of the Djinn's laughter reached him, echoing through the centuries: "Yes, indeed. Unconditional, lasting love. "

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Bio:
Margaret Hayes was born Margaret Rose Crossingham, on the 718th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. She grew with the freedom of a young colt, on the family farm at Stewarts River, 24 miles north of her birthplace, Taree. She trained as a teacher at Newcastle T.C. Later, as a mature student, she studied for her B.A. by distance education, at U.N.E. She taught in the Liverpool Region, then North Sydney Region. She has three children, seven grandchildren and twelve greatgrandchildren.