Thursday, July 18, 2013

Short Story: The Djinn

A traveler came upon the opening of a cave exposed by a mudslide, and, seeking shelter for the night, he entered the maw. Inside he discovered the usual: piles of gold and silver, gems of all sizes and shapes, treasures beyond the imagination, and of course a small oil-lamp, which did not have the same luster as the rest of the riches, being tarnished by natural forces. Knowing full well that the lamp was therefore the least obviously supernatural object in the cave, it must also be the most important, and since he was familiar with myths of Djinn and the three wishes the creature would grant, he rubbed the lamp, pretending that he was shining it (for effect). He was still somewhat surprised when a giant, iridescent being appeared from the spout of the lamp, but perhaps he was only startled; he set the lamp on the floor and gave a low bow to the Djinn, hoping that it was not the vengeful type most typically found in the Arabian Nights, of which he’d read enough of to know the dangers.

“Who dares disturb the Djinn of the Lamp?” Boomed the supernatural being. He (or it) seemed to be made of plasma, or at least very hot gas, being somewhat transparent but also giving off a significant amount of prismatic light. His eyes were glowing brighter than the sun, and his arms were folded exactly how you’d expect them to be.

“It is I,” said our bowing protagonist, “a simple traveler, who has awakened you.”

“So it is. Tell me humble traveler, what are your deepest wishes, for I will make them come true. I will grant you three such wishes, by the grace of Allah.”

“Three then…” the traveler rose from his bow and looked the Djinn head to lamp, then hummed to himself.

“What is your first wish?”

“Hold on a moment!” The traveler raised his hands in protest. “You haven’t told me the rules!”

The Djinn let out a terrible yell which shook the cavern and caused some of the treasures to avalanche. “The Rules?” He bellowed in contempt, perhaps, and then began chuckling. “What do you mean, rules?”

“Well!” The traveler sat down on a pile of gold. “Aren’t there rules? For example, could I, hypothetically, wish for more wishes?”

“You could!”

“But would you give me more?”

The Djinn gave a great laugh, which reverberated in the chamber for almost a minute. “You are wise, humble traveler! I would not give you more wishes. By the Grace of Allah a man can have three and three only!”

“Ah, I see…” the traveler thought this over for a second. “So I wouldn’t be able to wish for more Djinns, either.”

In that moment the brightness of the Djinn faded and his form became more solid. His eyes lost some of their glow, and his arms dropped limply to his sides. “More… Djinn?” His frown became not a terrible countenance but the simple look of the perplexed. “Come on,” he said in a no-longer booming voice, “you can’t seriously believe that I would, or even could, make more Djinn for you.”

The traveler nodded. “That’s what I’m talking about. Rules. Restrictions. Limits to your power.”

“My powers come from Allah. If he wishes me to have limitless power, it will be so.”

“Right. But not right now.”

The Djinn looked defeated, wearing an expression of someone who had just discovered that they were under-dressed for an occasion. “No. Not right now.”

“So what is the extent of your power?”

The Djinn became terrifying again, his body glowing more brightly than before, his eyes like a thousand suns… his arms folded across his chest. His voice was like thunder or something else very loud. “Humble Traveller! You have not made any wishes!”

Keeping his cool (although the reversion of the Djinn had caught him off guard) the traveler lowered his hands (which had been protecting his face instinctually) and grinned like an idiot. “Is there a time frame?”

“What!?”

“How long do I have to make the wishes?”

The Djinn’s shoulders slumped, and all the glow went out of him. “Seriously dude?”

“Yeah. I mean, I have questions. Is it alright for me to ask, or will I lose my wishes?”

The Djinn glared at him, but then said, in monotone, “By the Grace of Allah you have three wishes.” He let out a huge sigh (which the traveler noted, wondering if the Djinn respired or feigned the behavior) and folded his arms in a lazy, comfortable way. “Ask your questions.”

The traveler smirked. “Thanks… I mean, here I am, standing with a massively ancient being of incredible power, and, well, I’d be foolish of me not to learn as much as I could.”

Now the Djinn smirked, but twitched the smile away. “Why not wish for all knowledge? I could give you the wisdom of Allah, the divine understanding of all things!”

The traveler raised an eyebrow, nodded, and scratched his chin. “Yes,” he said, “but that would most certainly kill me, wouldn’t it?”

The Djinn’s mouth hung open.

The traveler continued. “giving me all the knowledge that exists in the universe would cause my head to become so heavy that it would likely collapse into a singularity. At the very least, I’d become so confused that I wouldn’t be able to function; no, honorable Djinn, I won’t be wishing for Cosmic Understanding, that is for certain!”

The Djinn wiped his hand on his forehead. “You are wise, humble traveler.”

“Every action has consequences. That’s why I must be extra cautious with my wishes. I might cause myself or someone I love great harm!”

“You are trying my patience! Why not wish for riches, immortality, or power?”

The traveler scratched his chin and thought. Then: “No, I don’t think any of those wishes will do, not without a lot of forethought!”

The Djinn simply waited.

“Suppose I wish for riches? Well, our societies are so advanced that we have nearly infallible record-keeping. Perhaps I wish for millions of dollars… where do those dollars come from? Our paper money has serial numbers, so that counterfeit bills are easily found. Sooner or later, someone would notice all of that extra money, and I’d go to jail. I could never take the money to the bank; they’d notice immediately. Perhaps the money came from someone else? Why, I could ruin them, and who knows what consequence could come from that! I could put hundreds or thousands out of work. No, I don’t wish for riches that way.”

“What about Power?” asked the bewildered Djinn.

“Power,” the traveler folded his arms. “What kind of power? I don’t wish to rule a nation, or even the planet. Frankly, I doubt I’d be any good at either. I don’t know much about politics, or economics, or any of that sort of thing; I’m a simple traveler. Likely, if I wished myself into power, I would come to a grisly end after a few short years, when the people could no longer stand my ineptitude.”

The traveler nodded. “And immortality! What a bittersweet gift that would be! To watch the empires rise and fall… and eventually fall forever. Who wants to be alone for a billion years before the end? And what if there is an afterlife? Would living forever prevent me from gaining everlasting life in paradise? And more to the point,” continued the excited traveler,” in what capacity would I live forever? What if someone chopped my head off! Why, I wouldn’t wish to spend a minute as a head without a body, let alone thousands or millions of years.”

The Djinn raised his hands. “Just… just… forget…”

But the traveler continued as if he hadn’t heard. “I’d have to wish that I was also impervious, but then, what if this conflicted with my natural body functions? Our cells are designed to die after a certain number of divisions… imagine, I wish to be immortal and impervious, and then suffer from systematic, body-wide cancer…” the traveler placed a hand on his cheek, wide eyed. “Yeash! You can see why this is difficult for me.”

During the rant, the Djinn had formed legs for himself, and was now seated on a pile of gold coins, his head in his hands. He was silent.

The traveler looked at the Djinn for a while, a finger to his lips, pondering. At last he asked “Do you wish to be free?”

The Djinn looked up at him. “Free? How do you mean?”

“Well, aren’t you sick of being in that lamp?”

“Should I be?”

The traveler shrugged. “I wouldn’t want to be kept in one place for such a long time. Wouldn’t you like the freedom to do as you wish, to go where you wanted, to live life on your own terms?”

The brow of the Djinn was knit. He seemed deep in thought. Finally he answered. “My lamp is to me as the Earth is to you.”

“But you have to follow the rules, and grant wishes!”

“I like granting wishes!” then, under his breath, “normally.”

“When was the last time you granted wishes?”

“About 10,000 years ago.”

The traveler scratched himself under the arm. “But that’s, well, that’s before civilization…”

“There is much you don’t know about the world, Humble Traveler.”

“Well, where shall we begin?”

The Djinn looked around at the cavern filled with splendors. He winced. “Now?”

The traveler smiled. “I wish for a nice, comfortable chair, great for sitting for hours on end, and a stack of notebooks… with a good, working pen!”

The Djinn closed his eyes as his mouth sat agape. “Really?”

“Yes. Can that be all one wish?”

“Sure, why not? Anything else?”

“Maybe a soda?”
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