Yes, I realize it’s the fifth and not the fourth of April but I was having severe migraines yesterday and couldn’t see worth a damn to write.
So here is yesterday’s offering (and I apologize for the title, really). It is a long short story and takes a bit to get to the horror part. I think that Earnest’s story will be quite a bit shorter. Desmond’s story is a little over 4,300 words long and I am at more than 11,000 words of my intended 50k. Yay me!
Enjoy! (and please, remember, NaNo posts = first drafts = no editing)
Djya say DJinn?
A hand shot into the air from the back of the class. “Professor! Is it true that you’re the one who discovered Rapunzel’s tower?”
Professor Desmond Dedrick smiled the charming smile that had by now graced so many magazines he’d lost count and heard several of the female students sigh with pleasure. “Yes it is, Bobby.”
The University of Glasgow students leaned forward expectantly as he preened a little before speaking. He knew he was good looking. He was 6’3” and swam religiously to maintain the sleek body he knew most women preferred. He lifted weights for practicality, most of what he did in the field was labour intensive. His hair was thick, a dark blond and, he thought, his second best feature. His first was not best shown to the general public. His teaching voice was carefully modulated to be masculine but almost lyrical. His students loved him, when he was there.
Desmond told them the tale of stumbling on Rapunzel’s tower when he was looking for something else entirely. He was so used to telling the story that his mind turned to his current project – Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. He was pretty sure that the cave lie not in the Arabian Desert, as the story insisted, but across the Red Sea in East Africa, Eritrea, specifically. He felt the cave was buried in the Emba Soira mountain range in Eritrea and he had a really good idea where.
He had wasted a lot of time in the Jabal an Nabi Shu’ayb range until he realized that the cave systems were too open, too obvious, just as the story seemed to make it. If there was one thing he’d learned from solving the Hansel and Gretel story, not everything was as pretty and in your face as the story tellers would have you believe.
After a lot more research, Desmond came to believe that the forty thieves of Scheherazade’s stories were pirates. They docked, he felt, in a cove near the Jalua Volcano and made the forty kilometer trek inland to hide their treasure in a cave accessed through tunnels that may or may not begin in the foothills.
“Yes? My apologies, my brain wandered away on its own.” Desmond smiled at the young man who had spoken before.
“There’s someone at the door. They refuse to come in.”
“Thank you, Bobby. Class dismissed! I will be gone for at least a week. Your senior TA, Juliette, will be handling all questions regarding next month’s exam and the final project you have due.” The class was a group of second year students either just getting serious about archeology or still waffling about their major. “The project will help me help you decide which of you will move on to third year and which of you will not. Good afternoon!” He called over the bustle of everyone getting together.
The man outside the door ducked his head down, hiding behind his hat and the file folder he held in his hand as the students passed by him. He cursed the professor for emptying the classroom instead of coming out to him but at the same time, he was pleased.
Desmond appeared at the door and waved the man in before locking the door. “What do you have for me, Donovan?”
Donovan handed over the file. “We found the remains of a ship and a small village, right where you said it would be. That folder contains the GPS co-ordinates, your tickets to Asmara and the information about your guide from there. Make sure that you treat your guide with respect and care.”
Desmond laughed that big laugh that his students found infectious. “Don’t I always?”
“No,” the other man said quietly, “you don’t. But you absolutely MUST with this one. There will be hell to pay if you don’t.” Donovan gave his friend a serious look. Only when Desmond nodded in agreement did Donovan smile and slap his hand on the back. “Let’s go, your flight leaves in two hours. I took the liberty of having Catherine pack your bags.”
Desmond’s eyes turned smoky at the mention of Catherine, Donovan’s assistant. He was a collector of woman and she steadily refused to succumb to his advances. “You know, I could probably use another set of hands on this trip.”
Donovan laughed. “Forget it, I need her at the office.”
Some seventeen hours later, Desmond landed in Asmara and immediately began sweating. He grabbed his bags from the carousel and looked around for any sign of his guide. There was no one so he went into the washroom and washed up quickly in the sink. Donning a lighter shirt, he repacked his bag and stepped out, nearly treading on a dark skinned man almost his size but half his age. “Excuse me,” Desmond said, not altogether politely.
“Pardon me, my fault entirely.” The young man gave a little bow. He was dressed in a loud Hawaiian style shirt, long khaki shorts with thong sandals on his feet. He was also holding a sign with the word “DEDRICK” on it dangling from one hand.
“You’re my guide?” Desmond asked with some disbelief.
“You are Professor Dedrick?” The man’s face lit up with a smile then he reached out and grabbed Desmond’s right hand, mercifully free of bags, and pumped it up and down. “I am so pleased to meet you! My Rezantos, Ramses, will be so pleased! I am Ammon.”
“Uh… Yes, I am.” Desmond looked bemused as he was relieved of his bags and ushered, almost herded, out to an old Jeep. He knew, from studying the file, that Ramses was the leader, nearly king, of the Saho tribe that would be assisting him with this dig. Even with his gift of languages, Saho was too confusing for him to pick up.
“In, in! I will take you to your base camp. The Rezantos awaits!” Ammon ran around the side of the Jeep, tossing Desmond’s bags in, making the professor left and lower a hand as he bit back the expletive and simply prayed his equipment would be in one piece.
The ride was bumpy, hellacious and left Desmond sweating, swearing and sick to his stomach. Once they stopped, he hurtled himself out of the car and onto his knees. He heaved great gulping breaths, trying not to hurl the bile in his stomach, which was the only thing there. It had been hours since the lousy meal on the plane but he was pretty sure he was about bring it back up.
Two women rushed to his side. “Professor!” The rest of what they said was in the Saho language and incomprehensible. One helped his feet and another offered him a skin bag he assumed was water. He grabbed the bag and drank greedily until they urged him to stop.
“I am sorry, Chief. Roads are bad. Too many twists and turns and bumps.” He slapped Desmond on the back. “Come! The Rezantos, he wants to meet you. He is eager to see what you are doing.” Desmond straightened up, offered his charming smile to the two women who had brought him water and let Ammon lead him to Ramses. There was dinner and dancing and a huge fire in the night. He staggered into a tent and fell face first onto a bed that was made of a cot, a piece of foam and several heavy blankets to protect against the freezing temperatures of the desert night. He didn’t notice the woman taking his boots and socks off. He didn’t notice him removing his shirt and smoothing a thick cream into his shoulders and the back of his neck or how she finally tucked him in.
The next morning, he woke at dawn, feeling energetic, refreshed and ready to go. He dressed, shaved and strode from his tent and, once again, ran smack into Ammon. “This is becoming a habit,” he said with amusement as Ammon apologized again.
“My Rezantos wishes to see you before you begin this morning, Chief.” Ammon herded Desmond towards the leader’s home. There he acted as translator for Desmond and Ramses until both were satisfied.
It took three days of walking and searching in a half circle wedge pattern that ranged out from the discovered village remains before Desmond found the cues he was looking for, deep in the foothills. Each wedge of the search pattern had been fifteen kilometers long but on this day, Desmond had continued after dark.
“No, no! You must not!” Ammon insisted. “There are ghosts in the dark. And many large animals that come out to hunt. It is safer with the fire.”
“Then we will make torches and burn them brightly.” Desmond laid a hand on Ammon’s shoulder. “I cannot leave without knowing for certain.”
“Leave? We were led to believe you would be here for a full seven days.”
Desmond shook his head. “We are already outside where I thought it would be. If I don’t find it today then I will have to leave.” He watched as Ammon argued with, and shouted at, the men with them. All but one left as Ammon shook his fist at their retreating backs. When Desmond gave the other man a questioning look, he straightened his back and thumped his fist on his chest, as if to say that he wasn’t afraid.
Together, the three men made torches out of dead tree branches, bark, strips from the bottoms of their shirts, and the wire and fuel that Desmond carried in the pouches on the belt he always wore. Donovan always made fun of it, calling it a Batman utility belt wannabe. Now, Desmond snorted at the memory, as he always did when the belt was useful. He pulled out his lighter and lit each torch carefully.
He took a moment to center himself and reached out with his senses. He just knew that cave was nearby. It was the same way he’d found everything else. He called it instinct but it was more. He only used it when he was incredibly frustrated because it felt like cheating to him. This time, Desmond’s gut feeling pulled him to the north and a little west, deeper into the foothills.
They walked for another two hours before there was a glimmer high on one of the stone walls that surrounded them. Desmond held his breath as he ran, stumbled, tripped to get closer. The glimmer is a sigil, one that he’d found in his research. “Look at the walls! Find another one!”
It took them another hour before they found the largest one. It was on a cave wall that seemed to be smooth and whole. Desmond handed his torch to Ammon in order to study the wall and the nearly invisible cracks along it. Suddenly, he flung his arms up and shouted, “Open, Sesame!”
The three men held their breaths for a long moment before, with a loud CRACK! a portion of the wall pushed out then slid to the side. It stopped after only a couple of meters. It took quite a while before the three were brave enough to step inside that cave.
It took a moment for Desmond’s eyes to adjust but when they did they nearly bugged out of his head. Piles of gold, pottery, silver, silks and treasure of all kinds, were in piles here and there, some of them piled haphazardly. Suddenly, trail of flame raced along the walls and brightened the room so that all that glittered became blinding. He turned to find that Ammon had touched the flame to a pool of oil settled in a small basin by the door. Ammon shrugged an apology but Desmond didn’t care.
All that mattered was that he was right. He’d found the caves of the forty thieves!
The Saho men stayed by the door, too afraid to move further but Desmond explored the cave, touching this and that. He poured jewels from one hand to another, rubbed silks on his face. He found an old lamp and, for some reason, carried it with him. He found a cache of weapons and tucked an old dagger under his belt.
“Come, come! It’s time to go back,” Desmond said excitedly. “I need to tell Donovan that I found it!”
As soon as they were clear of the cave, and he’d closed it, he wrenched the sat phone off his belt and was surprised to see the lamp still in his hand. “Donovan! I found it!” He listened to the excited chatter on the other end. “Yes, yes…Yes! …No. It’s bigger than I thought. I’ll need at least The MaryAnn and twenty men.” He named his ship, a large research vessel he’d had to have retrofitted to contain his gear, tools and storage compartments. “Call Mr. Hakimi over at the Cairo Museum and Mr. Singh in London. They’ll both need to come down. I’ll send my friend here to pick them up from the airport.” He smiled at Ammon. That little bit of evil was his own, for the trouble each man has caused him in the past. “We’ll deal with the Americans when the time comes. Is there anyone in Africa who needs to be notified? …Okay, call him too.”
Desmond hung up his phone and, with renewed energy, set off at a jog back toward the small tent village.
The next morning, he woke up rejuvenated, again, and realized that he was still holding the lamp. He sat and studied it. There was an inscription on it he couldn’t read for the dirt encrusted in it. He had been quite surprised to find such a thing among the glitter in the cave. He rubbed at the inscription with a piece of soft cloth. As soon as the cloth touched it, the lamp shook slightly.
Startled, Desmond stopped. He stared at it for a long moment then tried to set it down. It was stuck to his hand. He began to sweat when, after opening his hand as wide as he could, with fingers at full extension, the lamp stayed stuck to his hand. He took a long deep breath and decided that the lamp wanted to be taken back to the cave, so he would do that. He dressed quickly, if awkwardly, though the lamp did seem to adjust itself to get through his sleeves.
He stepped out of his tent to find a small group of people waiting for him, with Ammon at the head. As one, the group gasped and took a step backward. “What? What is wrong?”
“You… You do not look the same as you did yesterday morning, Chief.” Ammon almost looked horrified.
“What? What do you mean?” Desmond didn’t feel any different. Ammon snapped out a word and someone scrambled to hand Desmond a mirror. He lifted it to his face as his stomach clenched in the first real fear he had felt in years. He loved his looks, used them often. He had known he was good looking from the age of four. Women and little girls fell all over themselves to make him smile. He focused on his image and gave a wordless cry.
“I am so sorry, Chief!” Ammon sympathised. He turned to listen as one of the village’s women elders pointed at Desmond’s hand and spoke urgently. He looked back at Desmond with some consideration. “She says that there is a legend attached to the lamp you hold.”
Desmond almost threw the mirror away but instead studied his image again. He had aged ten years overnight. The sun bleached streaks that were woven into his dark hair had turned white. He had crow’s feet around his eyes and lines bracketing his mouth. He turned his head side to side, examining the look. He decided he could work with it. However, as he studied his face, new wrinkles and more white appeared in his hair. Terrified, he threw the mirror away.
“What? What is the legend, man!?” Desmond grabbed Ammon with his free hand.
Ammon hastily freed himself. “It is said that the lamp will lay dormant for many years, centuries even, but as soon as someone such as you touches it –”
Desmond interrupted. “Like me? What do you mean like me??”
“Someone who is healthy and has a strong, vital life force.”
“What does it do?” He looked panicked and reached for Ammon again.
Ammon backed up a step. “It will suck the life force from you in order to revitalize the genie inside it.”
Slowly, Desmond lifted the lamp to stare at it. It seemed to stare back at him. Finally he lifted his hand to rub it. He stroked it once with his sleeve and a sense of urgency came over him so he scrubbed hard at it. The lamp rattled and shook and began to hiss and yet he could not stop rubbing. Smoke began to spew from the spout to pile on the ground and shape itself in a way that reminded him of the old show I Dream of Jeannie. Only when the smoke stopped was he able to stop rubbing. He watched the smoke firm itself and coalesce into the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
She had sun kissed skin, an hourglass figure and thick, wavy black hair that tumbled around her shoulders. He found himself gazing into chocolate brown almond eyes set in a heart shaped face. She had a perfect, straight nose and the incredibly kissable lips that were curved into a smile. A slim chain adorned with lavender pearls draped her head with a length running down her part to divide and curve over her forehead and bow towards the back of her head. She was draped in gauze with three scarves as a belt and hammered gold cuffs around her wrists and ankles.
Desmond didn’t hear the screams and cries and shouted prayers of the villagers. He didn’t hear Ammon’s desperate pleas for him to step away and not say anything. He didn’t notice that the lamp was taken gently from his fingers until he saw it cradled in the woman’s fingers.
“Good day, my master,” she said in accented but perfect English. “I am a Djinn and my name is Sheherazade. I am pleased to meet you.”
“Sheherazade?” Desmond’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Are you not the woman of a thousand and one tales?” At once, his fear turned into curiousity.
“You have heard of me?” She blushed and looked at the ground. “Do the stories displease you, master?”
“No, I… Wait, why are you calling me master?”
“You have freed me from my slumber, I am yours to command. Thrice you may command me. If you choose, you may free me from my lamp forever. I must give you whatever you wish for.”
Immediately, Desmond’s greatest wish popped into his head and out of his mouth on a wistful sigh. “I wish I could understand all languages, written or spoken.”
“As you command.” She touched his forehead and immediately it seemed as if everyone around him was speaking English.
“Wait! I didn’t meant to ask for that.”
“I did warn you, my master.” She smiled gently. “You may command me but twice more.”
“Ch-Chief.” Ammon approached him cautiously. “The telephone on your belt has been ringing. And,” he bit his lip, “you have aged again.” As Desmond whipped the phone off his belt, Sheherazade gave Ammon a look that had him quaking in his boots but he stood firm. “I have heard of you,” he said. “I will not let you take this man.”
The Djinn smiled coldly. “You have no say in the matter.” She disappeared and reappeared right in front of him, chest to chest. She gripped the back of his head and pressed her lips to his. She sucked the life out of him. Twenty-one year old Ammon aged then shriveled and turned to dust. Sheherazade licked her lips and stared at the rest of the villagers. As one, they turned their backs on her and ignored her. She smiled smugly, pleased, and returned to her place by Desmond’s side.
As he hung up the phone, she touched his arm gently. An electric shock jumped from her to him but she soothed it with a stroke and he ignored it. Smiling, she asked, “Master, would you not like to see the cave of treasures again? I can transport you right there.”
Desmond gave her a cautious look. “Would that be a wish?”
“Oh, no, of course not. I have offered to do it for you.”
“Then yes, I would.” He turned, looking for Ammon. “Where is Ammon?”
Sheherazade shrugged delicately. “I do not know,” she said in a soft but sweetly sad voice. “He said that he would not work with you if I was around and left.”
Before he fully understood what he was doing, he spoke in Saho to the nearest person. “Tell Ammon that he needs to pick up those men at the airport around midnight.” As he waited for an answer, Sheherazade wrapped her hand around his wrist.
With a sickening wrench in his gut, he found himself standing in the cave. “This is wonderful! All this history! And I proved that Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves is real! This will be the crowning achievement of my career so far.”
“I am happy that you are so happy, my master!”
Desmond stretched his back and noticed an ache in his lower spine and his hips. “I need to explore this cave. It looks like a system of caves.” He went from the large front room to the back and found several corridors. The Djinn trailed after him.
Desmond began to move slower and slower. He explored a room full of silks that were miraculously intact. Not a single moth hole in any of the fabrics. He moved on and found dishes made of bone and ones of delicate china that was beautifully hand painted. In another room, he knelt to look at a stack of Persian rugs and found he had trouble getting up. Sheherazade helped him to his feet and he groaned at the effort and the amount of pain it took.
“Come,” she said, “You should rest. You have been at this for hours. There is a room with furniture in it. I know there is a comfortable divan. I will provide food and wine.” She led him to it and settled him into the seat. A table held a tray with a plate, a knife and fork and a goblet.
He smiled at her. “Thank you, I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Sheherazade smiled. “Let us pray you never find out.” She handed him a silver goblet and turned to get the pitcher of wine.
Desmond lifted the goblet and twisted it to look at the engravings. He caught his reflection and howled in dismay. “What have you done to me? I am an old man!” His cheeks were sunken and his eye sockets nearly hollow. His skin hung limply from his skull. It was then that he noticed the paper white, frail skin dotted with liver spots. He grabbed the knife from the tray and plunged it into her neck.
Hot blood spurted all over and Sheherazade screamed. He twisted the knife and left it in there, holding on grimly while she fought him. As her blood coated him, he began to feel stronger. She fell, limp and bloody, to the floor and he stared at her corpse, aghast.
“No, no, no! What have I done! I cannot live without you, Sheherazade!” The knife was still in his hand and he used it to slash his wrists. The declaration and action shocked him but he could not stop it.
As his blood joined hers, he began to die. “I wish I had not done it! I wish I had freed you instead. We could have made a life together.” With his last breath, he watched her spring to her feet.
She waved a hand and closed his wounds. She took the knife from him and leaned over him. Her eyes were black pits with fire burning in them. “Fool,” she spat. “I am immortal.” She stood and stared down at him as the lamp appeared in her hand.
Sheherazade smiled. “The lamp must have a captive.” With a wave of her hand, she wrapped him in magic and restored him to himself at his most handsome and charming. “A gift from the lamp, your youth and your looks.” She put the lamp on the floor near him and waved her hand again.
Smoke crept from the lamp to circle Desmond’s feet. He struggled but her magic held him. The smoke burned as it climbed over him, changing him until he was nothing but a pale grey fog.
“In you go,” she said. The smoke reversed and sucked Desmond into the lamp.
He landed in a posh living center that, again, reminded him of I Dream of Jeannie. He wondered suddenly, if there had been another lamp and another victim and another Djinn freed, who decided to make light of it. “No!” he shouted. “You can’t keep me here!” He climbed on the couch that rimmed the edge of the lamp and banged on the walls. “Let me out!”
Sheherazade picked up the lamp and smiled at it. “And as a gift to me,” she said, knowing he could hear her, “the lamp has given me your life. My name is Davina Dedrick and I am the greatest archeologist of all time. You will have two hundred years to think before anyone will begin to think of searching for the cave you will be buried in. Good bye, Desmond.”
The lamp winked out of Davina’s hand and reappeared halfway around the world, stuck in a pile of ice, while Desmond screamed into the silence.