A girl, a genie, a few demons. Would could go wrong?
by Marva Dasef
The Setara’s Genie cover will be featured on You Gotta Read Cover Contest on April 7th.
At first, all I wanted was a little romance in my life, just the slightest bit of adventure. Was I seeking danger? Did I wish to consort with demons? Heavens, no! I will have to admit, though, the idea of being the future wife of a rich merchant was highly unappealing.
When the mountain raiders kidnapped me, I thought that I’d have neither adventure nor much future at all. Especially when the raiders threw me into the cave as a sacrifice to the demon who supposedly ruled within the mountain.
I’m happy to say that Basit wasn’t a demon at all, but a genie in search of a new master. I wondered what happened to his old master, and he assured me the man died of natural causes. I also wondered why Basit wasn’t in a bottle or lamp as the legends say. Again, he assured me that only the stupidest of djinns would get themselves caught in that manner. Genies choose their masters, and Basit thought that having a female master—a mistress, so to speak—would be a nice change of pace.
Once he forced me to figure out how to get out of the cave, he continued to be of little help. Well, that’s not entirely true. He did change a camp dog into a sheik (a handsome one, of course) when I asked him to, but that didn’t work out entirely. It seems that Basit prefers to have his charge (that’s me) figure out how to rescue herself. Sheik, when returned to his dog self, became my close companion from then on. So, something good did come from my wish for a rescuer. It just turned out not to be as romantic as I first believed.
Once I had tasted freedom and a touch of adventure, I hungered for more. It occurred to me that some other poor soul might be thrown into the cave for the demon to eat (even though there never was a demon), and it was up to me to rescue them.
I wasn’t sure how to get Basit’s attention, since he simply disappeared once I was safely home. It turned out that calling him worked eventually. I’ll have to say he sometimes takes his own sweet time to answer my summons. Not a very obedient djinn. I got used to him, though, and we enjoyed many adventures together. But our first adventure (after my initial rescue) turned out far different than I imagined. There was, indeed, a lost soul within the cave, but not exactly what I expected.
Abu Nuwas sits in the bazaar on his threadbare rug; a cup and sign proclaim him a teller of tales. For one small coin, he bids passers by to listen. A poor girl, Najda, sells spices from a tray. Would he, she asks, trade a tale for a packet of spice? Abu Nuwas agrees and begins the epic adventures of a girl and her genie.
As did Scheherazade before him, Abu leaves Najda hanging in the middle of each yarn to keep her coming back. Between stories, he questions the girl about her life. He discovers that she’s been promised in marriage to an old man whom she hates, but she must wed him to save her sick mother’s life. The rich bridegroom will pay for the doctors the mother needs. Meanwhile, Najda sells spices in the market to earn enough money to keep her mother alive.
He relates the adventures of the bored daughter of a rich merchant, Setara, and her genie, Basit, as they encounter the creatures of legend and folklore: a lonely cave demon seeking a home; a flying, fire-breathing horse who has lost his mate; a dragon searching for his family; an evil genie hunting for the man who put him in a lamp; and a merboy prince cast out of his undersea kingdom.
The cave looked much the same as the month before. Shrubbery partially covered the mouth, but someone had shoved most of it to one side. It didn’t look like anyone had been here since they escaped. Still, they continued cautiously to the opening and stood for a few moments considering whether to just go in.
Setara tapped her finger on her chin. “Oh, I’ve got it. Change Sheik into a mouse so he can enter quietly to see what’s inside.” Basit performed the transformation, and the tiny brown Sheik-mouse scurried into the cave.
A shrill scream emanated from the cave’s depths. Sheik came tearing out as fast as his little mouse legs could carry him. He stopped in front of Setara. “Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak-squeak.”
She looked at Basit, who shrugged his big shoulders.
Setara rolled her eyes. “He needs to be able to speak human language.” She thought it obvious.
Basit waved his hands.
Sheik said, “Squeak, squeak, squeak-squeak,” but in a human voice.
“What does that mean?” Setara was just about fed up with Basit’s tricks.
“Well, I can only assume a mouse’s squeaks translate to more squeaks, not to any actual words.”
“We’ll have to go in, then.” Setara did her best to sound brave. “First, change Sheik back into a dog.” Basit transformed Sheik yet again.
“After you,” Basit answered, sweeping a deep bow.
Setara hunched down and frog-walked through the low opening of the cave. Once inside, she stood up and peered into the dark depths. She saw two red, glowing eyes staring at her from across the cave. She jumped back, nearly tripping over Sheik, who had followed close behind her.
Suddenly, the eyes disappeared, and the sound of running feet came from the depths; then a tremendous thud echoed through the cave. A moan; then a groan; then silence.
Setara stood still, straining to hear anything else, but the cave was now quiet. Basit appeared next to her in a puff of smoke looking as puzzled as she did. Sheik whined deep in his throat, seemingly unsure whether a growl was justified.
The three adventurers took a step forward as if they shared the same thought. Perhaps the cry came from one of the poor souls kidnapped by the raiders. The captive might run if he or she thought they were the kidnappers, or even the mountain demon the raiders believed lived in this cavern.
Slowly, they wended their way down a tunnel that led deeper into the caverns. Basit flicked a flame alight on the tip of his finger, holding his hand high, so they could see beyond the shadows. Sheik sniffed the air, turning his head left and right to catch a scent. At least they could rely on the dog to find the source of the cries.
It did not take long before they found a figure huddled on the floor of the tunnel. Basit stuck out his foot and gingerly rolled the form to expose its face. Setara crouched to look, but immediately lurched backward and fell away from the body.
“What is it?” Basit whispered.
“A, a demon.” Setara’s voice trembled at the sight of the face staring blankly toward the ceiling. It certainly looked like a demon: the open eyes glowing red, the gaping mouth exposing long fangs overlapping the sharp row of teeth in the bottom jaw, the broad proboscis more snout than nose. Setara could now see the fallen creature was larger than she first thought, almost as big as Basit.
Sheik drew his lips back and snarled; the first time the dog had ever shown any bravery.
The red eyes slowly came to life. The three friends found themselves transfixed in the stare of a horrible demon.
“Don’t hurt me,” a deep voice begged. Then, the demon began to cry, at first a few sniffles, then launching into full-scale sobs and wails.
* * *
Marva Dasef lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two ungrateful cats. Retired from thirty-five years in the software industry, she has now turned her energies to writing fiction and finds it a much more satisfying occupation. Marva has published more than forty stories in a number of on-line and print magazines, with several included in Best of anthologies. She has several published books, including six since 2011 with MuseItUp Publishing.
MuseItUp Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/MIU-MarvaDasef
Twitter Handle: @Gurina
Book Trailers: http://www.youtube.com/user/MarvaDasef/videos
(I'm in spotty web connection this week, so if I don't back to you soon, please don't be upset! :)