Qatar Airways flight QR442 landed at Baghdad International and taxied to the gate. Passengers were on their feet before the door opened, anxious for the flight to be over.
Casey Michael Sullivan — Sully to his friends — gave the flight attendant a conspiratorial wink as he passed and was delighted to see the man break into an uncomfortable sweat. Sully continued on his way, whistling, while the flight attendant continued his apologies to the disembarking passengers.
He’d managed to reign most of his impulses during the flight, frustrating as that was. Still, this flight had been plagued with spilled drinks, wailing babies and bathroom doors which refused to stay locked. Call buttons flashed though no one had pressed the button and televisions played scenes best left unmentioned.
Sully was a professional though. He knew the limit to which things could be pushed and had stayed on the fair side of that line. The plane returning to Qatar would have upset his plans and he couldn’t have that. He’d come to Iraq for a reason — an embarrassing, secret one he couldn’t share with his family. As far as they were concerned he was on a vacation.
He patted the breast pocket of his lime green business suit, checking for the package the way a regular man might reassure himself that his wallet was still there.
“Ah, the Middle East,” he said, breathing in the hot, dry air of Baghdad.
At least he wouldn’t hear the sudden shout of Leprechaun, followed by another frenzied chase. These people had their own “myths” and wouldn’t recognize one of his race if he’d been wearing a green derby and buckles on his shoes.
“Stereotypes,” he shook his head.
The only place Leprechauns dressed like that these days was on the side of cereal boxes.
Sully stretched to his full four foot one inch height, quite tall for his race, and headed for customs. Now that he was off the plane he could have some fun.
After a hilarious trip through customs where a man was led away for a full body search, and a taxi ride where Sully paid with the back page ripped from his tattered tourist’s handbook, he arrived outside the National Museum. He stood on the steps laughing to himself.
“Okay, back to the task at hand,” he said, wiping a mirthful tear from his eye.
As expected the museum, not scheduled to re-open for many months, had locked doors. Not that locked doors or schedules applied to him. The lock was tricky though, made mostly of iron which made it difficult to manipulate with magic. It would take too much of his personal magic, and more of an understanding of the lock’s inner mechanisms, to get it open.
He shifted to invisibility and set the alarm off.
Leprechauns had two sources of magic, one for granting wishes which was near-to limitless, and one personal which was not. Five minutes of invisibility, on top of what he used for pranks since leaving the plane, could drain him for the next hour. Most times when a Leprechaun was caught it was while they were waiting on personal magic to replenish.
Alarm wailing, two security guards and a serious, suited man threw open the doors from the inside.
“Stop,” one yelled in Arabic at the conjured image of a fleeing man.
The two guards gave chase while Serious Man remained at the doors with arms crossed. Sully slipped past and entered the museum, leaving everyone to their jobs. Once inside he dropped the invisibility, waving to one security camera that couldn’t capture his magical image anyway.
Sully rubbed his hands together in delight, eyes bright and sparkling as he made his way among the museum’s treasures. Thoughts of pranks and jokes were forgotten.
“The Mask of Warka,” he whispered with awe. “The Bassetki Statue. Unbelievable.”
These artifacts were more than four thousand years old and he drank in their atmosphere, exalted in it. Leprechauns were long-lived but four thousand years made him feel like a babe.
Oh, if only he could share this experience.
That cooled his excitement. Sharing this would get him shunned. To show passion for something which wasn’t a prank was indecent. No, he cherished his family, and revered these artifacts, but the two could never meet.
One artifact was missing. “Where is the jar?”
The Sumerian Gold Jar had recently been returned from Germany, one of thousands of items to be looted during the 2003 war. The jar was more than six thousand years old, an age his mind couldn’t even fathom.
“It has to be around here somewhere,” he said, whistling to himself.
The next hour was a glorious tour of the of the museum’s treasures, more than he ever could have hoped for. At one point he came to a hallway heading away from the main museum floor, doors lining each side.
“Administrative offices,” he muttered, turning away.
A memory tugged at his mind and he ran fingers along the outline in his breast pocket.
“Oh, right. Well, it is the reason you came here,” he said, heading down the hallway.
This was the embarrassing part. If a love for artifacts could have got him shunned then this would have resulted in outright banishment. He got a sense of the uneasiness he gave to humans.
Outside the curator’s office he stopped to listen. No sounds. With a shrug Sully opened the door while shifting to invisibility.
“What is it?” Serious Man asked without glancing up from his paperwork.
Sully stepped into the office, allowing the door to close behind him.
“Who is there?” the man demanded, slapping his pen down.
Receiving no response he got up and stormed to the door, jerking it open with a muttered curse.
Sully took in the room, one corner of his mind keeping watch on his dwindling personal magic. The office was medium sized with a laptop, books, stacks of papers and a few artifacts of no real note or age.
“Boring,” he breathed, wishing the man would hurry.
Serious Man looked left and right at the door while Sully rolled his eyes in an exaggerated way. At the top of the eye-roll he stopped though.
“Now, what is that?”
Tucked away on top of a shelf, more forgotten than displayed, was a lamp straight out of the Arabian Nights.
Serious Man returned to his desk in a fury. Such self-importance. Ordinarily Sully would take time to show him life could always be worse, but the magic which had seeped back in with agonizing slowness over the past hour was now flowing in the other direction. He didn’t have time for finesse. A flick of Sully’s hand and the shouts of angry people filled the street outside. The curator stood and moved to the room’s one window. With a cry he dashed from the room, calling for security. By the time they realized no mob was descending on the museum, Sully would have his business done and be back on the tour.
Sully discarded the invisibility before the door had even closed. Then, with the greatest of care, he withdrew the package from his inside pocket and unrolled the protective fabric. The marvelous piece of jewellery slid onto the desk blotter and Sully admired the gold and precious jewels winking with reflected sunlight. It pulled a sigh from him.
The necklace was no Gold Jar but it deserved to be appreciated by everyone. When Sully had seen it in a collector’s private collection back home he had known where it belonged immediately. He looked around, as if his entire family watched with disapproving eyes. A passion for artifacts could get him shunned, but doing an act as incomprehensible as returning something where it belonged would get him banished. He would be an aberration, a freak.
Task completed Sully turned toward the door, every intention on returning to his tour, but something tugged at his mind. His eyes moved back to the lamp.
“Now, why would that be all the way up there?”
Sully knew what it appeared to be but didn’t believe it for an instant. Still, it was a wonderful artifact and deserved better attention. He waved a hand toward the lamp, intending to magic it down. The lamp didn’t move.
“That’s curious,” he muttered, a smile spreading across his face.
The personal magic was low, not enough to levitate himself for sure, but he should have enough to move such a small object.
“Well, the other ways work too,” he said with good humor.
Sully locked the door behind him then rolled the desk chair closer. Standing on it he balanced so the wheels wouldn’t roll. His fingers brushed against the lamp.
Stretching, stepping onto the arm.
“Old. Hmm… is that an inscription?”
One finger latched around the lamp’s handle and Sully pulled it toward him. He rubbed the bronze against his sleeve, wanting to read the words. With a bang the lamp poured smoke into the office. Sully jerked and the chair shot out from under him, sailing toward the door. He held the lamp against him as he fell, knowing he didn’t have enough magic for a feather pillow to fall onto.
Something softer than floor stopped his fall.
When the smoke cleared Sully saw he was resting in the smooth, strong palm of a genie’s hand.
“You are far from home, little leprechaun,” the deep voice rumbled.
Sully bristled at the adjective. Pulling his feet under him he jumped to the ground. “I’m on vacation, if you must know.”
The genie floated, arms crossed inside a spotless, white kanduras that did nothing to hide the power in his arms and chest. Below the waist he billowed into murky smoke which streamed back toward the lamp. Fierce eyes stared out from between the thickly bearded face and a mussar head covering. An arrogance lived in those eyes, not only looking down at Sully, but on him as well.
The two scrutinized each other for a heartbeat.
“You owe me three wishes,” both said.
“And how am I owing you wishes?” Sully asked.
“I caught you, did I not?”
Sully thought of how he hadn’t hit the floor. Not the intention of the rule but it did fit the wording. Well, rules are rules, and a deal is a deal, as his Da always said. Of course, a deal was only a deal until the other party wasn’t paying attention. If a human had caught him — which hadn’t happened in decades, and he wasn’t counting when he allowed himself to get caught for fun — he would trick them into letting go and disappear. Sully had been released but the genie could grant wishes too, and that had some interesting possibilities.
“True, you did catch me,” Sully said, his Leprechaun soul taking over the negotiations, “but I freed you first.”
The genie scowled, looking Sully up and down as if he were something nasty on the bottom of a shoe. He gave a snort of contempt but nodded.
Sully smiled. They may be magical beings but both had rules to follow. The genie couldn’t tell someone to bugger off any more than he could.
“No need to call me master though, Sully said, winking. “Why stand on ceremony?”
“Indeed,” the genie replied, anger flashing in his eyes.
“My name is Sully, and what would I be calling you?”
“You may refer to me as Hamza Mahad Abdul Al-Farrukh.”
“Woo, that’s a mouthful. I’ll just call you Hammy.”
The doorknob behind them rattled followed by a curse. A second voice came from further away.
“The door locked when I left,” Serious Man’s voice said.
“Yes, there should be a spare somewhere.”
The two voices receded but the genie glared at the door with loathing for an extra second before concentrating his attention on Sully again.
Sully knew the stories about genies. They weren’t mischievous but they could still twist wishes as they saw fit. Some were good and others evil, but most fell somewhere in between. This one was arrogant to be sure, but that didn’t make him evil. By the way Hammy was eyeing him he had his own ideas about Leprechaun’s reputations.
“I do not trust you,” the genie stated flatly.
Well, Hammy wasn’t stupid at least. “I suppose you’ll be trying to screw me on my wishes,” Sully said.
“If I told you no?”
“I wouldn’t believe you, of course.”
“As I am certain you will taint my wishes.”
“It’s the nature of the game.”
“It’s all a game, Hammy. Life. Everything.”
“To you perhaps,” the genie considered Sully. “Hmm, would you be able to grant a Djinn’s wishes?”
Sully shrugged. “Why not?”
“Djinn are of a higher magical order than leprechauns. Are you permitted to grant a superior being’s wishes?”
“Superior?” Sully sputtered, then calmed. It was a good, clean insult and Sully hadn’t expected it. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll manage. After all, you are able to grant human’s wishes and they are above you.”
“Dog! Human are not above the Djinn, they are not even magical.”
“No?” Sully mused. “How did they manage to stuff you in that lamp, I wonder?”
“A trick! One we turned to our advantage.”
Sully listened to him go on about the relation between genies and humans for several minutes while he hid his grin. An insult had been repaid, as an insult must. The genie wouldn’t grant his wishes straight now which was fine by him. It would be fun to see how another race twisted their wishes. He held up a hand and stopped the genie mid-sentence.
“Much as I would love to hear your unending rant, I think we should get back to business.”
“Rant?” the genie looked furious a moment then it was gone. “As you wish.”
“Hmm, maybe you should call me master after all.”
Anger again simmered in the genie’s eyes.
“Just kidding, Hammy. Relax a little.”
The eyes squinted to slits. Had he gone too far?
Nah, no such thing.
“So, I guess I’ll be taking my wishes first,” Sully said.
“No,” the genie repeated. “You may have your first wish, then I will have mine.”
“Not trusting me as far as you could throw me, hmm?”
“I could throw you across the desert if I chose.”
Sully chuckled though he knew the genie hadn’t made a joke.
“What is your first wish?” the genie asked.
“Simple. A cup of tea.”
“Yep, tea like I could get back home. I haven’t had a decent cuppa since I left.”
This first wish was a test, his way to learn the genie’s thought process. Sully flashed through all the various ways he would reinterpret a wish for tea. If Hammy was unimaginative it would be cold, or over-sweetened.
It was marvelous to be watching this from the other side of the table, so to speak.
The tea appeared in a cup of bone white china, much like Sully’s favorite one back home, and hovered. He put his hand out and the cup deposited itself into his palm.
Sully took a sip — no sugar, no milk, just the way he liked it. The tea was strong and hot without being scalding. In brief, it was perfect and that worried Sully. Why would there be no trick?
No. A horrible thought came to Sully, one he hoped wasn’t true. Was the genie playing it straight? Where was the fun in that?
“It’s good,” Sully said. “Who would have known a genie could make proper tea? Maybe you could be my butler, Hammy.”
“Now to my wish,” the genie said, not rising to the bait.
“I suppose you’ll be wishing to be free of the lamp?”
“You know nothing of the Djinn. Our lamps bind us here and limit our movements true, but without it I would need to return home and remain there.”
“I understand. You want to stay and have fun.”
The genie’s eyes narrowed, lips clamping shut. Sully took another sip of his tea then signaled that he was ready.
“I wish to see the desert again,” the genie said.
“The desert? That’s it?”
Sully wasn’t fooled. Hammy could have wished to be in the desert instead. No, this was a test the way his tea had been. Granting the wish straight and transporting the genie to the desert, something they both knew he wouldn’t do, would put him beyond Sully’s influence and free.
Sully raised one hand and gestured at the laptop. It spun around, flashing a realistic image of the desert on its screen.
The genie muttered. “No imagination.”
Perhaps the comment was true but the image had the desired effect. Hammy stared at the image with such undisguised longing that Sully started to laugh at the seriousness.
“Very amusing,” the genie sighed.
Sully laughed harder while the genie’s skin turned an angry reddish hue.
“I shall take my second wish now,” the genie said.
Sully shook his head, still giggling. “Not the way it works, Hammy.”
“Nevertheless, I will go first, imp.”
Sully’s laughter died in an instant. Imp? Him? Imps — a pathetic race of ugly minor demons craving human attention and playing sad, unimaginative pranks. They were the lowest of magical creatures.
“I am a Leprechaun, you aloof, imperious bastard.”
“What you are is a light-fingered hedonist with no morals.”
Sully considered a moment. “Was that an insult?”
“It was meant to be.”
Sully tried to glare back but he couldn’t help it, he giggled. Soon he was doubled over with great uncontrollable whoops of laughter. The genie watched him, rolling his eyes, but soon a smile split his stern features. One great booming guffaw like a thunderclap erupted from him.
“Fine, fine,” Sully agreed, wiping tears from his eyes. “Go first.”
The genie regarded him with suspicion, perhaps expecting some trick to be involved. “I want information.”
Inside, Sully groaned. Information wishes were the worst. No way to twist them, not without lying which was against the rules. He could lose his magic for that, permanently. Still, what could Hammy want to know that he couldn’t find for himself?
“Ready when you are,” Sully said.
“I wish to know, how many of my race are left in this world?”
That was indeed interesting. Sully didn’t realize genies were not able to sense each other. Of course, he couldn’t tell how many Leprechauns were alive right now either. He closed his eyes and accessed the wish magic. The answer came and his eyes shot open.
“Ah, well, there are four left,” Sully said, “including yourself.”
“Four?” the genie whispered.
Sully had four brothers alone, and he had seen them at Sunday dinner last week. To not know if they were alive…
“So few,” the genie said, “and I am imprisoned here.”
“The curator punishes me. I did not grant the wishes to his satisfaction.”
“Yep, that does anger them. Still, it is in our nature.”
“No! Djinn are not like leprechauns, we do not play.”
“Djinn require respect, but that dog spoke to me as a master would a slave. I twisted his every wish without effort, making it clear he was beneath me. Now I languish here.”
“Humans are a pain in the arse, to be sure,” Sully sighed, a memory demanding attention. “Last one to catch me was smart enough to not let go. Did you know magical beings can be held with iron?”
The genie nodded.
“I didn’t. Came as quite a shock.”
Sully cast off the distasteful memory. This had all gotten a bit heavy for his tastes.
“You are ready for your next wish?” the genie asked.
A smile came to Sully’s face. He was indeed ready and saw the opportunity for fun in what would obviously be Hammy’s next wish.
“As I see it,” Sully said, “we don’t trust each other.”
“Oh absolutely,” Sully agreed. “Now, I’m certain you will twist my next wish.”
The genie snorted his disdain.
“Or, I’ll be so focussed on not being tricked that I’ll screw myself.”
“So, for my second wish… are you ready?”
“Wish and be done.”
“Okay, then,” Sully grinned. “I wish that for our final wishes, we choose for each other.”
But the wish had been spoken and it was law, a binding contract. It hadn’t even taken magic to grant so he had nothing to manipulate.
“No,” the genie repeated in an anguished whisper.
Sully made a show of picking lint from his suit, waiting.
“Fine,” Hammy said, resigned, “make your wish.”
Sully supposed he could argue that since he was wishing for Hammy the genie should go first but this fit his plans better. “Oh, what to wish for?”
The genie floated, resigned and silent, eyes closed.
“I don’t suppose you’d have any input?”
When Hammy opened his eyes Sully turned away. “No, no. You’re right. This is my wish and must come from me.”
Sully made a show of thinking.
“Perhaps a new home. Would you like to live in a teapot?”
“No? Some company then? Should I join you? We could play cards.”
Still no reaction.
“Yeah, bad idea. I cheat,” Sully snapped his fingers. “A collection of American music playing non-stop.”
Hammy groaned and Sully was amused that the genie found him less offensive than the music. He could fix that opinion, but it would take time and he wanted to get back to his museum tour. That jar was around here someplace.
Sully cleared his throat ensuring he had Hammy’s full attention.
“I wish,” Sully said, feeling the power in the words, “for your lamp to be relocated where someone can find you.”
“What? I…” the genie began, already fading as the wish magic surged.
Sully would hate himself tomorrow for not taking better advantage of Hammy’s distress, but for now he subscribed to the idea that all good things come to an end.
The genie mumbled something before disappearing completely. Sully let a wry grin cross his face at the satisfaction and gratitude on the genie’s face. He wished he could be there when Hammy opened his eyes in Nashville.
“Enjoy the music,” Sully said with a mischievous grin, then. “Hey, what about my last wish?”
Had he been screwed out of his final wish? Sully shrugged. Not exactly a big deal. He’d already gotten what he really wanted.
The curator’s office faded away, replaced by a new room. There, on a table, surrounded by the packaging it had shipped in, was the Sumerian Gold Jar. Sully felt his breath catch.
“It’s beautiful,” he breathed, approaching it with the proper amount of admiration and respect.
“Now, why does that word set my mind thinking?”
Oh, yes. Hammy said it was what he required.
“Well, I certainly didn’t give him any of that.”
So why hadn’t Hammy twisted his wish? Sully’s mind jumped to the tea, so hot and perfect. He’d assumed Hammy had granted that first wish straight. Why would he do that without respect?
A rumbling in his stomach stopped him. He didn’t feel quite right.
Another rumble, accompanied by a painful cramp.
“Oh no! Hammy you bastard. There was laxative in the tea.”
He bolted for the only door and found it locked.
“Hammy,” he shouted.
A deep booming laugh, like far off thunder, filled the room.
John Haas is an author living in Ottawa, Canada. His fiction appears in the recent anthologies 100 Doors to Madness, Of Stars & Science: Tales of the Multiverse, Grimm & Grimmer Volume 3, Anthology of Cozy-Noir, and Paranormal Horror 2.