His eyes bulging, white teeth a tight line beneath a thin black mustache, the swarthy man pulls and wrestles with my left hand.
"Give it to me! The ring! Now!"
A sudden push, and both of us topple over the balcony rail.
A giddy weightlessness vies with the roar of wind streaming past my face. Far below, gnat sized people swarm and eddy, providing me with a sense of scale against the flat ground. The brick facade of the building, blurring by on my left, a flailing dark suited figure pacing my decent on the right. I have lost control of my orientation, so the vista changes moment by moment as I helplessly and slowly revolve; no direction constant save for the inevitable downward crush.
I rub the damn ring and an alarmingly toothed maw forms just below me.
"Shit," I note.
Images flash through my mind, though not the ones you would think.
Sarah eyes me speculatively, one hand running through her brown hair, searching for knots. Her other fingers drum lightly upon the breakfast table while she awaits her toast which is singeing along nicely in the toaster. I am bent over a small fry-pan, carefully attentive to the popping eggs sizzling in a minor sea of butter.
"Are you going to get rid of all that trash finally?" she asks.
This of course references the oft-mentioned stack of boxes cluttering our garage, a bequest of sorts from my late uncle.
I use the term bequest, just to be upper class about things. I wasn't mentioned in the Last Will and Testament but after his death my relatives descended on his house like crows on corn. The stuff no one else took, fell to me to clean out. This amounted to an attic-sized pile of crumbling corrugated boxes and old milk crates, now piled against one wall. No day went by without a comment about the inconvenience this cramping pile caused Sarah, or the dust that brushed off on her clothes each time she scooted past it.
"Yep, today's that day. Just as soon as ..." The toasts click up and I stop to pluck them out, browned and steaming. I add them to the plate and layer on the hot, aborted chicken legacies. The yellow centers goggle up accusingly at me, but they are Sarah's favorite morning supplement. Me, I'm a cold cereal guy. I move the plate to the table for her. "Soon as breakfast's over with."
"Good. Need any help?"
I shake my head. "No, think I can manage. You can move the Chevy out of the way though. I want to sort through the stuff a little before it goes to the curb."
"Sure. As long as I can pull the car back into the garage before the day's out. Say, this isn't going to turn into some dragged out deal, is it, Don?"
"No,no; just a quick look or two. Uncle Jeff might have stashed some tools; you never know."
Sarah sighs and forks up some egg and toast. "Nothing we can't live without, I'm sure. Just don't get all maudlin and save out a bunch of crap, OK? Please?"
"It will all be sorted out and gone today. Promise."
"Oh, and let me know if there's anything for the church Bazaar in that mess. I have to go to the university library now anyway."
She nudges a couple of tomes piled next to her elbow. "Returns."
I suppose it was a little odd that my uncle and I had not gotten closer. His fascination with Egyptian artifacts was, in a way, seminal to my picking archaeology as a college Major though later my waffling course choices had led to a firmer commitment to civil engineering. In the end, as my education grants ran thin, I had scrambled to consolidate my coursework to yield an identifiable degree in archaeology with a minor in surveying. This, along with my field co-ops eventually netted me my loving Sarah and my site surveyor job for the Preservation Society.
We had just returned from the Standt / Dixon Desalinization project in Arabia. Our encounter there with a real Ifrit and a hair raising episode with an old Moabite God had shaken the urge to travel from us, and we both quietly filed for our off-time as soon as we finished up there.
The society loves sending out married couples. They feel that the high-travel jobs go smoother when staffed with compatible pairs, or something.
Anyway, we returned in time to make the surprise funeral of my Uncle and inherit the clean-up opportunity.
Sara finishes up at table and is off to the library leaving me to rummage through the eclectic collection of crap in the garage.
I position two empty waste cans near at hand, and began cutting open the taped boxes. Lots of curled up photos. Old ribbons from gifts salvaged more from habit, I suppose, than intent to recycle. Old books, old in a bad way, outdated texts on early Egyptology and such. There were yellowed digests and pieces of crockery awaiting a glue-pot that had never materialized. One small box, once I excavate it of paper, yields a dozen earthenware cosmetic pant pots which in their time likely decorated the dressing table of some first dynasty lady-of-means. This is a surprising find. My uncle was only an armchair archaeologist, a fascinated hobbyist more than a traveler or collector.
One jars' small lid is adorned with the sitting figure of a thin, squatting Fakir. Lightly pinching its head, I gently wriggle it free from its pot and inside is a small, jeweled seal ring. I dump it out and scrutinize it. The inset stone looks to be a small ruby. I fit it to the little finger of my left hand, set the collection aside to show Sara, and rummage on.
There are no other surprise finds. I salvage an old cement trowel and a gaggle of mismatched crescent wrenches. Refusing to give up my manhood by not rescuing these, they get dumped into my toolbox.
The rest ends up in the cans. While putting the lid on the last rubbish container, I see the gilded edge of a small pocket memo book peeking out from the debris. It is black leather bound, with a white sticky label pasted on the front cover. Just one word, Egypt, is scrawled on the label. I hesitate, then pick it out of the trash.
Uncle had made one foray to Cairo in his younger days. Maybe, I think, there might be some notes about the pot collection in it. Sara might be interested, being the big time archaeologist in the family. I pocket the thing and then haul the rest to the curb.
Sarah returns home happy to find the garage vacated, cleared of potential memorabilia, and gives me a pleased peck on the cheek. "Thanks, Don. The garage looks much better now," She says.
"I did find some interesting things in all that stuff though."
Sarah raised her head inquiringly, so I continued, "On the coffee table in the front room. A small box I saved out for your professional scrutiny."
"If you say so."
"Well you could at least look at it, might be something for the Bazaar, at least."
Sarah sighs and plods into the front room. I stay in the kitchen at a safe remove, and let her browse through the box undisturbed. A small shriek, which I have learned passes for "Eureka!" from my mate, calls to me so I join her.
"Ooo! A complete set of First Dynasty cosmetic pots! Where the hell did Jeff ever find these! They belong in a museum! Oh, I hope they aren't on a proscribed list someplace. Do you know when they got exported?"
I confess my ignorance as to my late uncle's affairs, helpfully including the fact that I have salvaged his memo book from interment, and mention Jeff's tourist jaunt to Cairo. I pull the notepad from my pocket, and hand it over. Sara flicks her eyes up from the book to the ring, now half embedded below the knuckle of my little pinky.
"Oh! Erm, I almost forgot. I found this mixed in with the lot."
I suck on my finger and try to pull it over the knuckle, with no success. Twisting it just seemed to irritate my finger more. It seems to swell up further as I fiddle with it. I raise my hand back to my mouth.
Sarah grabs my paw, and gives me a scolding look. "Stop that! You don't know where it's been. Don't put it in your mouth, God's sake, Don!"
"It came from the box."
This nets me a whack on the head. Sara is good for head whacks.
She pulls my hand close to her face and squints at the ring.
"This could be First dynasty too. Don't you dare try anything! We can go the University..." she looked out the window at the quickly darkening skies "...tomorrow, and have someone in the restorations lab suggest something. You should never have put it on in the first place, you idiot. Be extremely careful with it. Oh, I hope your body acids don't damage it - What if it comes apart? What were you thinking?"
"Hey, sorry! I'm an archaeological surveyor not an artifacts guy, and no surgery!"
I get back a tight glare for this. So OK, I'm not comedy clinic material.
"Let's look at the notebook," I suggest. "Maybe Unk wrote something in his trip-book." It is a good ploy and re-centers her interest on something less fragile than my Ego.
The notes actually were from the Egyptian jaunt as it happens.
"Look,"said Sara, pointing to one of the scratchy entries, "he bought it in Cairo. Goes on and on about getting the set from a digger in a marketplace there, but that's all. Let me go look through my references."
Now, with Sara distracted, I wander to the front door and pull in the mail. Nestled amid the usual, is a business envelope. The return label states Tucker, Ahamat, & Sheem P.C. 1002 Knights Ave. It's addressed to me in dry courier type. I scoot my thumb over the Glassine address window, wondering what this could be about.
Enclosed is a typed missive stating that a sealed letter from my late uncle awaits me at their law office. Apparently part of the estate distribution. A handwritten memo from one of the partners, Ahmat, is attached. He apologizes, stating the envelope was to have been delivered prior to the estate disposal but got mislaid. I need to sign for it, though.
It's too late to make the trip downtown, but my curiosity is running high. I show Sara the letter and tell her I want to pick it up tomorrow before we go to the university, since the Law office is not on the way.
Arising early, I ease quietly out from between the sheets and tip-toe to the bathroom to dress, grab the letter, and scoot. Traffic trudges along at the typical weekday slog and I find myself backed up in a traffic queue, awaiting my shot at the freeway ramp. The yellow painted traffic control bulges its red eye at me like some pompous stoned mandarin, and my hands tap impatiently on the steering wheel.
The ring pinches, and has managed to turn itself around, so that it now clicks on the wheel. Mindful of my wife's concern for it, I twist my fingers about trying to readjust the seal face away from it, brushing over the inset stone several times in the process.
I am now suddenly elsewhere.
Glassy red walls curve around and above me like some World's Fair geodesic dome. The floor too, is a glassy red and hard. I know this because I am sitting on it, my arms still crooked out in front of me like the guy in the old Hertz car rental Commercials.
Inanely, I note, no car.
Suddenly a voice reverberates throughout the dome saying, "Adsum! Here am I, at thy service, O my lord! Ask and it shall be given unto thee. What so thou seekest, it shall come to pass, by leave of the King-of-all-might, Creator of day and night. I am the slave of this seal-ring, standing in the service of him who posseseth it."
This is accompanied by blooms and billows of blue and red smoke out of which a giant, half-naked hunching form resolves - like a Buddha-form linebacker at the snap. I feel blessed that my morning trip to the bathroom was full service as I stare open mouthed, scared witless by this looming apparition.
"Gahh!!...I,...in the car," say I.
The giant form Salaams raising a hand bigger than me.
"Wait for it..." it intones, "Whatsoever he seeketh, that I accomplish for him, and I have no excuse in neglecting that he biddeth me do, because I am Sultan over two-and-seventy tribes of the Jinn, and they are all under command of me and may not gainsay me. My name is Abu al-Sa'adat."
The pedantry rings in my ears, and strikes a memory. I have heard this before. Or most of it, almost word for word, from the Arabian Nights tale, Ma'aruf, The Cobbler.
"You were the Jinni of Ma'aruf the Cobbler? "
"I am that very one!"
"Passed on to his second wife the princess Dunya, until her death?"
"And as it is writ and told!"
"I guess, Ma'aruf also passed you into the keeping of his last wife, the daughter of his Wazir? The story doesn't say."
"And then into her paint-pots until my uncle found you?"
"Ne'er didst he rub upon the crest, nor through cunning or grace, call out upon my presence, or puissance!"
This recommended itself to me as the reason why Unk ended his days in a small suburban home instead of on the Riviera someplace. Although, come to think of it, coming into that kind of unexplained wealth these days would probably raise the hand of every tax collecting agency in the world against you. Hell, that would just be the short list. On the other hand maybe uncle Jeff did know, or suspect, the origin of the ring. Maybe that was what the letter was about. All this left me in an even greater burn to know the content of that letter.
"Lo! Thou hast gotten hold of it, and I am become thy slave; so ask what thou wilt, for I harken to thy word and obey thy bidding!"
"I was on my way to retrieve a last message left me by my uncle before he died. It's quite important to me. Could you put me back, please, eh, safely on my way? I need to think more about this other stuff before I make any – requests. Oh, one other thing. I can't help but notice you seem to, er, slip in and out of vernacular on occasion. How's that?"
The Jinn grinned a monstrous grin, and flicked the nearest red wall, which rang.
"Crystal -- picks up radio waves." With that, he clapped his hands together. "Nothing were easier!"
I am back in my car still at the light, and on my way to the law office.
The Door to my house blows open and to Sara's startled stare, billows of blue and red smoke swirl into the living-room, out of which, a giant half-naked hunching form resolves - like a Buddha-form linebacker at the snap.
Quoth he, "O my Lady, Quail not, for I bear thee no whit of malice, but instead, bring word of your Husband, whose tale now falls upon me to relate, as this I have seen with my own eyes, or by my arts."
Aghast, Sara falls to our couch raising her hands to her chest. "What is this? What has happened to Donald--and what are you?"
"I am the Jinni of the ring, Abu al-Sa'adat, O daughter of Eve. The tale is a burden upon me, and must I tell thee all to be free of it. So shall I reveal all, patient be. Here is the story."
And this is the tale he tells her.
Wherefore, know that in the days before the Destroyer of delights and the Sunderer of societies came for Donald's uncle, being his mother's good brother, that his uncle wrote a council full of rede and knowledge, to be passed into Donald's hands upon his demise. This missive he placed into the care and keeping of his trusted Wazir of the right, for safekeeping, saying, "When the Orphaner of sons and daughters comes for me, thou seest then that this passeth to my sister's son, Donald, that he may know my final thoughts in privacy."
So it came to pass that Ahamat the councilor came into possession of it. But when the lamentable time had arisen, and all the uncle's effects were cataloged, there came to Ahamat his partner Sheem, all wroth, who wept, crying unto him, saying; "O partner, in the name of the Living One, who to death is never dight, am I undone!"
Asked the Wazir, "What is this thou tellest me?"
Whereat Sheem cried out with a long cry saying, "Aforetime, long ago in Egypt, I was but a simple digger. At that time, I slaved for an antiquities dealer, Al-Hassa, uncovering the treasuries as lay hidden in the sands. These I would remand to him for my wage and keeping. It came to pass one day that my master came to me saying,"Go ye to thus and so place, where it has come to me that a cache is buried. Unearth and retrieve for me a teak wood box, otherwise you can have for your own all else you find there; and that you bring it forth to me unopened, and may hap, your fortune will be made, for is it not writ:
How poorly, indeed, doth it fare wi' the poor,
With his pauper existence and beggarly plight:
In summer he faileth provision to find;
In winter the fire-pot's his only delight:
Hearing these verses, Sheem rejoices and cries, "On my head be it! I will go forth and uncover it, for I have fallen low in my estate! Whereupon the tears streamed from his eyes and he wept for joy with exceeding weeping, and kissed the merchant's hands.
Sheem proceeded forthwith to the spot the merchant foretold and did labor there a day and a night, till his pick did bark upon a rock, which disturbed, fell away revealing a deep black hole. Then he thrust in his hand and drew forth a heavy golden plate, all set about in Moorish designs. At this he cried out, for certainly his fortune was made. Then he thrust his hand a second time and brought out a box of ash, and some smaller vessels of brass and copper.
"This is not done," quoth Sheem, "for no box of teak is among these things." Then a great fear overtook him, for surely his master would beat him, and take all in recompense for his failure, or should he run, bring down the judgment of the Kazi upon him. So again he reached into the hole, till his waist wedged in it, and his hands fell on yet another box, which he withdrew. This then was the box of teak for which he was sent and Sheem shouted out in great joy, packing full his bag of treasure and returning to the Bazaar, and his master.
The antiquities dealer, Al-Hassa, awaited in his pavilion, lofty and spacious, washed in gold and silver, and in each corner a fountain of many colored marble. Wherefore did Sheem the digger throw himself down saying, "Blessings upon thee, O my Lord. For thy reede was true, and fortune has smiled on us. Here is the treasury foretold!" Opening this sack, he poured out the contents for the inspection of the Merchant. The merchant smiled, but rose not, for he was in company with Jeffery, the uncle of Donald, your husband.
Quoth Al-Hassa, "Bring me forth the box of teak, O Sheem, and as for the rest, it is your own, as agreed."
Sheem did so, and the merchant queried him as to what he would do with the bounty he had won.
"O my master, I shall sell all, and seek my fortune with the proceeds."
At this the merchant smiled and said, "I can assist you in this, then, for see, here is a client of mine, eager to acquire such relics as you now own."
Therefore did Jeffery, your husband's good uncle inquire of the artifacts and inspect them, finally cajoling Sheem to open his box of ash, wherein the paint pots of a women of means were revealed to their sight. Ensued then some little haggle, and the proceeds of the sale Al-Hassa remitted to Sheem. The rest, being beyond means of your husband's uncle, were purchased for a fair price by the merchant and added to his stocks.
With this, the merchant and his servant were left alone; whereupon curiosity having the better of Sheem, he queried his former master. "O Sir, must I ask it, what is contained in the teak box, whose retrieval has assured my future?"
The merchant laid his hand upon it, and said, "This box it was told to me, were the property of the princess Dunya of Ikhtiyan al-Khutan, inherited by the third wife of King Ma'aruf, who had it from him as bridal gift. In it are her personal treasures, and it is said Ma'aruf's seal ring, the ring of Shaddad, son of Ad, him of whom it is said, the base of many columned Iram laid. Whosoever controls the ring controls its Jinni, A Sultan of his kind and ruler of many tribes of Jinn. Behold, before it, all other riches pale; for its master rules all else."
Sheem was sore amazed with this, and spake, "O Sir, pray open this box for I would wonder at its content!"
Wherefore did Al-Hassa break the lock and fly open the lid so both could gaze within.
The box was lined Inkhalanj wood, inset with Ivory, and Andalusian copper which is equal in value to gold, filled with pearls, and ruby adornments, and fine broach work such as were fit for a queen. Therein also were emeralds large as nightingale eggs, and pins of wondrous craft, but there was no ring to be found amidst these things.
The merchant grew wroth, and thrust away the box. "Thief!" he cried. "Where is the ring!"
Whereat Sheem pulled back in alarm saying, "I know not of the boxes treasures! I brought it to you locked, as t'were set afore you, and opened by your own hand!"
The merchant thought on this, and saw the truth of it. "I was told poorly then and must look further. Still, a bargain made is a bargain kept. For your part then, keep what you earned by it and leave me in peace."
So Sheem left in great joy, and took himself to university, and with his earnings, learned the craft of law. But never did he forget the ring and thought on it oft times. It came to him t hat perhaps the ring were secreted elsewhere in the trove he had uncovered, and thought also on the purchaser of the box of ash. He studied diligently his craft but also of such elder texts as could tell of the ring and its seeming, until it seemed to him he should know it on sight.
In time, his talent brought enough wealth, so that he decided to travel to the new world, and purchased a place within a practice of law there. It was to this practice that your husband's uncle came, to hire a Wazir to provide him council, and handle his affairs.
Having related his tale to his partner, Sheem burst again to tears, wailing,"I never thought to again encounter aught of the ring, until Jeffery, your client, did appear. But see now in this inventory, no mention of the box of ash, or the pots of paints! All is truly lost to me!"
Whereat he fell to sorrowing and wringing his hands, while his partner did take thought.
Quoth Ahamat, "Know ye that Jeffries left a sealed letter, to be delivered unto his nephew, Donald?"
"Ai! I did not! Bring it forth! Quick, let us open it an assay its content! May hap all is not lost, after all!"
But Ahamat held him back from this saying, "Nay, for it is sealed and in trust to me, and would be unseemly to rend it. Also, actionable afore the courts of the land, so I may not. Still, were you to agree to share some of your heart's desires and that it lead you to it, I will advise you when the man comes for his bequest. Then you could ask after the artifact, and may still come into it."
To this Sheem agreed, and an announcement of the letter was penned and delivered to your good husband.
Today, then, came your spouse, with the ring upon his finger to retrieve his uncle's last words to him. As he had conspired, did Ahamat excuse himself from his presence saying, "Wait, and I will bring forth the letter." Then went he unto Sheem and told of his appearance, who made haste in his avariciousness, and ran forth to greet Donald, and professing to be an old acquaintance of Jeffery, offered him his hand. At this time Sheem's eyes caught the glimmer of the ring, and he knew it was the seal ring of Shaddad, son of Ad, the long aspired to object of his quest.
Whereupon, he took forth the letter, and walked with Donald to a balcony of his suite, offering him coffee and all manner of nuts and cakes and professing of the view until your husband followed. Then Sheem handed him the letter, saying, "This is the bequest of your uncle. I know you to be in his grace, for I can see his ring upon your hand."
As Donald reached for it, Sheem grabbed his ring hand and pulled furiously, to dislodge it, that he might possess the treasure. But Donald pulled away, and the two contested on the balcony until your husband overbalanced, and carrying Sheem with him, flew from the perch and was cast down to certain death. But he remembered me, and rubbing the ring, gained access to my puissance, calling out, "O save me, for I fall to my death else-wise!"
I appeared, capturing him in my mouth as he fell, and Sheem I caught also in my open hand, and flew us hence. Then turned to Sheem and spake thus, "O mortal, and that thou hast contested with my master, to steal and do him harm, so therewith you have harmed me. You must ask of me a boon."
Quoth Sheem, "What boon should I have of thee?"
"Ask into what shape I shall bewitch thee; a dog, an ape, or a fly?"
Whereupon was the knave ensorcelled, and he did flit from this hand to buzz off towards the nearest heap of droppings, there to feast. Then did Donald say to me, "Loosen this ring for I cannot shed it on my own," and I did so. Then quoth your husband, "Were I to smash this thing, what of you?"
"Alahu Akbar! Then I would be released from its servitude never to trek this cursed land again! By Solomon, I Swear it!"
Donald took him to thought, and says, "But my good wife would revile me, and never believe me, and many days would I sleep alone on my divan, nor would that day come when all taint would cease and I hear of it nevermore. Also, I should have nothing in its place to give her."
Quoth I, "Command me and I shall lay the world at your feet. Ask, and a mountain of gems, shall I bring to her, carried on the backs of ten thousand Mamelukes all dressed in kingly silks, praising you, and a thousand dancing Houri shall follow them to wait upon her. Wagons full of cloths of many lands will I bring and a palace of Alabaster will I build for her, and another for her treasure!"
Whereat Donald says, "Oh, sure, that's just what I need, and the U.S Army right behind no doubt. How about you just tell her what has happened and give me a replacement for the seal ring? Promise that much, and I'll stomp on it right now."
With a roar of laughter and billows of blue and red smoke, the Jinni dissipates from my front room. I peek casually around the threshold, hands in my pockets.
Sarah gets up from the couch and approaches, staring at me.
I hand her a ring, an exact copy really, of the other one.
Wrapping her arms around me, she hugs me, crying. Then whacks me on the head. Hard.
Bio: So, I write largely science fiction and fantasy, and fantasy/humor. I do novels, short stories, Serial short stories, Novellas, all that. If all goes well, I expect to be posting a good deal of both here. What else can I say? I like walks in the rain and ice cream? I sketch, play blues harp, have been known to program for fun. Gamer? Yeah, I'm a slacker. Ran Plotters of Dreams for writers before it was virtually shut down save in title by Yahoo cuts in service, for ten years and counting. Ive moderated other groups, and obviously, writing is a passion. -Want to make peoples day, send them on vacation, make them chuckle occasionally.