She ran her tongue over her parched lips. “Sure Azhar, whatever. I’ll play you a song but only if you tell me how you became attached to the bottle.”
The genie’s violet tinged eyes stood out in stark contrast to the black onyx like appearance of the rest of him. His glowing gaze shifted to where Lisette’s hands lay hidden under the sheer fabric of her clothing. “Of course I will tell you Lisette, my master, and then you will understand why I need you to speak the words.”
When the word ‘master’ landed on her eardrums, she flinched. She detested her title and the genie knew this. “Why in blazes do you insist on calling me that?”
“It is what you are. The torn skin of your fingers and trickles of your blood is the reason why I can at least drift for a time out from the pit of my prison. Or as your kind fondly likes to refer to it my bottle. Simply to serve you.”
She drew in a deep breath then exhaled. “Oh my word Azhar, you act like you’re my slave or something and you’re not. Let me remind you that I haven’t wish for a single thing. Yet.”
“I might not. There is nothing I want that I can’t get myself.”
The words had just leapt from behind her lips when the appearance of the genie shifted. No longer was he this large, dark looming presence because now he had taken on the appearance of a teenage boy. Lisette’s eyes grew wide before she yanked her gaze off the mask Azhar had fashioned himself with.
“Stop it, you stop it right now.”
The likeness of the boy slithered away as the dark, looming presence of the genie returned. “It is not my intention to upset you Lisette. I am happy to be of service to you. Grateful for your touch.”
She had discovered his bottle near the shore where she sat on the beach just outside the rear of her home. Once her fingers had touched onto then encircled the bejeweled bottle it had latched onto her palm skin like thorns. The torn flesh and droplets of blood sank into the genie’s bottle, allowing Azhar to drift beyond its rim.
Clutching onto the inside fabric of her skirt pockets Lisette rose up from the couch and went over and sat down on the dark, wood bench facing the piano keys. Only then did she slide her hands out from within the safety of her pockets. “I’m playing. Now tell me.”
“It was the early 1800’s. During this time, we genies roamed freely upon this land. Allowed to do so as long as we found a willing human master whom we could latch onto. My kind could only step out of the hidden realm when a human granted us permission to do so and in return we would give them what they desired most. My first master was Mr. Taffer a complex human who owned a slave plantation. He was thin and short in stature. Many of those he owned, including the children, were several inches taller than he. When he spoke, his voice was low and he had trouble meeting one’s gaze. Mr. Taffer did not have the stomach for what it took to run such a large plantation containing slaves that sent whispers of rebellion throughout the fields.”
Azhar paused. His sweet, smoky scent encircled her. She pulled it deeper into her nostrils as her fingertips played toward the climax of the song.
“He uttered a wish for me to act as the property’s overseer. And for nearly a decade it was I who ensured that his slaves labored without any further hints of rebellion.”
Lisette’s hands hovered above the keys for a moment. “How did you do that?” The fingers touched back onto the delicate keys.
“When I first showed myself to these slaves I expected them to be afraid. Though I loomed over them and spoke with a tongue thick with accent, they were not fearful. Instead, they were intrigued. Brought from West Africa some had skin that was darker than mine and they too had foreign tongues. But my eyes, it was the violet hue of my eyes that unnerved them for a time, causing them to obey me.
Late one night my ear picked up the sound of hushed voices. A large number of the men were speaking to one another. They were using their native language, more alarming was the presence of a crude map on which one was making marks. Both actions were forbidden by law. I relayed what I had seen to Mr. Taffer. He instructed me to handle the matter.”
Lisette could feel the genie beside her now. Heat radiated from him. Beads of sweat broke out around her hairline. “Did you?”
“After nightfall I gathered the men and as the rest of Mr. Taffer’s slaves looked on I had them place their hands palm down atop a table.”
The girl interrupted with, “Then you what?”
“I did what comes naturally to me. I set fire to their hands. The flame started at the fingertips and made its way up towards the wrists. The stench was great and it hung in the air for days after.”
Lisette had to will her hands to keep playing a song she could no longer comprehend. A bead of the sweat crept down falling onto her eyelashes. She blinked not wanting to lift her hands from the piano keys fearful of drawing Azhar’s attention to them.
“Were kids there also?”
“It was important for them to see what would happen if they broke the laws.”
Lisette nibbled on her bottom lip.
Azhar said casually, “I restored the flesh to the male’s hands less than a week later.”
“Oh, well then.”
“This was how Mr. Taffer learned of my ability to put living flesh back onto bone. A short time later, his wife fell ill. She had a cough that shook her body. A green slime of some sort secreted from her cracked lips after each coughing spasm. A man, a doctor as you call him, came and assured Mr. Taffer that his wife would soon recover. She did not. Mere hours after he left, just before dawn, she rose up straight in her bed. Gripping her throat as her breaths came in gasps. I hovered in a dark corner watching this whole ordeal. Fascinated by the scene before me.
Once it was over Mr. Taffer behaved in a way I had only seen female humans act. He clung to his wife’s body, whose appearance was quickly turning revolting, and he cried. At some point Abigail, one of the female slaves, whom worked in the home, entered the room. She wanted to fetch the one called doctor. Mr. Taffer’s crying ceased as swiftly as it had begun. He ordered Abigail from the room threatening to cut her tongue out if she spoke to anyone about what she had seen.”
“‘Mrs. Taffer is not dead. You hear me Abigail?”’
“His tone was robust for once. Then he remembered I was still in the room and beckoned for me to come closer. The stench of death had already begun to set into his beloved. He placed his red lips over her graying ones as he wished for me to pull her back from death.”
“And did you?”
“I did. However, no genie can return a soul to a body once it has left. The woman was Mrs. Taffer in appearance only. She did not act as my master thought she should and this angered him. Unable to look at her he had the lady locked away in the farthest region of the house. He blamed his agony on me. As the days went by and the crazed, animal like wailing of Mrs. Taffer filled the halls his anger grew. He felt that I and others like me should have to suffer a similar fate. He turned to the very ones that he wished me to keep under his thumb.
The enslaved ones had grown fearful of me convincing themselves that I was a demon. Late one evening I was summoned to the library by my master. I entered and found him waiting for me with a male slave believed to have ‘healing hands’ and who clutched a thick book with pages trimmed in gold. His cold stare and the way my master stood behind him unnerved me. I waited for a break in the silence. One came yet it was not the sound I expected. Instead of Mr. Taffer’s voice, I heard a soft click sound. It was the library door being closed behind me.”
“This scared you?”
“Troubled is more like it, you see when enclosed in a room I am rendered powerless. This slave held the book up like a shield and a spew of foul words fell from his mouth. Words cursing my kind, chaining us to bottles. Invisible chains that only stretch as far from it as to grant the wishes of humans who may or may not uncurse us.”
Lisette did not want to stop playing fearful that once she did her lovely hands would soon become engulfed by Azhar’s vengeful flame. Since she was his master it was the only thing he could do to her. The thought of never feeling the smooth, coolness of the ivory piano keys beneath the precise stroke of her fingers saddened her. She bit down hard onto her bottom lip, which helped to anchor her back in the moment. Azhar’s violet glow was on her hands now. It felt hot like when she placed them just above the flames of a campfire.
“I granted my former master’s wishes. My kind has suffered greatly because of one human’s emotional response. The words Lisette, when the time comes you will speak them, yes?”
She slid her fingers from the piano keys and shoved her hands deep into the front pockets of her skirt clenching the fabric there.