A mere thought, the barest flicker of desire, and the spiritual plane dissolves around him, replaced by the cosmic energy of the astral plane. Jensen smiles as the quasars dance around him, pulsing and gyrating in timeless unison. On his left, there’s a sudden burst of light, the birth of a new star. The heavens hum in welcome. The baby star bathes the newly-created solar system with its brilliance, attracting fortunate chucks of rock - soon to become planets with the potential to nurture life - that begin their own rhythmic orbits. The joy in the cosmos is infectious. Head thrown back in delight, Jensen laughs out loud for the first time in what seems like ages.
Being an entity from the spiritual plane definitely has it’s perks.
Not for the first time, Jensen longs for a companion, someone with whom to share his happiness, his thoughts, his existence. Such a thing isn’t fated to be, however. A djinn’s life span is very long. Millennia long, in fact. Most of that life is destined to be lived in solitude, with only the stars for company. To find his consort would be a death sentence, or so the legends say.
Still...Jensen is lonely.
He hasn’t even had the diversion of a new master in many years. His masters have been plentiful, ranging from the very old to as young as nine. That one, the sweet little nine year old girl with the rosy cheeks and hair as glossy-black as a raven’s wing, that one had been interesting...and fun. The race of intelligent teddy bears she’d had him create - the Fuzzies, she’d named them - now they had been truly entertaining. To this day, a small band of Fuzzies still live and prosper on the remote, but hospitable planet where he relocated them once the girl matured and outgrew them.
Some of his masters have been innocent, while others have been cunning. Jensen tries to do right by each and every one of them, tries to guide them in using their wishes wisely as best he can. It’s in his very nature to be helpful. He lives to serve and enjoys creating happiness. There are those masters, however, who bring out his mischievous side. One or two who have even brought about his wrath. Ways exist to twist a wish in horrifying and malicious ways, to subvert the intent of a wish into the most tragic of outcomes. That isn’t Jensen’s normal modus operandi. He finds it abhorrent, in fact, even though there have been times when he found it sadly necessary. Those memories aren’t pleasant. He tries not to think about them too much, preferring instead to recall the positive changes he’s been able to bring about in a world of which he is only peripherally a part.
Perhaps it’s time to visit the Fuzzies again. See what they’ve been up to over the last hundred years or so. At only a foot tall and covered from head to toe in tawny fur, their antics never fail to amuse him. Or...he could go check on his lamp. Last he sensed, it was still hidden away inside the box up in a musty attic where his last master’s heirs had relegated it, unaware of its mystical properties.
Time has little meaning to a djinn without a master. Only on the material plane, where humans measure their lives in years, does time take on the aspect of a cruel overlord. Something to be feared.
Jensen’s life is measured not in years, but rather in the number of masters he has satisfied. And so, he waits for his next calling.
The familiar pull sends tendrils of excitement racing through him. His magic pulses and shimmers in anticipation, manifesting as it always does when he’s in the ethereal plane, as sparks of starlight arcing between his hands.
A new master! At last!
What will this one be? A sultan or a pauper? An enlightened scholar or one of the faithful? A child or a wizened elder?
Jensen doesn’t have long to wonder. The pull becomes stronger, inexorable, not unlike the gravitational pull of a planet. He follows willingly, eager to see what changes have been wrought in the world since last he was there, happy for a change of pace and to have someone with whom he can interact, a new life to guide and hopefully fulfill.
He materializes in a puff of smoke. The smoke isn’t necessary. It just adds to the drama, the production value, as it were, a bit of the theatrical. It’s like a calling card that proclaims ‘behold, here there be magic’, or a neon sign that says ‘hey you, pay attention, something unusual is happening’, depending on the day and age.
Quickly taking stock of his surroundings, Jensen absorbs the current fads, the slang, and the pop culture references of the time and place in which he finds himself which is...a trendy shopping district in Los Angeles, California, USA 2019. If he’s going to help his new master, he needs to be up to date on the rules that govern this era. Within seconds, he’s up to speed on all the technological advancements and - whoa, the human race has been busy over the past couple decades.
The pungent smells of oiled wood and aged paper are heavy in the musty air. Before him is a young man, a plain, bronze lamp clutched against his chest in one hand, a hard-cover book in the other. His mouth hangs open, eyes wide and astonished. The pull Jensen feels - the supernatural bond that links him to the owner of the lamp - strengthens, intensifying to the point where even had there been a throng of people nearby, Jensen would have no trouble whatsoever in picking out the lucky dude. Dude? Is that right? Yeah, he thinks he’s using the phrase correctly.
In any case, the slack-jawed look of wonder on the guy’s face is a dead giveaway, for only the owner of the lamp can see him. That and the fact that there’s no one else around. The shop appears empty, not even a shopkeeper in sight from where he and his new master stand in a narrow side isle, shelves overflowing with nick-knacks and do-dads.
It’s not surprising that Jensen’s lamp ended up in such a place. The bronze it’s made of marks it as an object of some worth, however, with no ornamentation it’s difficult to see any real value in it. That’s why Jensen selected it all those millennia ago, he wanted to avoid the treasure seekers as much as possible, the masters who know what he can do and are only interested in power and wealth. He hopes the young man standing before him isn’t one of those.
Deciding to go old school until he figures out his new master’s preferences, Jensen steps back on his right foot, fists a hand over his chest and bows his head ever so slightly. “Master, what is your wish?”
“Wha-? How did you...? Where did you come from?” the young man splutters. The book he holds, pages brittle and age-yellowed, slips from his fingers. Before it falls more than an inch, a thin sliver of Jensen’s magic catches the book, playfully flings it high into the air, and then brings it to a graceful landing in Jensen’s outstretched hand.
The young man gawks.
Apparently, not a treasure seeker then. His new master doesn’t seem to know what he’s got clutched possessively against his chest, magic having been dismissed as pure fancy ages ago. Few true believers still exist and his new master obviously isn’t one of them. This calls for a more laid-back, casual approach.
Jensen grins, his mischievous side making an appearance. “I promise to answer all your questions and then some. Is there somewhere we can go and talk? This may take a while.” He rises into the air and floats past the astonished fellow, continuing on down the aisle. As an afterthought he adds, “Oh, and if you haven’t already purchased the lamp, you should do that right away. Trust me, it’s worth the price, whatever they charge you. And besides, the lamp already recognizes you as its new owner. That’s why I’m here. There’s no going back now.” He throws a wink over his shoulder and sees that the guy seems frozen in place, still staring at him. “Are you coming? What’s your name, if you don’t mind my asking, Master?”
With a start, the guy hurries to catch up. “Jared,” he manages, although the word sounds punched out of him.
“Nice to meet you, Jared. I’m Jensen, your new best friend.” He turns to face his master and floats backwards, heading for the proprietor of what he assumes is an antique store what with all the dusty paraphernalia and furniture for sale. A giddy euphoria bubbles up inside him at the sight of Jared nearly tripping over his own feet in his amazement. The emotions take him by surprise. He doesn’t remember ever feeling this...captivated by a human before. Certainly not merely from the introduction of a new master, not even one as adorable as this one. He shrugs to himself and chalks it up to his previous loneliness. It’s wonderful to be in the material plane again and this master is going to be a good one, he can tell already. The guy has no idea what’s in store for him.
They reach the counter and Jensen hands Jared the book. “Were you going to get that, too?”
Jared takes the book without sparing it a glance, his attention solely on Jensen’s feet which are hovering a few inches off the floor.
Jensen draws his legs up until he’s floating cross-legged at Jared’s eye level, folds his arms over his chest in a regal pose, and nods toward the man behind the counter who is looking at Jared expectantly. “You should probably pay him.”
Jared’s wide-eyed gaze swings to the shop owner and back to Jensen again. “You-You’re floating. Why isn’t he…? H-he doesn’t see you, does he?” The little arm flail Jared makes in the general direction of the man standing behind the counter is reminiscent of an agitated octopus. It would be funny if the shop owner didn’t look two seconds away from pushing the panic button on the underside of the cash register. A trip to the local drunk tank is the last thing they need. Jared doesn’t even know how to use the lamp yet.
Jensen schools his expression into his most benign, yet serious. “No, he doesn’t, Master. Nor can he hear me so you should really stop talking to me in front of him before you get yourself kicked out of the store without making your purchases. That would make things a bit messy.” He floats around behind the counter until his face is hovering over the store keep’s shoulder. Maybe this will make it easier for his distracted master to focus on the transaction at hand.
It works, for the most part. Jared thrusts the book at the shop keeper, a small, balding man with a neatly trimmed mustache. He holds onto the lamp, but says, “This too,” blue-green eyes darting back and forth between the two faces in front of him.
Jensen nods in approval. Jared’s possessiveness of the lamp, his reluctance to let it go even for the short time it would take the shop keeper to process the purchase, is a good sign. It means he feels the magic linking them together and that, in turn, will make persuading him the magic and everything that comes with it (including Jensen himself) is real, go much more smoothly. The simple tricks Jensen has been performing for Jared so far, the floating and plucking the book out of mid-air with his magic, haven’t been show-boating. Okay, maybe a little bit, but they also serve a much more important purpose. Each display of magic that Jared witnesses solidifies the reality of magic in his mind. In this day and age when real magic is nearly impossible to find and few believe, it takes much more proof than it used to. In order for Jared to be able to use the gift he’s been given to the fullest extent, he will need a profound and unalterable belief in the unbelievable.
The shop keeper scrunches up his eyebrows. His lips thin into a distrusting line as he quickly rings up the two items, probably hoping to move things along and get the crazy out of his store as soon as possible just in case it’s contagious. He names his price and Jared doesn’t blink an eye, simply fumbles his wallet from a pocket one-handed and tosses a credit card on the counter.
While the transaction transpires, Jensen uses the opportunity to get his first good look at the person who, with a single touch of the lamp, has become Jensen’s entire world. His master is young, possibly in his second or third decade of life, with an expressive face and a shaggy mop of dark hair. He has strong, broad shoulders that taper to a slender waist and long, coltish legs clad in denim.
A flush suffuses Jared’s checks, and Jensen realizes he’s been caught staring. Hmm, interesting. He wonders why Jared would have that reaction to his scrutiny. It’s something he will need to get used to because Jensen’s existence now revolves around learning as much about Jared’s preferences and desires as he can. The more he knows about his master the better he can serve and guide him toward fulfillment.
Purchases made, Jared turns toward the door, but not before tilting his head at Jensen in an obvious mimic of Jensen’s earlier ‘Are you coming?’ question. The shop keeper’s head swivels around to look over his shoulder. Upon seeing nothing, he returns to frowning at Jared’s retreating back.
Jensen swiftly catches up to his master even though Jared is fast-walking at an impressive clip, long legs eating up the distance like there’s a prize awaiting him on the sidewalk. The bell above the door jingles merrily as Jared flings it open and steps through. The store’s entry is too small to fit them both side by side, so Jensen floats through the adjoining wall without missing a beat. He could just as easily have popped into the spiritual plane and reappeared on the sidewalk if he’d wanted. Neither distance nor matter have much meaning to him, for the physical laws of space and matter don’t apply to djinn.
As soon as the shop door jingles closed, Jared rounds on him. Gone is the sweet, baffled expression and in its place is one of determination. He looks like he’s done playing, like he wants answers and he wants them now. His new master has spunk. And a thirst for knowledge. That’s good. Both will come in handy.
Jensen raises an eyebrow and waits for the explosion. It doesn’t come. Jared visibly reins in his impatience, narrows his eyes, and says, “What are you?”
Nicely done, Jensen thinks to himself. Self control as well. He likes this one. He likes him a lot. “Very good first question, Master. I’m a djinn otherwise known as a genie of the lamp. You know, a magical spirit come to grant your every wish.” He plants his incorporeal feet on the ground, presses his palms together in front of his chest and bows. Appearances are important after all.
Jared barks out a disbelieving laugh. “How can you say that with a straight face? There’s no such things as djinn. You don’t even look like a genie anyway.” He paces in front of Jensen, two agitated steps toward the street and two back toward the shopfront, while looking him up and down. A woman holding the hand of a small child steps off the sidewalk to go around him, giving him a wide berth.
This is going about how Jensen expected. The hurdle of belief is always a difficult one to get over. “Let me guess, you were expecting a blue dude or maybe a woman with a long blonde ponytail like from that 60’s sitcom.”
“I wasn’t expecting anything,” Jared vehemently denies. “I was minding my own business, shopping for a conversation piece to put on my coffee table, and *poof* there you were.” Jazz hands accompany this last part. A group of construction workers on the other side of the street glances their way.
Jensen inclines his head. “As much as I am happy to enlighten you further, my master. Might I suggest we select a more private venue for this particular conversation?”
Jared turns in a slow circle, noting the curious construction workers and the anxious mother. He nods abruptly and motions to a vehicle parked on the side of the street nearby. “My car. We can talk in there.”
The car is nothing special, an older model if the faded paint and worn interior are anything to go by. But it’s well cared for and clean. Jensen pops the locks and the driver side door creaks open before Jared has even gotten his keys out. The magic used for these small manifestations comes from his own personal allotment which, while not infinite, is more than enough for this purpose. He barely feels any diminishment at all.
Jared pauses on his way to the car, but only for a second. Then, his strides lengthen. He slides in behind the wheel and pulls his door closed, giving Jensen an accusing glare as he places the lamp in his lap and throws the book into the back seat. Jensen floats serenely through the passenger side door and alights, still cross legged, onto the seat.
“Okay, so a genie,” Jared states, matter of factly. “I suppose next you’re going to tell me you’ll grant me three wishes.”
“Yes, master. Well, something to that affect. The three wishes thing is a bit of a simplification. It’s more like, you make wishes and I grant them until your magical allocation runs out.”
Eyes sparking and a smile playing at his lips, Jared says, “Very well, for my first wish...”
Jensen waits through the pause he knows Jared is using to build suspense. It would be foolish for Jared to use a wish before he has a better understanding of the rules and limitations, and Jensen would undoubtedly be hastening to stop him before he made a mistake, except that simply stating he’s making a wish isn’t enough to activate the magic.
Jared appears to have accepted his fantastical new reality faster than expected. His new master is full of surprises. Jensen can tell he’s going to have to stay on his toes with this one. Still, it’s good to see him having some fun already. He decides he’ll cover this wish on his own dime, as long as it’s within his power to do so.
As it turns out, he needn’t have bothered.
“I wish you would stop calling me ‘master’. It’s a little weird. How about you just call me Jared.” And he full-on grins, dimples on display, obviously very pleased with his own wit.
The dimples flash in more ways than one and Jensen is blinded, just as surely as if twin sun flares had erupted in front of his face. Nothing like this has ever happened to him before. He puts a hand up to shield his eyes, briefly stunned, and when he lowers it again, the sun flares are gone.
“Hey man, you okay? Was it my wish? Did I do something wrong? It was just supposed to be a joke. I thought maybe we didn’t need to be quite so formal.” Jared puts out a hand, presumably to pat his shoulder, but his hand goes right through Jensen’s incorporeal body. The eyebrows that had been knit in concern now shoot up in surprise.
Jensen manages a smile. “No Mast-, I mean, no Jared. Your wish was...nice, a little unorthodox, but well within my powers to grant.” His smile becomes more genuine. “No magic required.”
Lowering his hand, Jared still appears unconvinced. “You sure you’re okay?”
The focus on his well-being makes Jensen uncomfortable. Especially since he doesn’t understand what caused his earlier distress. He’d rather stick to a subject in which he is extremely knowledgeable. “I’m fine, truly. Shall I explain more about how your wishes work?”
“I do want to hear about my wishes, but first I want to know more about you.” Jared relaxes back in his seat, turned sideways like he doesn’t want to miss a word of what Jensen has to say. Like he’s truly interested.
“Me?” Jensen cocks his head, confused. No one has ever cared much about him beyond the magic. He tries to think of one single master - and he’s had hundreds - who ever asked to know more about him, and comes up empty. Jared is turning out to be one surprise after another. “What do you want to know?”
“Let’s start with why my hand goes right through you and why no one else can see you.” Jared’s eyes are alight with curiosity.
The effect they have on Jensen is acute. He feels Jared’s gaze pierce him, bore right through him. He ponders his answer, needing it to be satisfactory. His deep-seated desire to please his master is somehow amplified with Jared and that should perhaps concern him, but it doesn’t. “Essentially, I am a spirit. An angel in some cultures. My home is the spiritual plane or some call it the ethereal plane. I can travel to the astral plane or here to the material plane, but I have no substance, no essence that can be affected by anything here. The only reason you can see me is because I am bound to the lamp and the lamp is bound to you until your magic allotment is used up. Does that make sense?”
Jared nods, seemingly deep in thought. “Are there other djinn in the ethereal plane with you? Do you have a family?”
Jensen stares for a long, unblinking moment, trying to fathom what Jared is getting at with these strange questions. Why would these things be important to his new master? Jensen’s family life, or really the lack thereof, shouldn’t concern Jared one iota. Yet Jared asked, so he will answer truthfully and to the best of his ability. “Djinn are solitary beings. The ethereal plane is vast and the djinn are few in number. Rarely do we inhabit the same place at the same time. Djinn don’t have family.” He smiles softly, affected by Jared’s concern in ways he doesn’t understand.
“Sounds lonely.” Jared’s eyes fill with empathy.
“It is,” Jensen replies before he thinks better of it.
He shakes his head, uncertain how they got here. This line of inquiry isn’t helping Jared learn anything of importance. “But enough about me. You must have other questions. Questions about the magic you now have at your disposal. There are things you will need to know before you make your first real wish.”
“Yeah...wishes.” It’s Jared’s turn to shake his head, making his long bangs fall into his eyes. “The strangest part of all this is the more I listen to you talk about wishes and magical lamps and the ethereal plane and things that are just supposed to be fairy tales, the more I believe it’s all true.” He rakes a hand through the unruly bangs. “I believe you. I don’t know why. There’s no reason I should beyond the fact that I’ve seen you float through walls and...” He waves his hand around in the air. “Other stuff. Aside from that though, something in my gut is telling me that I need to listen to you. That I can trust you. Problem is...I don’t know what to ask. So, maybe you should start from the beginning and tell me everything. What do I need to know?”
“I know it’s a lot to take in. You’re doing very well. Better than most.” This praise is earnestly offered. Some of his previous masters have been ridiculously difficult to convince. “The first thing you should know is that almost everything you’ve heard about genies and wishes is nonsense.” Jensen holds a hand out palm up, and a two-inch high Aladdin appears. The cartoon image clutches a genie lamp while a tiny monkey scampers from shoulder to shoulder, chattering angrily. “The stories and movies have got it all wrong. They’re ridiculous. Best to just forget what you’ve seen and start fresh.” His hand closes into a fist and, when he opens it again, the image is gone. “So, let’s start from the beginning.”
Jared breaks out into a grin. “Wait, wait, before you get started, you aren’t about to start dancing around and singing about how like if my restaurant and you’re my maître d', are you? ‘Cause if so, we may need to take this discussion back to my house where we won’t scandalize half of L.A. when the car starts rocking.”
A laugh bubbles up unexpectedly and comes out as a snort. “Do I look like a large, blue blob with a top knot and Robin Williams’ voice to you? That’s just my point, there’s a lot you need to learn. You can’t believe everything you’ve seen in the movies. There will be no singing or dancing.” Arching an eyebrow, he puffs out his chest. “Although he was right about one thing...you ain’t never had a friend like me.”
Jared chuckles. “No, you are definitely not a blue blob. Okay, so tell me. What are the provisos and quid pro quos? How does magic work?”
Continue to Chapter 2