Men, Djinn & Angels short stories
He didn’t expect a warm welcome when he asked the strange woman if he could tour her home. The lady took her son in her arms and held him close. She attempted retreat with the child, but her path was blocked. They were at a standstill. Her eyes moved left to right. She was frightened but he didn’t care. He wanted her to hear him out.
“I grew up in this house,” he explained as if oblivious that he held her attention hostage. “We lost it, when I was perhaps the same age as the child you embrace.”
He watched her eyes narrow. They warned him against any threat to her child. “Well it is my home now,” she scowled. Then she swallowed and her eyes darted side to side. She looked for something or someone. “My husband will be home soon. You better leave.”
He turned his back to her and walked closer to the door. He reached out to touch the wood. It was the same wood that he remembered. The dull brown varnish had not changed its appearance much. “My father died five steps away from this door.” He turned to her. “I saw it. My mother and I hid under the floor and watched the man plunge his knife into my father’s belly.”
“Why do you speak like this in front of my child?”
“He will not be a child long.” He stepped toward her. She retreated two steps. “The storm is coming. I must see the inside of your house.”
“I wish you to go now. My husband will be home soon.” Her voice was desperate. “He is a very violent man. He will shoot you where you stand.”
“My father did not deserve to die.” He took one more step closer. The walking stick in his hand crushed a rock.
“Did I kill him?” Her eyes shifted from the pebbles.
“Then please leave us.”
He stopped his advance and stood with open arms at his waist as if he surrendered. “I will leave, if you hear my story.” He paused to see if his sincere words coupled with his begging eyes softened her. “Then you will know that I mean no harm.”
She moved to the side and looked past him as if she considered making a run for the door. The child was heavy, and her arms ached. Running was impossible with him in her arms. “I listen to your story and you leave?”
“Yes.” He smiled gently.
Slowly she lowered the child and guided him behind her. His inquisitive eyes looked at the strange man, peeping around her thigh.
“First, my name is Moses.” He turned and walked to the home. Two steps led to the door. He sat on the first one, the stick lay flat across his lap. He waited patiently for the lady to edge closer to him.
She moved two steps closer and turned her head. She looked for someone to call. There was no one. Two acres of land—mostly unharvested dry dust—lay between her and the nearest neighbor.
“My father was Kareem. Although he was a spiritual man, he fought the war at Adwa.” He paused for a moment and dropped his eyes to her dust-covered sandals and amber painted nails. “He had a secret and made the mistake of telling that secret to a friend. Soon after the war, his friend betrayed him. Ras Tessema sent his Imperial Bodyguard here for my father’s secret.”
He watched her eyes move swiftly from him to the satchel that hung from his shoulder. Then she turned to see the dusty road behind her. A dry wind pushed the dust. Her eyes gave away her thoughts. The way they opened slightly wider whenever he said the word secret encouraged him to continue with his story.
“My father had something special. It was parchment with words written in the Fire language. He was a sworn protector of it secrets.”
“That language is not real,” she snapped at him with a venomous stare.
He lifted the walking stick and held it beside him. “I’m afraid that it is very real.” He gleamed at her with cold eyes. “If read aloud, they will open gates from where marching armies of God will enter this world and rip it asunder. They will bring fire and brimstone; turn stone into dust!” He sprayed saliva when he yelled. “My father could wield that power. He swore to protect it and they killed him right there behind this door.”
The child clutched his mother’s legs.
“Stop it. You’re frightening him.”
He stepped closer to her. She did not move. “My father swore to protect the world. Those words are inside your home.” His voice was softer now. “I need them. The storm is coming.”
She lowered her head. “I’ve heard your story. Will you please leave?”
“I will go.” He moved aside, giving her a clear path to the door. She did not move. Her head kept down and she sniffled as if to soon cry. “May I tell you my father’s last words to me?”
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” His voice was almost a whisper now. “Then he said ‘twenty-one, eight, thirteen.’” He shrugged his shoulders. She stepped away. “I did just as he said. I transformed.”
She walked faster, feet hard against the dirt.
“Strange that he would give me those numbers. Don’t you agree?”
She reached the door and the road behind Moses came alive. A four-door sedan with dusty windows turned onto the property. It was the husband. He was out of the car, it seemed before the engine stopped. His black jaws bulged from gritted teeth. His nose swelled open widely and he, without closing the car door, stepped to Moses. He ordered his wife, “Get inside.” Then he stood for a moment and gleamed at Moses with a hateful stare.
“My friend,” Moses spoke gently. He flashed a patronizing smile. “I was just here waiting for you. I need to tour your home.”
The husband turned without a word said. From the way he swung his arms, it was clear that he was a military man. He wore a uniform—not military, but the patch on the sleeve indicated that he functioned in some way to support the rebellion.
Moses followed behind him. He walked faster. The arm swing sharpened. The steps became increasingly determined. His boots clunked against the steps. Moses sensed his angry aura. He welcomed it. “Is this enough?” he spoke in a low voice that the husband did not hear.
“We need more fear,” something answered him.
Moses stood on the top step. The door slammed shut in his face. “I won’t be long,” he yelled through the door. “I just need to tour this place.”
There was a moment of silence. Then he heard the husband yelling. Next a sound escaped the home like broken dishes. Then there was a plea from the wife. “Not in front of the baby.”
Moses knocked on the door. “My friend,” he called with a desperate cry. “I lived here once and believe that something was left behind.”
The door opened to the width of the husband’s head. From the inside poked the barrel of a shotgun. Moses simply smiled. The husband’s rage was strong enough for reckless murder. His rage and the frightened wife and child created an energy so dense that Moses could almost see it.
“Almost there,” the voice encouraged Moses.
Moses smiled and looked past the gun barrel to his victim. “You will not shoot a Butakah master in front of your house, will you?”
“Damn you sorcerer,” the husband growled. “You will leave my home in a box.”
Moses shook his head and waved a finger. He spoke softer. “I will leave, walking on my two feet, but after I’ve entered your house and had my way with it.”
The husband squeezed the trigger. It did not move. He squeezed tighter.
A grit of the teeth replaced Moses’ smile. He gleamed into the husband’s thunderstruck face with a startling indifference. He watched the husband’s eyes shift down, then up. Bewilderment shadowed his face. He saw something—perhaps Moses’ horned companion standing a finger’s width from the gun barrel. Although transparent, his energy was strong enough to distort the husband’s vision. Moses watched him squeeze the trigger tighter. It did not move. His mouth gaped.
“We have enough,” the djinni spoke.
Moses turned. He held the walking stick parallel to the ground as he descended the steps. “I will give you time to reconsider.”
The anger and fear manifested energy so thick that it domed like a force field over the house. It was the hour of the sun, Moses noticed. Three hours to maintain the tension, Moses told himself. He walked to the car, closed the door, and then climbed to the top where he sat with folded legs. He was clearly visible from the two front windows and saw from time to time, curious eyes peering through them. Each time someone looked to see that he was gone, the dome’s longevity increased. During the hour of Mars, the sun descended. When it was Mercury’s hour, Moses climbed from the car. He counted thirteen paces from the step and planted his walking stick erect in the dirt. He walked thirteen more steps and turned to the house.
Holding a string of japa beads, he chanted softly. “Om bum budhaaya namah.” There were 108 beads on the string and on the 108th chant, the walking stick was surrounded by rabbit faced al-miraj. Each moved their Creamsicle-flamed bodies with quick hops toward the house and then back to the stick. The single horn centered in their head brightened as they moved deeper inside the dome, closer to the steps.
Moses sensed the presence of his spiritual comrade. He stood beside him, a pulsating heat warmed Moses’ shoulder. “Lead them on,” Moses commanded.
The djinni took off, a dozen al-miraj hopped along behind him. Their flamed bodies were through the door a half hour before Moses opened it with a gentle push inward. Two steps inside, he saw the husband sprawled on the floor as if he suddenly dropped in an unconscious faint. The shotgun lay beside him. Three al-miraj circled. They were to circle until Moses completed his search. He assumed the others were in the back of the house as he entered deeper inside. The once wood floor was now covered with a half dozen throw rugs. In the corner, where the trap door should be, were two wooden chairs, a table, and a lamp. He moved them aside and with the screwdriver taken from his satchel, he pried at the wood floor until it gave way. It was easier to open when he was a boy. The same could be said regarding the crawl between the gravel and the floorboards.
He came to a place where he needed to lay flat and writhe forward until he came to the metal box he sought. It was covered with spiderwebs and dust, but he did not mind. He could hardly see more than its shape but felt his hands around the edges until he found the combination lock—just as he suspected.
When he was atop, he opened the lock with the numbers his bleeding father said to him. His thoughts grew heavy on his father as he rummaged through the box contents. At the bottom of it was a wooden key. He lifted it into the light.
His comrade appeared; this time visible with a cloud of smoke covering him from waist to the floor. His ocean-blue eyes swirled in opposite directions as his scaled face pulled into a smile. “Now you may free my master.”
Moses sighed and with the confirmation the key grew hot in his hand. He dropped it. The burn left a mark the shape and size of the key. He stopped himself from clutching. The pain burned from his palm to his wrist. There was no magik to prevent the pain. With the other hand, he reached for the parchment. Perhaps there was some word he’d recognize.
“Do not read those words,” warned the djinni.
Moses glanced up at him. He knew that he should not read them. He was not yet initiated or baptized in the Lake of Erdios.
“Patience,” the spirit muttered. “Free my master and he will guide you to the Lake.”
Moses lowered his head. He wanted to read the words now. The palm blistered. There were words of power on the parchment. He sensed the vibrations of the letters lifting. Just seeing the letters were enough to activate the power of the wooden key. The letters wanted to be read. But even if he tried, Moses could not wield their power. He whispered, “The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil,” his eyes closed, “being patient about it until it gets the early and late rains.”
He closed the box and stood. I’ve passed the first temptation.
“You must go,” the djinni warned. “Before you weaken further.”
Moses agreed. He knew that he was not immune to the fear and anger that he created as it engulfed the home. He understood that his anxiousness was the first assault of the vibration. More assaults would soon come. He took the box and stepped forward. He realized that it had been more than fifteen years since he last stood inside that house. It was humbler. His parents did not afford the nice furniture that filled the front room. Yet as poor as they were, it was greed that killed his father. Depression killed his mother. All for what? The words on the paper in that box. The power of those words. Oh, if Menelik could have lived a thousand years. Then the foul Ras Tessema and his avariciously contemptuous villain company would have not sought their coup d’état.
Moses hesitated as such thoughts washed over his mind. He stood over the husband’s unconscious body. He noticed that the rabbit-like creatures circling were larger than before. He was curious to know how the husband came to this house and the affluent furniture in it. Was he a beneficiary of the overthrow? What role did his father play in making Menelik’s successor so inept?
“You should order his death,” a voice spoke to him.
Moses lowered his head. Revenge for his father was an honorable thought. Although, this man may not have benefited from my father’s death.
“That matters not.”
Moses knew that the voice was not his friend’s. Someone else was there. Three al-miraj paused and sat on their hind legs. They peered up and into Moses’ face, wrinkled with indecision. More approached from behind, leaving the back room to join Moses. He heard movement—no doubt the mother released from the creatures’ trance. Their horns centered on their heads prepared to plunge into their victim’s soul. He needed only to command them. They were anxious to obey.
“He will feel nothing,” the voice said.
Moses turned to see a winged figure grow from the shadow casted against the wall. Moses recognized the mark on the spirit’s bare chest. He was a fallen one, defeated and casted down. Cursed to human subjugation, Moses knew the spirt wanted to reverse the role. “You were not summoned,” Moses spoke firmly. “Why are you here?”
“Something called me.” He walked closer. Moses did not move, nor did he look the spirit in the eye. “Rage and hatred circle this place. Where there is rage, there must I be.”
Moses said nothing. This was his doing.
“Go ahead.” The djinni was close enough to whisper in Moses’ ear. “Destroy him. Do it now before the fear and anger dissipates.”
Moses was still. His heart raced.
“In the end, he caused his own death.” The djinni moved to the limp body. “His arteries are already clogged. His anger has done more than what you would do to him.” The spirit squatted and extended his wings. They were the length of the husband’s body. “Let us show him real anger in the next world.”
Moses heard footsteps behind him. They were small feet, light against the floor. He turned and saw the child entering the room. Moses read the child’s eyes and knew from the glare that he saw the djinni. He saw the twelve creatures lined on either side of his father.
“Very good,” the spirit said. “The child will watch as you did. This is justice.”
Perhaps it was justice. Moses suddenly could not differentiate between revenge and justice. But seeing the child awakened something inside of him. The coldness of heart and the heat from the rage around him was weakened by the unintimidated innocence in the child’s eyes. Moses stepped to the child cautiously—toe to heal. “Hi little one.”
The child did not move.
“Do not give in to your weakness,” the djinni yelled to Moses.
Moses took a knee. “Do you see that shadow beside your father?”
The child nodded. He stared doe-eyed across the room.
“Are you afraid of it?”
The child whispered, “No.”
Moses was relieved. The child was too young to fear the unknown. Moses anticipated that his curiosity would remedy the rage and fear that domed the house. Moses twisted his body to view the spirits. There were nine horned rabbits now. The djinni stood with folded black wings.
“He likes to go by the name Taniko,” Moses said. His eyes focused on the creature’s leather face. Fangs glowing pale white, he side-stepped the horned rabbits. There were four of them now.
“But if you use his true name,” Moses continued. He placed his hand on the child’s shoulder. “You can stop him where he stands.”
The spirit paused at those words. Moses saw the desperation flare in his flamed eyes as if an accelerant was thrown in them. His hands lifted as to try stopping Moses from saying the magical words.
“Katanikotael, mis bon tistu.”
It was too late. The smoke that circled his feet lifted to his waist and the spirit was transfixed.
Moses was satisfied. But the commotion from the back room warned him that the mother had come out of trance. He suspected that soon she’d gather her wits and search for the child. Her fright and desperation would re-energize the dissipating dome. Moses was suddenly desperate.
I’ve passed the second trial.
He turned to the child and smiled gently. “When I was a boy your age, I stood where you are now and watched my mother bring into this house a Christmas tree. Have you seen a Christmas tree?”
The boy whispered, “No.”
“My father did not like it, but he allowed it that one time. It had many lights. It was beautiful.”
He moved his eyes from the child to the transfixed djinni. He watched him squirm as if trying to escape invisible chains.
“Can you think of something very beautiful?”
The boy nodded.
“Good. I need you to do that. Think of the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen,” he whispered into the child’s ear.
Katanikotael growled, anticipating what Moses whispered. “Damn you, son of Adamu.”
“When I leave,” Moses said gently, “I want you to say those words and that shadow will go away.”
The boy looked at the djinni. His mouth gaped and he toyed with his trouser drawstring.
Moses stood. “Do you remember the words?”
Again the boy nodded. His eyes remained focused on the spirit.
“Think about that beautiful thing.” Moses stepped away from the child. He heard the mother’s footsteps. He walked faster.
Katanikotael yelled, “You are a fool, son of Adamu.”
Moses did not turn. He passed the husband. The al-miraj were gone. Reaching for the door, he pressed the box tight against his chest.
“This child cannot prevent my return.” Katanikotael’s desperate voice followed Moses through the door. “I will haunt him in his dreams!”
The mother entered the room just as Moses closed the door behind him. The child spoke the words, “Ya illah ha il la lah.”
Moses descended the steps. The tension surrounding it suddenly gone as if sucked away in a vacuum. He retrieved his walking stick and raced to the road. When he reached it, he glanced back at the house. He was satisfied to never see it again. The night was placid. The dome vanished.