Jake and Lauren buy a house that's quaint, but what they find in the attic ain't.
|Djinn in the Box (This was written with a deck of cards as the prompt for a contest. "Invalid Item" )
Lauren and Jake Murphy were enchanted by the quaint and quiet town of Milton. They spent the weekend at a small bed and breakfast, strolling down the streets and stopping in little shops and watching children play with their dogs. They were pleasantly surprised at how friendly the people were. An older lady in a smock and garden gloves smiled and nodded as she carved furrows in flower beds for the new season's plants, and a teenager mowing the lawn even raised his hand to wave, despite headphones glued to his ears like an extra appendage. This was a new and welcome change from the city where they lived now.
They saw the house for the first time when they went out to eat. A perfect white Victorian house perched on the corner of Clifton Street. It had gingerbread trim, a winding brick walkway, and understated lace curtains hung in the windows. To Lauren and Jake it looked inviting, and warm and friendly. There was a ‘for sale’ sign out front, and Lauren and Jake teased one another about calling the realtor, just for fun.
After returning home, they talked about the house. Finally, Lauren called the realtor's local office and they gave her the asking price and the agent’s number in Milton. She couldn’t believe the price.
At breakfast on Saturday, Lauren said to Jake, "It's a really nice house, don't you think? We should at least look at it."
Jake said, "There has to be something wrong for it to be so cheap. Maybe it has termites, or mold, or something."
"Maybe it's haunted," she said, and then laughed.
"Or probably some of your relatives hanging around."
"Hey, they can't help it. You know you shouldn't talk about the family." She said, and swatted him playfully with her newspaper as she cleared the dishes..
He grinned back at her, "Yeah... Do you think maybe somebody was murdered in the house and now it's full of evil and unhappy spirits?"
"You know I don't believe in ghosts." She laughed, then said. "We should go see it, though. We'll always wonder if we don't."
Lauren and Jake made an appointment for the next Saturday to see the house in Milton. The realtor was an attractive blond woman with a red leather briefcase and expensive sunglasses.
“Welcome, welcome! My name is Janet Williams. You must be Lauren and Jake. It’s so nice to meet you.” She said with a smile. “You’d like to look at the Victorian on Clifton Street. Is that right?”
“Yes, we fell in love with it a couple of weeks ago. It seems like such a perfect house, and well maintained.” Lauren said, “I asked our local realtor the price, and I’m not sure he had it right." Lauren thought the price might have been wrong, and that she was about to be shocked.
“Oh, yes. I spoke to Jonathan, the realtor in your city. The price he gave was correct. The man who owns it bought it at auction about three years ago. I think he and his family stayed there for a short while, but they left and haven’t been back except to list it with my company. I guess he decided it just wasn’t for them.” Janet shook her head and frowned a little. She brightened as if coming away from a bad thought, ‘Well, would you like to go see it? I have the key right here in my bag.”
They went to see the house. It was everything Lauren had hoped and more. The kitchen was well-appointed, and newly remodeled with current appliances, and the bedroom had a lovely walk-in closet. The house was as beautiful and livable inside as it was charming and neat outside.
Four weeks later Lauren and Jake drove down for the weekend to stay in their new “Vacation Vic” as they liked to refer to it. They put their things away and made up the four-poster in the master bedroom. Things they found while looking around the home delighted them. The previous owner had left a good mower and grill in the shed, a small weedy garden bed lay withered in the backyard, and there were things in the attic that looked like old furniture and boxes under sheets.
Lauren said, "Don't go up there tonight, I'm too sleepy." as Jake started up the attic stairs.
He said, "Okay, we'll tackle that tomorrow," then he gave her a sly grin. "Race ya!" he said as he took off down the hallway to the bedroom.
"Hey, you cheat." She said as she pounced on him on the big bed. They laughed and giggled, weaving fanciful stories about what they'd find in the attic tomorrow.
Jake stroked Lauren’s auburn hair.
“I think we made a good decision. I really like this house, and you know what? This neighborhood would be great for kids, too.” He smiled, and she laughed and buried her face in his chest and hugged him hard. They awoke at midnight to a rustling that sounded like it was coming from the attic.
“Probably just a pigeon or a bat in the eaves.” Lauren said sleepily as she yawned.
“Mm-hm," he yawned. "We’ll check out the upstairs in the morning.” Jake said as he drifted back to sleep.
“Ugh, did you get the broom? And the vacuum? And the respirators? Lauren asked rhetorically, then sneezed.
The attic was dusty and cobwebbed so thickly it was hard to tell if there was furniture in the room, or if spiders had just piled up all their webs for the last century and made a playground of them. They started looking in boxes strewn over the floor. After about two hours and nothing but old electric bills and broken lamp pieces, they were a little bored. They found a couple of decent chairs and a nice dining table, but nothing too fancy. Lauren walked over to the window as Jake half-heartedly opened a new box. The windows were caked with years of thick dust. Lauren drew a smiley face in one of the panes and grinned.
“Somebody certainly didn’t do windows,” she said as she peered through the clear lines she’d made on the glass. “Hey, look, you can see the whole street. Cool.”
“Nah. This is cool. Come look.” Jake was holding a dusty wooden box. It looked like a small jewelry box. He brushed at the dust and revealed gold inlaid patterns over the top of the box and around the sides. The top was bordered by a quarter inch band of gold, and was patterned with narrow diamonds, small dots, and a thin intertwining twisted rope looping around the diamonds, all in lightly raised gold.
“That’s pretty.” Lauren said as she looked over his shoulder. “Where’d you find that? You know, it kind of looks like the back of a playing card.”
“It does, doesn’t it? There’s something written on the bottom.” He brushed carefully and exposed letters. “’India’, it says. Huh.”
“Well, open it already!” Lauren demanded, giving his shoulder a playful push.
“I was just trying to build up the anticipation.” Jake smirked.
Lauren rolled her eyes. “You’re weird.”
Inside the box was an open space holding a solitary deck of cards. The pattern on the cards matched the box.
“Wonder if they’re all there?” Jake mused as he took out the deck and started thumbing through them. "Well there’re fifty-two. See, I just knew we’d find good stuff up here.”
Lauren smiled and shook her head bemusedly; “It really doesn’t take much to make you happy, does it?” She looked in the cardboard box next to Jake. “Anything else interesting in there?”
“Looks like your standard ‘junk drawer’ stuff.” He said with a small shrug, and riffled through the box. “You know, old buttons, screws, a ruler. Oh wow, it’s a Sears blender manual!”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, I think I’ve had enough for now. My eyes are starting to water from the dust. I think we really do need respirators up here. I’m going down to get something to drink.” Lauren said as she stretched.
“I’ll be right behind you.” Jake said as he put some stuff back in the box.
They didn’t go back up to the attic again that day. They enjoyed their back porch with take-out Chinese and some nice wine.
They decided they wanted to make the "Vacation Vic" their home. The commute to work wouldn't be too bad, so they started staying at the house full-time the next week. They'd move everyhing in a week or two, but they just wanted to be in their new house.
That Saturday night again at midnight, they heard noises in the attic. Now there were banging, scraping noises, like wild animals fighting.
“I’ll go see.” Jake said, “You don’t need to get up.” He went to the door, turned on the light and peered up into the attic. “It’s quiet now. Must’ve got out.” He went up the steps and looked around. Nothing looked different from earlier in the day. He noticed the gilt box still lying where he’d left it, and picked it up and brought it downstairs.
“What was it? Lauren asked.
“Dunno, Didn’t look like anything was up there.” He shrugged and went back to bed. He set the box on his nightstand and kissed Lauren good-night.
Lauren went to the grocery store in the morning while Jake stayed and poked around the yard. It was getting warmer, so he went upstairs and changed into a short-sleeved shirt. Noticing the box on the night-stand, he picked it up and turned it over in his hands. Shrugging, he took it downstairs with him and sat at the counter. He smiled to himself. It had been a while since he'd played Solitaire. He took out the cards and shuffled them quickly, but then dropped them as they started to give off red sparks. His eyes widened.
The sparks became red smoke that coalesced into a vaguely human shape, then solidified into a beautiful young woman with raven-black hair in a long braid. She had tilted dark eyes that seemed to drink in one’s soul, and seemed wiser than her apparent years.
“Thank you for freeing me, kind one. I owe you gifts. Please make a request of me, and I will gladly grant it.” She bowed deeply, showing assets well formed and enticing. He noticed she was wearing a gilded belt with the same pattern as on the outside of the box.
Jake just stared with his mouth open. He backed up from her, his eyes widening still farther. “You… You... Uh. Wow. Are you real?”
“Yes, I am real." she said and laughed, a sound of tinkling bells. "I am a Djinni, bound into this box and released by the movement of the cards. I am now at your service to give you your heart’s desire.” She nodded graciously.
His initial shock under control, he said quietly, “Wait until Lauren sees this.”
She heard him and her eyes narrowed so slightly he nearly missed it.
“Can I get you something? A drink, or something? We have some good wine, or maybe a sandwich?” He blurted, but felt relieved as he heard the gravel in the driveway crunch. Lauren was home.
The Djinni’s head snapped toward the sound, her eyes flashing. Then she reversed into smoke and sparks that swirled into the box with a ‘Pop’, then the room grew eerily quiet as Lauren came in the door.
“Hey, Mrs. Simpkins at the market said there’s a big yard sale on Saturday.” Lauren said as she started putting food into the refrigerator. She noticed him still standing there with his strange shocked expression, cards strewn on the floor. “What’s the matter? Are you okay?" Concern crept into her voice, and her face became worried. She stood abruptly and reached out to him. “Jake? Jake! You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He stared vacantly at her a moment longer, then seemed to rally. As matter-of-factly as he could manage, he said, “No, not a ghost, a Djinni.”
She rolled her eyes and said, “Don’t tease me like that. I was scared for a minute.” She sighed, shaking her head, and went back to putting away the eggs. Then she smiled a half-smile. “You didn't find something in that dried out garden and decide to eat it or smoke it or something, did you?
Jake took a deep breath, debating whether to tell her and make her think he was crazier than he thought himself at the moment. Ah, well, might as well bite the bullet. He thought, and then told her the whole story of how the Djinni appeared in a shower of sparks and offered to grant his requests.
“You mean, like three wishes and all that? Hah, you must have been smoking something. Besides, you have to have a magic lamp for one of those.” She smiled. “You probably just fell asleep at the counter and dreamed it. So it was a girl Djinni, was it?” She jibed, raising her eyebrows suggestively.
They picked up the cards and put them back in the box. They spent the rest of the day working in the yard, and cooked dinner on the porch again. The subject of the Djinni didn't come up again. Jake was beginning to think he had fallen asleep after all, and imagined it.
That night at midnight the noises started again. This time they came from downstairs in the kitchen. Banging and screeching sounds crashed up the stairs. Jake and Lauren both got out of bed and hurried down the stairs. But there was nothing in the kitchen, and the noises had stopped once they started down the stairs.
“This is weird. I know I wasn’t dreaming this time.” Jake said heatedly. “We need to find out what’s going on for real, now.’
He sat down at the counter. Lauren watched with arms folded across her chest and a put-upon expression on her face.
He carefully opened the box and laid the cards on the countertop. “Ok, here goes.” He said, and twitched his head in a mini-shrug. He took the deck and fanned them out, then began shuffling. Nothing happened. No sparks, no smoke. He smiled sheepishly at Lauren and shrugged.
“Well, since we’re up anyway, I’ll make a pot of tea and we can put those cards to good use in a game of gin.” Lauren said as she opened the cupboard. They played a couple of games and then went back to bed.
The Djinni had decided to bide her time. She was patient. She was three thousand years old; there was time. Jake would learn, he would be hers soon enough.
For four nights after that, it was quiet. No noises, no crashing or shrieking. Friday morning Lauren went to get some plants for the garden while Jake worked on readying the garden plot. It was warm when he finished, so he went inside to get a soda from the fridge. He grabbed a magazine from the counter, and was about to take it outside to read on the porch, when he noticed the gilt box. Maybe just a game of Solitaire, he thought. He sat at the counter and opened the box slowly. The shape coalesced immediately into the Djinni. Jake was taken by surprise. He thought the cards had to be shuffled; that was what she’d said…”
“Ah, Master.” She smiled a sweet and welcoming smile that never reached her eyes. “So good to see you again. I have missed you greatly. It has been so lonely here in my box, since I was allowed to bask in your radiance so briefly.” She moved closer. “Whisper your desires to me, and you will never be lonely like that. I will make you wonderfully happy. Please let me serve you.” She undulated slightly, exhibiting her sinuous form and mesmerizing his senses. She spoke to him softly, hoping to entice the request that would set her free, then she could kill him and eat his flesh. She was so hungry. But her bondage had to be broken first. There was only one way to do so, and it would have been easy for her with most men. She didn’t understand why this one kept balking her. He should have tried to be alone with her long ago.
She heard Lauren coming home. She growled to herself, but to Jake she said “Our time must be secret, I cannot serve more than one. Please, keep my confidence.”
Jake was sorely confused, now. He didn’t want to tell Lauren, because she’d think he was fantasizing about another woman... Or, then again, she might just tease him about imagining things again. Either way he thought he’d let it go for now. He was just not going to open the box again. He found it wasn’t that simple.
In his dreams she came, enticing and offering. Pleading. Demanding he come to her. She was determined, but he would not succumb, not even in his dreams. He was Lauren’s, and Lauren’s alone. It had been that way since they’d met.
After a couple of weeks, his sleep became fitful. He tried not to sleep, but he became more tired and irritable. Lauren finally convinced him to tell her about the dreams. As she listened her eyes became narrowed and her mouth thinned.
Jake said, “Are you angry with me? I really don’t know why I keep seeing her. I love you so much, and I don’t need anyone else.” He broke down, desperate not to hurt her because of this woman who kept appearing to him.
Lauren’s face softened for a moment. “I’m sorry, I’m not angry with you. I’m angry at me for not believing you before. This will be fixed. I promise you.”
She kissed him. “Now, we’re going downstairs. I want you to think only about the Djinni. Then I want you to make her appear. Don’t let on that I’m there. I just want to observe. Don’t worry.” She smiled.
The sparks came again, just as before. The Djinni appeared just as she had been earlier. She looked a mite pissed, he thought.
“Ah, good Master.” The annoyance seemed to leave her features. “You have returned to me. You may request of me what you will. I was missing you. I can feel you are here to ask me something. Will you make your request, now? Anything you desire. I will give you bliss beyond your wildest dreams.” Again she bowed. Lauren had been watching in silence, but at this she cleared her throat.
The Djinni, startled, snapped her head around and took in Lauren’s stony countenance. “You are not welcome! Go from here, now!” The Djinni commanded Lauren, who just stared at her in silent rage. She thrust her hand imperiously at Lauren, but looked shocked that Lauren remained where she was.
“No, my evil little Djinni. It is you who will go. He is mine, and will always be mine. He is my path to immortality. Not yours. He is held to me by love, something you will never understand.” Lauren waved, her eyes flashing with a fierce fire, and the Djinni screamed. She dwindled and flattened into the size and shape of a playing card. “Jake, be a dear and take the queen of hearts out of that deck, will you? It doesn’t need two."
Jake did as she asked, and said, "Sometimes it's nice to have fairies as in-laws. Remind me to thank your grandmother when we see her next." he smiled and hugged his wife, the grand-daughter of the Fairy Queen.
She smiled, and said, "Let's go back to bed." She kissed his cheek, and as they left the kitchen, she reached back to shut off the light illuminating the Djinni-queen of hearts playing card. A crystalline tear decorated the card's face.
Word count: 3635