Searching for peace in the bottom of a bottle (749 words)
|“Give me another,” I called to the bartender, raising my empty glass and pointing to it. At her nod, I dropped my arms back to the bar top with a sigh. The golden cuffs around my wrists clanked delicately against the wood of the bar. I remember thinking how beautiful they were, back when this all began, but no longer. The symbol of my people’s indentured servitude could never be beautiful to me, not when I was forced to do such ugly things.
My companion eyed my empty glass warily, and I spoke before he could.
“Leave me alone. It’s five o’clock somewhere.” Somewhere six time zones away, but whatever. I nodded thanks to the bartender as she slid another Cosmo in front of me, then took a long sip to ease the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat. Getting drunk probably wasn’t the ideal solution to my problems, but I needed to dull the pain. Five hundred years I had Served, and I came to know each of my masters, and mistresses, quite well in our time together. Usually, I became fond of them despite my efforts to remain distant. But a djinn is a djinn, and our nature always asserts itself with wishes, twisting them to horrible ends.
“Look, Al. I - I can’t do this anymore. I had to kill the last one, I couldn’t stop myself. He wished for a ton of gold, and before I could even think, I just...” It took another drink to work up the nerve to continue, and suddenly my glass was empty again. “I’m going to the mārijin min nār first thing tomorrow, before they give me a new assignment.”
My best friend was silent for a moment, and I gestured to the bartender again. She was getting that look that said I’d be cut off soon - I knew it well - but she nodded, reluctantly. One more, then I would have to go somewhere else. Home, or the bar around the corner. Maybe I’d toss a coin. Maybe I’d just go to the bar and not fool myself that I had a choice. If I was going to throw myself into the smokeless fire to be reborn tomorrow, I needed some liquid courage in the meantime.
“What if you started a family?” The words came out in a rush, and he determinedly kept his head down, avoiding eye contact. “We could - I mean, I would...” He trailed off, miserably, and raised his gaze to mine, eyes burning with a longing he’d hidden from me until now. “You wouldn’t have to Serve if you were a mother, Mari.”
My lips parted, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I’d had no idea he felt that way about me, but even if I felt the same... No. I couldn’t do it.
“And condemn my child to this?” I gestured to the cuffs on our wrists. “Never. I would never do that to anyone, especially my own child.” Toying with my empty martini glass, it was now me avoiding his gaze. “Al, I’ve thought about this for a long time. I was never cut out for this life, you know that. These mortals don’t deserve what we do to them.”
I could see the gears turning in his mind, trying to figure out the right thing to say to talk me out of what amounted to ritual suicide. It didn’t matter that I’d wake up in mortal form as soon as the next one was born. Dead was dead for at least a little while. Before he could speak again, a wind swept through the room. It reached us, and I felt my body melt into the summoning. Our eyes met, his wide with panic as he mouthed my name, but I was already gone.
I opened my eyes to a small, exquisitely decorated room. My bottle, of course. I wondered idly how long I had before my next master would find and release me. Maybe this time would be different, and the human that found me would be terrible. Maybe I could hate this one, then when my nature rebelled against both of us, I wouldn’t mind so much. But as the ground shifted beneath my feet, and the stopper of my bottle worked free, I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t be any easier this time. I’d just have to endure it, and then I could finally walk into the flames and be free.