Here’s my take on Carol J Forrester’s monthly speculative fiction prompt. This months prompt is a very intriguing photo with so many possibilities, I look forward to reading the other great takes to see where other writers have taken it (~1000 words).
“Tom?” Ann whispered, peering around the door. The musty room was silent. Half-closed curtains shaded much of the study. The only light, a dusty sunbeam that streamed through yellowed nets. It could have been a tomb but for the goldfish happily swimming around the large fishbowl on the sunlit table. Tom knew the rules, Aunt Agatha’s study was strictly off-limits. She’d searched everywhere and was about to give up. It looked like Tom was going to win this one. Which of course meant Tom was cheating. She bellowed. “Tom!”
There was a dull thud from the far side of the room. “You cheat!” she cried scanning the room for signs of movement. “You know you can’t be in here.”
“Right, I’m telling!” Ann threatened. It worked the table by the window jolted. The goldfish bowl teetered, water sloshed over its rim. “Tom!” she shouted but it was too late. The bowl fell from the table. Ann couldn’t watch. She braced herself for the crash, for the inevitable accusations. It would, of course, be her fault. As the oldest it always was. Stupid Tom, always breaking the rules. It took her a moment to realise there’d been no crash. She opened an eye.
Sitting on the floor in the sunbeam, sat a strange man. The edge of a bright orange cloak slung haphazardly over one shoulder, its bold fish scale design shimmered in the light. His face was covered in black ink and in his hands, he held the empty goldfish bowl. Through wisps of smoke, he stared up at her. He didn’t look happy.
“Did I win?” said Tom, throwing back the tablecloth and hitting his head on the underside of the table.
The stranger looked from Ann to Tom, sighed and shook his head.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Okay?” the stranger whined. “Do you know …. no, you wouldn’t would you!”
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Ann said.
“Who am I?” the stranger spat back.
Tom climbed out from under the table rubbing his forehead. “Where’d he come from?”
“Good point Tom. Just where did you come from?” Ann asked. She crossed her arms for full effect, trying to hide the fact she had no idea what was going on. The stranger raised the empty goldfish bowl, his eyes darted up and down at it.
“Noo, where’s the goldfish?” said Ann, diving for the floor. Tom joined the search but there was no flip-flopping fish to be found.
The stranger rolled his eyes. Stood up so the children could search around him and carefully placed the bowl on the table. “I was in the bowl!”
Ann stopped the fruitless search. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I was in the bowl. I’m a Jinn.”
“I know,” Tom said excitedly. “He’s a genie, you know like Aladdin. The bowl must be like his lamp.”
The stranger held a finger up to correct Tom. He didn’t get a chance.
“Do we get wishes?” Tom asked excitedly.
“I’m not a genie,” growled the stranger his eyes flared with real fire.
The flames only spurred Tom on. “How many do we get?”
“Tom, I don’t think he’s a genie,” Ann said trying to calm him down. “There’s no such thing as genies.”
“Exactly,” said the stranger. He pointedly stared at Tom. “Unlike Jinn.”
Tom shot Ann a look. If there were wishes in the offing, he wanted his fair share. The situation was getting out of control. Ann put her foot down. “Look, our Aunt is-”
“Right here,” said Aunt Agatha standing in the doorway. Her stern stare turned from Tom to Ann to “Farhad!”
Farhad looked angrier than ever. He stamped his foot, threw his head back and mumbled several words Ann didn’t recognise. Not that she needed to understand Ancient Arabic to get the gist. Eventually, Farhad calmed down, turned to Aunt Agatha and smiled. “Sister.”
The children were dumbfounded. They watched as Aunt Agatha strode across the room and grabbed Farhad by the arms. “Brother, I’ve found you!”
“Only because of these- “
Whatever Farhad was going to say, he cut it short. Aunt Agatha’s eyes glowed with a familiar fire, the glowing embers revealing inky dark markings across her face.
“Aunty! You’re a genie too?” Tom exclaimed.
Aunt Agatha smiled at Tom, blinked, and the fire quenched in her eyes. “No Tom, I’m a Jinn.”
“That’s still six wishes though,” Tom said jumping up and down.
“Maybe,” Aunt Agatha conceded. “But you’ll need to go hide again. You’ll only get any wishes if you win.”
Tom didn’t need another second; he was out the door heading for a better hiding spot. He was so excited and made so much noise, it was obvious to everyone he’d hid in the upstairs airing cupboard. Aunt Agatha turned her attention back to her brother. “Not bad Farhad. I make that three hundred and twenty give or take.”
“Oh, come on, you’d never have found me. Surely it doesn’t count?” Farhad pleaded.
Aunt Agatha considered the situation. How her brother loved to play hide and seek. “Oh, go on then, I’ll give you to ten. Last chance though.”
Farhad smiled, nodded and just like Tom was out of the door in a flash. Unlike Tom there was no sound when he left the room, not a footstep. Aunt Agatha chuckled and picked up the empty goldfish bowl. Ann didn’t know what to say, she had questions. Many. Where to start? Helpfully she announced. “And ten. Times up!”
Aunt Agatha laughed. “Oh, my dear, you misunderstand. Not seconds. Years! He has ten years to find a better hiding spot. I’ll go find him then.”
“Ohhh!” Ann said running a finger around the rim of the fishbowl. “How long had he been hiding out as a goldfish?”
“Oh, I don’t know about two hundred years. He was very convincing.”
“But goldfish don’t live that long.”
“I know,” Aunt Agatha said taking Ann by the arm. “The thing about baby brothers though is they tend to stay out of trouble all the time they’re in hiding. I imagine you might have some questions. Tea?”
Cover image courtesy of William_g14 @ Pixabay