“Speak your third wish, mortal, and let me die.”
The voice of the djinn was a mountain falling over. David had picked this spot deep in the forest, a hundred miles from anywhere, so they wouldn’t be overheard. The ancient, wood-bound book cradled under his arm had been right about that, too.
“Ah, ah, ah—” David chided, as the trees around him stopped trembling. “Not a mortal anymore.” The death of cells, the dull aches here and there, the slow decay of age—all had vanished in an instant. Young and healthy forever! He only realized the deafening background hum of mortality now that it was absent.
The djinn—less than an angel, but more than a man—looked out of place there, surrounded by lush boreal forest half a world away from any desert. The creature rose from a weathered oil lamp in a giant, human-like form of roiling smoke and living fire.
“Speak it!” The djinn’s command burst pines nearby and sent thick branches hurtling down from the canopy. Another shout like that and the whole forest would come down on top of them.
“You don’t make demands of me, genie. I give the commands.”
The creature folded its arms, resigned.
And it was the command that was important, David had discovered, thanks to the book. A master’s wish was a slave’s command.
He’d hardly believed his luck as a young backpacker, finding a copy of the lost Kitab al Ma’alin—the Book of Elevated Things—at that bazaar in Istanbul. He’d read about it as an undergraduate. But the last copy was said to have burned when Acre fell to the Mamluks.
So, years later, when he saw the weathered oil lamp in that souk in Marrakesh and recognized it from an engraving in the book…
“Idiot!” Cassandra called him for spending all their honeymoon money on a tarnished lamp. She couldn’t understand the long hours he spent with the lamp and book after that. Through tears, Cassie called his incessant drafting and redrafting of his wishes a fantasy, an obsession. She said he needed help as she slammed the door the final time.
He could have her back in an instant, but wouldn’t waste the wish.
In truth, David would have paid any price for the lamp. Admittedly, though, after his second wish—that the djinn make him not just rich but make-Jeff-Bezos-weep kind of rich—‘any price’ meant more than it had at the time.
Cassie would regret walking out. David wondered whether any of the Kardashians were single. That would show her. And even if none of the Kardashians were available, well, with a simple wish they would be.
Two wishes had diminished the creature. Like fog burning away in the morning sun, the djinn was losing substance as it spent its supernatural essence remaking reality. David’s third wish–his greatest–would kill the thing. But that was of little importance.
Soon there would be many djinns to take its place.
“I’ve beaten you, genie,” said David, patting the book. “I know God cursed you to grant three wishes at the cost of your life. But your curse is my curse, too. Three wishes aren’t enough for me.”
“Allah’s curse has bounded our power,” the genie snarled, a thunderstorm. “Wish for more wishes if you want, but it is a fool’s wasted wish. Or did you not read that in your book?”
“Oh, I did,” said David. “Rasid ibn Hammad wrote as much. But if you read between the lines, I think he discovered a great secret. Something he didn’t want others to know. A loophole in Creation itself. A way of outsmarting you, djinn. Of outsmarting God, too.”
The djinn laughed an avalanche. “Blasphemy! What is this trick that can outsmart Allah, the Wise and All-Knowing?”
“It’s in what ibn Hammad didn’t say,” said David. “He devoted his whole life to the study of djinn. But he never got to test his theory. But I found a djinn. So now his work is completed in me.”
If a thunderhead could wear a puzzled look then that was the expression on the roiling smoke face of the djinn.
“Speak your third wish, fool,” the djinn rumbled, “and let me die.”
Careful to use the formula of ibn Hammad—a command, not a request—David said: “You will make me a new genie.”
It was ibn Hammad’s great insight, only hinted at in his masterwork. If a djinn could not grant you more wishes, it could make for you a new djinn who could grant you more. And so on, endlessly. David would create legions of djinn to grant his wishes through his ageless eternity.
He couldn’t stifle a giggle. He felt powerful. Like he was floating.
The djinn smiled; its fire-cracked lips pulled back over needle-sharp teeth.
“Indeed, you are a worthy successor to Rasid ibn Hammad,” said the djinn. It was already beginning to lose cohesion, tendrils of smoke surrounding it like a guttering coal. “But he did find a djinn. And he once thought—I once thought—as you do.”
David looked down. What had been his legs were now grown hazy as they stretched and wisped toward the spout of the lamp.
“So I make you a new genie, just as I was once made for my blasphemous conceit.” What had been a djinn and been Rasid ibn Hammad laughed as it winked from existence.
David screamed as the lamp claimed him. His scream was a mountain falling over, and the forest came crashing down.