Novel Exert: Family

Nesrin and Ceylan walked alone through the ruins of Karatepe, as they often did when they needed to talk together as sisters. Ceylan stopped and looked at the angle of a lion statue in relation to the ocean. “I think this is where we used to watch the leviathan surface in the water.”

Nesrin stopped next to Ceylan. “It’s hard to tell. The wall’s much lower now than back then. If this is the spot then it must also be where we and our siblings diverted that comet away from the earth.”

Ceylan nodded, then pointed to a line of stone monuments. “I know that’s where that colony of jann made their camp and refused to move for a year and a day.”

Nesrin smiled. “Oh yes. Those are the stones Mother stood on to mediate between them and the townspeople.” She tilted her head. “Speaking of which, did Mother ever rule in Bedeea-el-Jamal’s case?”

“Oh yes. The Patron of Liberty officially reinstated the Queen of the Jann yesterday, and I’m sure she will not let Bedeea forget that. Now that there are seven rulers again, they’re all going to claim a day of the week to represent like the Seven Kings used to. Mother’s going to be Mistress of Monday.”

“Because she needed another title.”

For a short time they walked in silence again. Once again the silence was broken by Ceylan.

“Your roommates seem nice.”

Nesrin considered Isabelle and Jason. “I did stumble onto some good ones. They’re the first humans I’ve wanted to reveal my true self to for a long time.”

“Aravis seemed quite impressed, too, but then I suppose there’s a reason for that.”

“Now what does that mean?”

“I’m not sure. Mother’s just been dropping vague hints lately. Probably nothing.”

“Ceylan, if you know something I don’t…”

“I assure you I don’t, not for sure anyway.”

Narrative Poem: The Weeds on the Wall

weedsonwall

 

Centuries ago the seas concealed cities,

Home to folk who prefered water to air,

Who looked nearly but not fully like we.

One was named Julrane, with ankle length hair

Blue as the water, and eyes of light, deep green.

She lived in Gulfia, near Persia, where

She tended the Citadel’s flower garden.

More plants thrived on the sea bottom back then.

 

Julrane worked quietly and by herself,

Though she rarely felt alone. She had the plants

To provide a sense of life outside herself,

And spoke to them as she would cousins or aunts.

She’d pot a few sometimes and keep them on shelves

In her room, where they became her confidants.

They were flowers, mostly, with some fruit and weeds.

Her favorites, though, were the wild ones; the weeds.

 

On her first day she’d been told to remove all

The weeds from the garden. She pulled up one

And it drifted to the garden’s chalky wall

And stuck. Seeing it, she knew what could be done.

Rather than remove she replanted, till all

The wall wore a green trim which she left alone

And let cover the bare, dormant chalk in life.

For this, having seen it, none could give her strife.

Nesrin’s Journal – Origin Story

I was born in Karatepe, in the southern region of what is now Turkey, though neither of my parents lived there originally. My mother spent her early life in the area around Persia. She was not born of a mother as I was; she was created in fire.

This was during the time when hidden ones dwelled only in the Rig-e Jenn and had a greater dependence on humans. A delegation came to King Harun and said “We have written the treaties you asked for with the children of Adam, but they request evidence of the strength of our union.”

In response King Harun called for one of his servants and said “Find me thirteen jars of olive oil.”

When the servant returned with his oil, the king removed some of his own flame and used it to set the oil alight. The flames grew and finally began to take shape. The shapes flickered between various forms; doves, horses, perytons, spriggans, and finally settled onto nine women and four men of fire who stepped down from their jars and looked around.

Harun said “These are Sila; beings like us who will marry humans and give them children, thus creating a firm bond between our two peoples. They can change their shapes to make this arrangement agreeable, and you will have no trouble sealing your treaties.”

The plan was made at a time before its faults were widely acknowledged, and so it was agreed to. Before sending them out, the King gave them names, and he called my mother Samira. Clearly he did not know his own clones, or else he would have known that Samira was not so docile as the others.

When they tired to lead her away she refused to go. “Was I made to lead a prisoner’s life? I am fire of the king’s fire and wield more power than any of you. Let the one who makes light of his hands touch me first.” When they moved towards her she created a circle of lightning around herself which removed the tips of their fingers, then she dispersed into a wild windstorm. She re-formed herself on a distant mountain where they would not find her, and thus began an age of exile.

For centuries she traversed Eurasia and Africa, abiding where she liked, and marrying who and when she cared to. Naturally one outcome of this is that I have more siblings than I care to keep track of, and only very few from my father. At one point her travels brought her to the city of Troy, where she discovered that a number of our people had broken Harun’s treaty and were secretly agitating a human war. By now she had become more sympathetic to humans than to her own kind, so she sought to mitigate some of the chaos.

When the infamous horse came through the gates, Samira warned the soothsayer Cassandra about the destruction it would bring, and she went throughout the city warning the people. Only a respected merchant named Cleontes and one other person listened. The other was killed by snakes, but that did not stop Cleontes and Cassandra from plotting together to destroy the pretend gift.

Cassandra told Cleontes “We will act at night when the horse is alone, just before our enemies plan to venture out. You can move about more freely than I. Acquire two axes and two torches. When you see that the people have moved from the horse, come and fetch me, but let no one know what you are doing.”

The plan might have succeeded except that another hidden one named Withanni possessed Cassandra and caused her to rush at the horse alone in the middle of a crowd. Withanni also alerted the people to Cleontes’ intentions, but Mother warned Cleontes that they knew, and he fled in the night.

She took pity on him because he was one of the few who had heeded her warning. When she had helped Cassandra make her own flight, she raced ahead of Cleontes to Karatepe—no difficult task for a hidden one—and when he arrived she was waiting near the city gate in the shape of a woman similar to but different from Cassandra. “Welcome, good traveler. You appear weary. Have you had a long journey?”

“Not long, but hurried, and without sleep.”

She produced a wineskin and a satchel. “Here, let me give you some water and bread. Come with me, and I will show where you can feed and water your horse as well.”

She led him to a well at the center of the town. While he watered his horse she brought him some hay and said “Anything you find in this hay is my gift to you. Use it as you see fit.”

With that in mind, he decided to feed the horse by hand rather than let it graze freely. In so doing he found enough gold coins to buy a house and set up a comfortable life.

Naturally he married her. They integrated well into the workings of their new city, and he set up a successful business as a potter.

I was their firstborn. By your calendar I was born on February 7, 1183 BC. Like all hidden ones I came into the world in smoke and sparks that swirled like roses, but like all humans I also came in with screams and blood. My first movements were abnormally clumsy for a hidden one, and I did not find my voice as quickly as they usually do. I did, however, begin to use my abilities much sooner. They say even in the womb the first time I kicked half the city became invisible, and the second time the streets turned to water. I know those stories are true because I remember. I made the city invisible because I liked playing games, and I flooded the streets because there was a drought. I would have done much more without Mother telling me stories to calm me. She called me Nesrin even then. In English “Nesrin” translates to “wild rose.” I was named after the rose in a story she told me about a nightingale. That story stopped me from creating a lightning storm because I wanted to hear the thunder.

When I was finally born I waved my arms and every hidden one in the country was exposed to the humans around them. I’d been told stories; I knew the hidden ones were supposed to be aiding the humans, and that they continually resisted this order, so I took a stab at correcting that. Sadly that was the last time I got away with such a flippant action, even if Mother had secretly been pleased.

My childhood was pleasant enough. Without Mother’s power to tap into I had to develop for myself, which was unbearably frustrating but also exhilarating. Ceylan was born a year after me, and we had grand adventures together, though those are all different stories. There isn’t time to tell them all now, but I’m sure I will tell them at some point. I tell these ancient stories often so as not to forget them myself. 3201 years is a long life to keep track of, and without my journals I doubt even I would remember all I have seen and done. Some of my stories are not worth remembering, others I have actively tried to forget, but this is one I mean to hold on to.

Snapshots of Alternatives

Jason’s roommate Jonathan nudged him awake. Looking around, Jason saw that he had fallen asleep on the couch holding a video game controller, again. He looked at his phone and saw it was 5 pm. “Great. I lost almost another full day of job searching.”

“Which reminds me, the rent’s due, and I can’t afford another month of not getting your half.”

Jason rubbed his head. “I should’ve stayed in grad school. Could’ve gotten a little job at the college… sublet that apartment with Isabelle… She wouldn’t let me sleep my life away.”

While Jason was bemoaning his choices, Isabelle was in a history museum running between the exhibits. “Madre, check out these Mardi Gras queen’s trains. This one’s from the 1800s. Vaya! Can you imagine how strong the stitching must be to hold all those diamonds in place for this long?”

Celia put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “It looks muy pesado to me. Do you think being a queen is worth wearing that, Niña?”

“I think they only wear the trains for the parade, and then they drape them over the float, so it’s less like wearing one and more just pretending to wear one.”

“Well in that case I hope I get to see you pretend to wear one some day.”

Isabelle instantly started imagining a royal blue cape with a big golden eagle broach at the top and ribbons flowing all the way to the bottom over an embroidered map of the world, with gears and a clock face in the middle. She was pulled from her fantasy when her eyes turned to the next exhibit. “Madre! Madre! Madre! There’s an exhibit on the Titanic!” She started to run towards the cutout of the ship, but after a few steps she and Jason both ceased to exist as their real selves broke from their fantasies.

***

Nesrin rode a giant dog made of fire, leading her army into the apartment complex. Waves of hidden ones led by Ceylan flew overhead while the human ranks marched beneath them with guns loaded. The snipers and ninjas had gone ahead of them on the rooftops, and tanks were left in the streets waiting. Mithal the Failure Caliph was chained to Nesrin’s dog, carrying the Bottle of Samira.

Nesrin smiled at the lack of resistance. “My day has finally dawned. Soon she will learn that no one opposes Nesrin the Half Fire, not even her alternate self.” At last earth’s moon and Venus appeared in the sunlit sky. Now she was ready. She teleported into the apartment with Ceylan by her side.

Ceylan scoffed at their surroundings. “Forgive me, Khanum, but I fail to see how even a hypothetical version of you could live here.”

“This version was weak.” Her eyes glowed black and a dagger of black water appeared in her hand. “History broke her, but she is only a wraith of a might-have-been.”

They found the other Nesrin in her bedroom writing in her journal about impersonating her mother and her new reconnaissance task. The experience had revived suppressed, panicked memories of a human war she’d been involved in. The tortured fantasies it provoked gave the darker Nesrin strength as she lifted the dagger.

The other Nesrin slammed the journal shut and closed her eyes. “No.”

The Khanum dropped her dagger and stumbled.

The other Nesrin clenched her fists on her desk. “Let the thoughts go. Just hand them over.”

The Khanum and her sister faded like smoke in the wind, sending out ripples that erased their army like a tsunami. Once they were gone, the real Nesrin collapsed into her chair, able to relax a little.

Wraiths of Might-Have-Beens

On Fridays Isabelle and Jason both had night class from 6 to 8:30. Their classes were in separate buildings and fairly far apart, so they didn’t actually see each other until Jason picked Isabelle up for the drive home. Considering they lived together, this short break from each other wasn’t a hardship for either sibling.

Jason’s multivariate analysis class was the usual snooze-fest, and as soon as the ten minute break arrived at 7:15 he shot out of the room to the snack kiosk for some coffee and a muffin. He was just opening his muffin when a voice said “Hey Jason.”

He jumped when he saw Nesrin standing beside him, causing him to toss his muffin into the air for her to catch.

“Surprise,” she said as she handed it back.

“Don’t you have to work on Fridays?”

“Ceylan’s filling in for me. I wanted to keep an eye on you and Isabelle, make sure you’re not feeling any adverse effects form prolonged exposure to the hidden realm.”

“Um, should we be?”

“Possibly. Once you have the scent of magic on you it tends to follow you. Problem is that means different things for different people. You haven’t felt or seen anything strange, have you?”

Jason patted his torso and looked at his legs. “Not that I noticed.”

“Good, then maybe you’re okay for now. I’m gonna go check on Isabelle. Let me know if you do notice anything.”

“Oh I will.”

He had a hard time settling down after Nesrin left. He ended up going for a walk down one of the halls he didn’t have class in. Usually he stayed in the section of the building dedicated to business, but now he was in the section dedicated to accounting. Accounting was what he’d almost majored in as an undergrad, before he chose business management.

Just for a distraction he stopped to look at the pictures a professor had taped to their office door. He was reading a comic about accounting when he heard someone walk up beside him and check the professor’s schedule. At first he ignored it, but then he happened to turn and gasped.

The other person was exactly Jason’s hight, had exactly his hair and eye color, and had exactly the same face. The only difference was that the newcomer was wearing a t-shirt with a lot of numbers on it. The other Jason nodded in the original’s direction, then scampered to a classroom at the end of the hall. The original Jason was frozen in place until the new one disappeared at the door of the classroom. He dug his phone out of his pocket and dialed Nesrin’s number.

Meanwhile, Nesrin had found Isabelle outside with her headphones on, practicing her Taekwondo.

Isabelle jumped when she saw Nesrin, but smiled and took her headphones out. “Hey.”

“Hey. You make that look so easy. I’ve never understood how people can lift there legs so high with such ease.”

“You mean in three thousand years you never learned any martial arts?”

“I never had any reason to. We hidden ones can defend ourselves perfectly well without them. Maybe you could show me a few motions?”

“Sure. You stand there and I’ll show you one of the head kicks.” Isabelle started to raise her leg, then stopped. “Your body is physical and solid, right?”

“By now you should know it is. All half human hidden ones have physical bodies.”

Isabelle nodded. She raised her leg to Nesrin’s shoulder, only to have it pass through and send her spiraling forward. She latched onto Nesrin in a scramble to rebalance.

Nesrin smirked. “Of course I can still turn into smoke when I want to.”

Before Isabelle could respond, she heard a voice almost exactly like hers say “Taekwondo only dates back to the 1940’s, but the tradition of what we call martial arts began roughly four thousand years ago.” Isabelle turned in the direction of the voice and found a copy of herself in her Taekwondo robe, with a group of students in front of her. The sight only lasted a second before it vanished like a sandcastle in a wave.

Isabelle tried to look at Nesrin but couldn’t turn her head. “Did… you see that?”

“I saw.” Music erupted from Nesrin’s phone. She saw the caller was Jason and put him on speaker.

“Nesrin? I think I just noticed something. It was like meeting my own reflection.”

“I’m glad you called. I was just about to explain this same thing to Isabelle. What you’re seeing are flashes of alternate timelines. You, Jason, almost majored in accounting, and you, Isabelle, thought about teaching Taekwondo. When you perform actions that reflect those other options, you briefly experience what you could have had. For just a second, the hypothetical comes closer to reality and you can glimpse another life, but it doesn’t last long enough to become real. Most humans can’t actually see their’s, but the more you interact with my world…”

Jason was the first to speak. “So we’re gonna see more of these things?

“Most likely, yes.”

Isabelle shook her head. “Do you have ghost like this following you?”

“Yes, I have them too. The last time we were at the Flee Market I saw a version where I wasn’t released from my lamp until 2018, when an old lady sold it to you and you released me by accident.” She stared into the distance. “Another two thousand years in the lamp. Still, it’s better than some of the other alternatives. You were lucky that your first sightings were neither drastically better nor drastically worse than reality.”

“I see it again!” Jason was watching another copy of himself, dressed in dark pants and a pull-over shirt, walking down the hall with a briefcase.

“Yes,” Nesrin said. “In that version you got an internship at an accounting firm that works for the college. Financially, you’re not totally independent, but you’re not doing bad.” She heard quick footsteps over the phone.

Jason said “Can we talk to these things? Maybe get a few tips?”

“I suggest you don’t try. Any success or failure your alternatives had were based on a different set of circumstances than you’ve created for yourself. What works in one reality might destroy another.”

Isabelle noticed a version of herself sleeping on a bench beside them.

Nesrin saw her move towards the image. “When these appear you have to focus on the real, move forward as if you hadn’t seen them. If you don’t feed the connection they fade away. If you do the result is variable but seldom desirable .”

Isabelle turned away and her other self evaporated.

Jason’s footsteps stopped.

Nesrin smiled. “This will take practice for both of you, but I’ll help you adjust. In time you may find they aren’t so noticeable.”

Jason and Isabelle both murmured agreement, but really that was hard to imagine when they were both looking around for more shadows of different lives.

The Vengeful Pirate

Been working on a short story for class, and during the brainstorming process I came up with this opening. Don’t know if it’ll end up fitting the story for class, but since it’s close to Halloween, I thought the tone and subject matter made it worth sharing here as a flash fic. 

 

For a time I not only roamed the oceans of Earth, I was everything fearful about them. The seas were my domain and sailors obeyed me. I have taken relatively few pseudonyms over the millennia, and they’ve usually been a variation of my true name, such as ‘Nesrin Halfire’ instead of ‘Nesrin the Half Fire.’ However, I’ve also had a few more strategic aliases, such as Daeva Jonah.

Though it’s spiraled beyond what I planned now, my masquerade was originally aimed at one specific crew of sailors. I figured, if appearing in my hidden form didn’t terrify them to insanity, announcing myself right in my name as the wicked spirit of someone known to cause storms would. Of course it meant pretending I was a man, which in my human form would have meant burdensome costumes, but no one seems to care what you look like when you’re made of fire. I still relish the looks on their faces, especially when I drug them and their ship into the deep with the mere sound of my voice.

Notice I didn’t say, “to their grave.” I made well sure they lived to see the sea dweller  city they’d destroyed for its treasures. A sea dweller from that city released me from the lamp I was crammed into by Solomon. The city was once known as Gulfia; now it’s my locker. There my crew reenact zombified scenes of their crimes until I need them again to track the next offenders.

Drabble: The Traveler

Alhana watched as a ragged, ill-kept jann made his way across the desert. Evidently he was a traveler, destined to roam creation for eternity. Something was off, though. Jann were the weakest order of jinn, but this one had a certain air about him. It felt as if he were radiating power. Alhana walked closer. “Tell me, good stranger, what is your name?”

Without looking at her the jann replied “Gobelen.”

Alhana’s mouth curled and her eyes narrowed. “Is it? Tell me something else, Gobelen. Tell me why an ifrit the likes of Mithal should wish to change his name and masquerade as a jann!”

Mithal mumbled under his breath, but kept moving forward.

“Answer me.”

Mithal stopped and sighed deeply. “Am I to have power over all the jinn but none over myself? To me the life of a jann appears as the splendor of Paradise when compared to the lot you have foreseen for me.”