Authors: E. M. Lilly
The old man smiled fully then. “Of course, Miss,” he said. “We’re living in the twenty-first century after all.”
It was two-thirty in the morning the first time that Emily heard a dog barking, and she was too groggy with sleep to make sense of what she was hearing. The second time was ten minutes later, and she had woken up enough from earlier to pay closer attention to it. The sound was muffled, but it definitely seemed to be coming from a dog, which struck her as a bit odd as she had never heard a dog barking before from anywhere inside the apartment, especially her bedroom. While the apartment she shared with Sally was only on the fourth floor it was located on the back end of the building and Emily never heard street noises from her bedroom, so it was doubtful that she’d be able to hear any dog barking from outside. She wondered briefly before dozing off which of her neighbors in the building must’ve recently acquired a dog.
The third time the barking happened she woke up with a start. As muffled and soft as the sound was, she was convinced it was coming from inside her room. She was wide awake now and she turned on her night table lamp and held her breath as she looked around the room, thinking instead that the noise might’ve been coming from a mouse or worse. She didn’t see anything, and she carefully got out of bed and looked underneath it, then under the rest of her furniture, and finally looked in her closet. An exhalation of relief exploded from her over not finding any furry little animals hiding in her room, and she was about to get back into bed when she heard the barking noise again. Her eyes widened as she stared at what seemed to be the source of the barking: the antique wooden chest that she had bought earlier that day.
Emily had placed the chest on top of her dresser bureau, and she held her breath again as she cautiously crept over to her dresser. A mouse or some other rodent must’ve gotten inside of her newly acquired chest, and the thought of that gave her the shivers. It was weird, though, how much it sounded like a dog barking. The noise stopped again. Emily carefully lifted the chest from her dresser and placed it on the floor, then kneeled down beside it. She kept her breath held in as she opened the chest a crack, just enough to peek inside, but she didn’t see anything other than the red velvet lining. Bracing herself, she opened the chest fully, ready to scream if a mouse or some other critter jumped out at her. The chest was empty.
She let out her breath and breathed in deeply as she puzzled over the imagined barking noise that she could’ve sworn came from inside the chest. Then she heard the noise again, and this time it was louder and far less muffled. After several minutes of studying the chest, a tight smile formed over her lips as she found a false bottom. She braced herself once again as she expected to find a critter of some sort hiding in the secret compartment, but when she removed the false bottom what she found instead was an ancient-looking silver lamp that was packed within very old newspaper. The lamp looked exactly like the type that genies would always come out of in the movies. Newspaper pages had been crumpled up into balls for packing purposes, and Emily unfolded one of these. The date printed on the paper was October 3rd, 1890, and the name of the newspaper was The Times, which Emily quickly realized was the London version. The barking noise started again, coming from inside the lamp, and Emily’s heart almost jumped into her throat. She dropped the newspaper page and scrambled to her feet and backed up until the back of her legs bumped against the edge of her bed, and then she sat down barely aware of what she was doing, all the while her heart racing like crazy. She tried to make sense of what was happening, and after several minutes realized that she must’ve been in the middle of an elaborate practical joke. Someone had planted an electronic device of some sort inside that lamp to make it sound as if a dog were barking from inside of it, probably something similar to what was used in those greeting cards that played music when they were opened. The stunt didn’t make any sense to her. Why would someone hide an ancient-looking lamp like that inside the chest, as well as destroy a newspaper from the late eighteen hundreds, only to plant a dog-barking device inside of the lamp? She couldn’t fathom why someone would go to that kind of trouble, but that’s what had to have happened. She left her bed and went back to the chest so she could pick up the lamp. It had a substantial feel to it, and she wondered whether it could be made from pure silver as it appeared to be, and what something like that would be worth. The surface of the lamp had a dullness about it, but it only showed a small amount of tarnishing, and if she polished it it would be quite spectacular.
The barking started again, and with a grim smile she shook the lamp and the barking quickly stopped. She shook the lamp some more. There was no sound of anything rattling around inside. Whoever placed whatever device that made that barking noise inside the lamp must’ve glued it to the bottom of the lamp so it wouldn’t rattle around. Emily couldn’t figure out how this person got the device inside of it in the first place. The only opening she could find was at the end of the lamp’s thin curved spout. She smiled thinly when she read what was engraved on the bottom of the lamp.
Do Not Trust Him
“Someone really went to a lot of trouble with this,” she muttered to herself. “The least I can do is play along. I guess I need to summon the genie of the lamp, huh?”
She felt silly talking to herself, but the moment seemed to call for it. Her smile turned into an embarrassed grin as she rubbed the lamp and whispered, “Oh genie of the lamp, show yourself.” When a dense smoke began to pour out of the opening in the lamp’s spout, she still believed this was only a ridiculously intricate prank. When the smoke formed into the shape of a man, she realized that she had to either still be dreaming or hallucinating. If she was still asleep and this was only a dream, then she might as well enjoy it, and if something had happened to her—such as suffering an aneurysm, and this was all only a hallucination, well, there was nothing she could do about it now. Understanding that this couldn’t be real left her feeling strangely calm, much calmer actually than when she had feared that a mouse might jump out of the chest.
The man who materialized in front of her didn’t look like what she would’ve imagined a genie to look like. He appeared only a few years older than herself, was lean and tall and dressed conservatively in a Brooks Brothers gray pinstriped suit and black leather oxfords. He had a pleasant enough face—really quite handsome in a way, and his hair was a chestnut brown and cut conservatively. She would’ve guessed him to be more a lawyer fresh out of law school than a genie. When he smiled wryly at her, a hint of mischief sparkled in his almond-shaped eyes. Cat’s eyes, that’s what Emily thought.
The genie bowed from the waist, making an elaborate gesture with his right hand before straightening back up.
“I am humbly at your service, my Master,” the genie said, his voice without any hint of an accent, and as pleasant as his appearance. If Emily didn’t know that he was supposed to be a genie, she would’ve guessed he was from California.
“You don’t look like a genie,” Emily said.
The genie laughed, and with a wink, was soon enveloped by a swirling blue mist.
The blue mist cleared as quickly as it came, and the genie was no longer wearing his gray, pinstriped suit and black oxfords, but instead was shirtless with baggy turquoise silk pants that ended halfway down his calves, and on his feet he wore slippers that curled almost into a complete circle at the toe. With his mouth rounding into an ‘o’ he began sucking in air, and as he did this not only did his chest expand, but so did every other part of him, including his arms, legs and head. Within seconds he was larger than any sumo wrestler. Once he finished blowing himself up, he pinched the tips of both his ears to give them a pointy look.
“Is this more to your liking?” he asked.
Emily shook her head. “You now look more as I would imagine a genie to look, but I much preferred the way you looked before.”
“As you desire.”
There was another quick swirling of blue mist, and when it cleared the genie was back to how he had been originally, dressed once again in his suit and black oxfords.
Emily no longer believed that she was dreaming. As fantastic as everything was, it was all too realistic to be a dream with none of that sluggishness or stuck-in-molasses feeling she’d often experience in her dreams. Just to be sure she pinched her arm, and was positive then that this wasn’t a dream, nor was it a hallucination—as bizarre as the events were it was all too vivid and coherent to be a hallucination. As Emily accepted that this was really happening, she became aware that she was wearing a worn pair of cotton pajamas that had become very clingy to her body, and she blushed and turned away from the genie so that she could reach for a flannel bathrobe. Once she had the robe secured tightly on her and felt less exposed, she turned back to him. Trying to take charge of the situation since this was her own bedroom after all, she held out her hand to him and introduced herself.
He looked at her outstretched hand but made no attempt to reciprocate. Emily’s blush deepened for a moment at this apparent snub, but she decided to assume that the act of handshaking didn’t exist in ancient times when this genie would have originally existed.
“It’s customary when someone extends a hand to you that you show the proper courtesy to accept it,” she said.
He nodded grimly. “I fully understand this custom, Master,” he said. “But it would be hazardous to you if I were to touch you.”
“Please call me Emily. And how would it be hazardous?”
He shook his head over the thought of calling her Emily. “No, that would be improper. It would too greatly violate master-genie etiquette for me to be that informal. But if it would make you more comfortable I could call you Miss Mignon.” He smiled wanly. “And if I were to come into physical contact with you your life would end quickly. Even quicker than if you were to be bitten by a thousand black mambas at once.”
Emily lowered her hand and took a step backward. With her brow severely furrowed, she asked, “Have you ever, um, touched one of your masters?”
“Any of my masters? No. But I know firsthand the effects of a genie’s touch on a living person.”
A darkness muddled his features. His eyes lost all their brightness from before and looked only troubled. “I’ve had masters who’ve expended wishes commanding me to touch their enemies.”
Emily was about to ask the genie about other potential dangers that she should be aware of when once again barking started up within the lamp that she was still holding.
“That’s Winston,” the genie said.
“An English Bulldog.” He showed a sheepish smile. “I know, it’s not all that original to name a fat English Bulldog after Winston Churchill, but it was just the two of us in the lamp so I didn’t feel I needed to give him a particularly clever name to impress anyone. And if you were to see him you’d admit he looks a lot like Churchill did.” He raised a quizzical eyebrow at Emily. “You’re not afraid of dogs, are you? I’m sure Winston would love a chance to get outside the lamp.”
“Is he some sort of genie dog?”
The genie laughed at the question, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “No, he’s only a dog,” he said. “Normally he doesn’t bark as much as he’s been doing tonight, but all the movement and strange new odors, for him at least, have been exciting him. He’s a good natured animal, and I believe he’ll be gentle, although one never knows since he’s never seen a living person before as he has so far spent his entire life outside of this world.”
“How old is he?”
The genie had to think about that. “It is hard to remember exactly, since it is so easy for me to lose track of time living where I do, but I believe Winston is six years old.”
Emily had other questions she wanted to ask the genie, including how he had gotten a dog inside his lamp in the first place, but Winston’s barking had such a lonely and unhappy quality to it that she nodded her consent. The genie smiled at that. “Very good,” he said, and then there was another puff of smoke and when it cleared, a fat English Bulldog stood in front of Emily staring intently at her, his head cocked to one side. He did look a lot like Winston Churchill with his compact and thick body, short legs, fat round face, pushed in snout, and the thick folds of skin drooping from his jaw.
“Is he safe for me to touch?” Emily asked.
“As much as any dog would be.”
Emily lowered herself to one knee, and Winston waddled over to her, first sniffing, then his tail wagging cautiously as Emily rubbed a hand under his ear. After half a minute of that, the dog spun around and bounded over to the genie and jumped up so that his two front paws rested against the genie’s legs, all the while Winston’s stubby tail wagging to a fast beat. The genie scratched the animal along his jaw, and then Winston pushed himself off the genie and waddled back to Emily, his mouth pushed up into a big grin.
“How come you were able to touch Winston without hurting him?” Emily asked.
“A genie’s touch is only harmful to living persons,” the genie said with a helpless shrug. “I can touch dogs and cats and other animals without causing any harm. I cannot explain why that is.”
Emily soon found herself hugging Winston as the dog licked her face. It was as if she needed to hold tightly onto the dog as a way to hold onto some semblance of normalcy. The events were overwhelming and there was too much for her to process.
“This is all a lot to take in,” Emily said.
“I can imagine.”
“I need some time to think.”
“You’d like to be alone for now?” the genie asked.
Emily nodded. “Mostly,” she said. She hesitated, then added, “I don’t want to steal Winston away from you, but I think I would greatly enjoy his company for now. Would it be okay, for the rest of the night anyway, if Winston were to stay with me?”