French Djinni by JM Paquette

For Barbara Rubin, who left it blank


I stared at the blank piece of paper, wondering if this was some kind of joke. Djinni had an odd sense of humor. It wouldn’t be the first time Soto had played a prank on me. He was really getting anxious for me to use my wishes.

“This isn’t going to work,” I announced to the empty room, knowing that Soto would hear me. He had to. He couldn’t leave me alone until I used my wishes. I looked at the envelope that the blank note had arrived in. It had several postmarks on it, clear signs of a long travel through third world postal services. The handwriting was simple, clear block letters spelling out my name and address, but without any return address in the upper left corner. I lifted the blank piece of paper, holding it up to the light, trying to see what words may have been on the paper at one time.

“Is this some kind of trick?” I asked Soto, waving the paper at the room.  The djinni was here. I knew it. Just because I couldn’t see him didn’t mean anything. It had taken me some time to adjust to my ever present companion, but now I was used to it. I could shower and change without a second thought. If Soto wanted to hang out and watch, so be it. He’d been hanging around, visible and invisible, since Jason had gone missing two years ago. “Is this supposed to be from him?” I demanded.

When the silence wasn’t interrupted by the appearance of my not-so-favorite djinni, I lost my temper. “Dammit, Soto!” I shouted. “Show yourself!”

“Do you wish I would show myself?” The voice was low, accented, and infuriatingly calm.

“No,” I said carefully. “I demand that you show yourself.”

The djinni formed in front of me, the outline of his body dim at first and then darkening into physical form. He frowned at me. “I should never have told you that I have to obey you,” he groaned. “You are intolerable.”

“Me?” I retorted. “I’m not the one resorting to blackmail here.”

The djinni had the decency to look affronted. “I would never!”

“You absolutely would,” I told him, “and you have.”

“How can this be blackmail?” Soto asked, putting his arms behind his back, the motion drawing his shoulders up and out so that he stood at his full not-so-imposing height of five foot five inches. “There are no demands.”

“You don’t need to demand anything,” I snapped. “You know I have to know.”

“If you would only use one of your wishes…” the djinni began.

“Yeah, yeah,” I waved him away, “I would have my Jason back already.”

Soto nodded. “You could.”

“Yes, I could,” I repeated,  emphasizing the word. “Not that I would. No matter what I asked for, you’d find a way to twist it.”

“I would not!” he insisted, but I knew better. I was not the first member of my family to stumble onto a djinni. I was, however, the only one who refused to use her wishes. I was also the only one still left alive.

“We’ve been over this,” I told him. “I will find Jason on my own. I don’t need any wishes.”

“But you have three wishes,” Soto sighed. “I don’t understand why you won’t use them!”

“I would wish you free,” I said.

“And you know that I cannot be freed while I still owe you wishes. You need to spend your first two before that can even be possible.”

“No,” I told him, firm as ever. “I will not take the risk. Even a simple wish from you would kill me.”

“It might not,” he wheedled. “And you could have your Jason back!”

“For a brief moment, maybe. Or in theory. Or in a picture. Or in some other twisted way.”

“I would not twist your wish!” he assured me, but I ignored him. I had grown up with a large family. I had heard the stories of djinni granting wishes–and how it would be different this time, for this uncle, that cousin, this brother, that aunt. It was always the same. Now I had the djinni, and the wishes, and all the need, but I would not, could not, use them.

Better to spend my life searching for Jason the old fashioned way than give in to the djinni’s wishes.

I flashed the envelope at him. “Did this have words on it when it arrived?”

Soto looked at the ground, shuffling his feet.

“I’m serious, Soto. Did this say anything?”

“It is a message,” he hedged. “It didn’t say anything.”

I sighed. “Were there words on this piece of paper?”

He shrugged. “Don’t you wish you knew?”

“No,” I said firmly. “I will find out on my own.” I studied the stamps on the envelope, took a quick picture with my phone, and waited for Google to reveal its secrets.

“Monaco,” I read after a third of a second. I looked up at the squat djinni scowling in my kitchen. “How is your French?”

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