Wish Hits the Fan
What in the name of Uncle Hank is it now?
I gazed around the dilapidated warehouse as if seeing it for the first time. Cages hung from chains all around the open expanse. They had been filled with genies for the most part. Others held vampires and lycanthropes and members of a myriad of species across the supernatural realm. Almost all of them were empty now, their prisoners set free by myself and my merry band of djinn allies. The final few left occupied housed Efreet—sort of the anti-us, if you will—awaiting whatever punishment they deserved for being the heinous bastards they were.
“Come on, Jo.”
Jo. That was me. Josephine Eugenia Mayweather to be more precise. I guess I was kind of shell-shocked, waiting for the fact I was needed elsewhere to sink in. Not much more than an hour had passed since my friends had kicked Efreet ass in this shitty New York City warehouse. And while they were at it, I got to battle my own father in a melodramatic kind of freakish family reunion. My compatriots had won. I’d won.
It was over.
Over? I’d have to allow myself a good chuckle later. It wouldn’t be over until I was taking the big dirt nap. And being a djinn meant few things were able to put me six feet under.
To prove the point of my worries being far from finished, here was a girl genie tugging at me like a child wanting to sit on Santa’s lap. Except no joy could be found in either her expression or her words. Not that Raye was the epitome of joy before we’d entered this place. She was one of the broken I’d tried to fix who had ended up more broken than before.
Why I ever considered I could maybe-sorta-kinda get a freakin’ break I’ll never understand. Instead, I found myself being dragged back into the thick of things by a waif whose eyes were too large and too sad. As she urged me toward the kerfluffle I heard growing beyond the shadows, I could tell we were headed for a group of cages I’d seen when I entered only a few short hours before. I’d snuck inside to save my friends from the Efreet, so it wasn’t as if I’d had a boatload of time to check out the contents of those cages. In fact, with all the intervening shit, I’d forgotten clean about them.
Until Raye rushed up claiming some sort of things had been found at the back of the warehouse. Maybe if I hadn’t been transformed into a mouse at the time, I would’ve sensed what those cages held. I guess what Robert Burns wrote was true, the best laid plans of mice really do often go awry in some way or another.
I mean, the original mouse plan had worked. It got me inside undetected by everyone but my former dog. Then we had defeated the Efreet. And my friends were freed. And I’d kept my ex-lover, Zeke, from going over to the shady side of the street, even if he did end up turning human in the process. Plus, my dog was back to being my tall, blond Viking friend, Trygvyr.
Now? The after-victory party was iffy. Some of the people we’d saved were pissed. The biggest, baddest of the baddies had gotten away. And something freaktastic was awaiting me in the dim recesses of the expanse strung all over with medieval cages designed to hold the strongest magical beings. After all I’d been through, I would’ve preferred a nice, long nap somewhere warm and comfortable. Instead, I had more bullshit to deal with.
I pushed past Raye after we reached the cages where my lawyer, Michael, and Hans the bodyguard had been held prisoner by the Efreet menace. Across from those was the cage where the evil bastards had imprisoned my receptionist, Renee, while they visited unimaginable horrors upon her. She’d been pretty bad off, but she’d recovered well. The fact she’d retained her sanity was a miracle, but I could sense the scars she bore. Not for the first time, I wished our in-house therapist hadn’t been psycho. Even Mena, the traitorous bitch she was, would’ve been better than no one at all to help my friend through this.
The sounds of Raye’s footsteps behind me reminded me maybe no therapy would’ve been better for her than the half-ass rehabilitation Mena had put her through. When I’d discovered Raye amongst the refugees from Mayweather Antiquities the night Amun attacked my home, she’d been wrecked by years under the hands of an abusive Master. The amount of time Raye had spent at our facilities without any progress in her welfare should’ve been a big clue Mena was a traitor.
What a slap in the face. I’d been fooled for too long, and I paid for my ignorance. How many others had paid as well, I had no idea. How many more would pay remained to be seen.
No matter how you sliced it, it sucked.
I stopped abruptly. I could hear Raye bringing up the rear, but while I was deep in thought, I’d lost track of the sounds in front of me. Silence may be golden in some cases, but right then it scared the shit out of me.
“Which way?” I asked the girl.
She pointed as she stopped beside me.
“Lead on, McDuff.”
“Lay. It’s ‘lay on, McDuff’.”
“I don’t care if it’s ‘lay off the McDonalds’. You go, I’ll follow.”
She blushed and then took the lead again, this time at a slower pace than I wanted, but I had to deal with it. The poor girl paused and cringed at a cage I remembered well. It smelled of water and death. Natalia, the Rusalka, had been imprisoned inside for longer than I wanted to imagine. Now, she was off somewhere giving some of her own back to one Efreet in particular. As horrible as the Efreet had been to her, I didn’t want to consider what my newfound watery friend’s gentle ministrations would entail.
Well, maybe a little. Payback is hell, or so they say.
When Raye stopped again, I knew we’d reached the place. I’d been correct in my assumption. These were the cages I hadn’t wanted to remember. The ones I’d been horrified by when I first passed them…
Dozens and dozens of cages hung suspended from the ceiling at varying levels. Within each, I could make out a single form. Some of the forms were still bipedal, but some were beasts. Or monsters. Or, in one case, a sick combination of man and monster. I think I screamed. All that came out was a shrill squeak I figured only dogs could hear.
“Why haven’t these people been released yet?” I shouted above my growing dread.
“Oy, love, no need to break the eardrums. We’re right here.”
Basil Hadresham had shunned his day-to-day business disguise to embrace his actual appearance. This vision of Baz showed the toe-haired teen he’d once been, one who would happily steal your pocket watch after you gave him coins for a soda pop. I would’ve appreciated the forty-something, tweed wearing Brit—the one who reminded me of the best friend’s dad in those boy-wizard movies— more right then than my Artful Dodger. I needed comfort, goddamnitall.
“And they haven’t been released,” he said, “because we’re not sure if we have the means to deal with them all yet.”
I gazed at the cages within easy view. Too many bizarre faces gazed back at me. Their mouths were moving, but no sounds were coming out.
“We had to block the sound, love.” Basil answered my question before I could ask it. “So we could think.”
I saw Trygvyr, my friend and former pet, walking toward us from between the hanging cages. His long, white hair had been pulled severely back at his neck and tied with a strip of rawhide. His eyes were twin black holes, where only anger escaped. His wiry body showed a tautness born of rage, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be on the receiving end. When he got within a dozen feet of us, I could hear him snarling like the dog he’d spent fifteen decades transformed into.
He moved to brush past Raye and I. Throwing aside any notion of personal safety, I snagged his arm on the way by.
“What gives?” I asked.
With his eyes locked on a space far ahead of us, he asked, “Efreet in the cages?”
“Last I checked.”
Power blossomed over him as if he was preparing to go nuclear. “If you want any of them capable of speech any time soon, I suggest you get to them before I do.”
When he tried to free himself from my hold, I held his arm tighter than if I’d been glued to him. “Whoa. Hang on a second. I’d enjoy kicking all of their asses as much as the next djinn, if not more, but we’ve got all the time in the world for ass kicking.”
Unless I missed my guess, Tryg was mere seconds from boiling over and saying those little words he’d spoken once before. ‘I renounce the Rules’ had changed him into an Efreet then and, the way he was acting, they were sure to turn him into one again.
“Talk to me.”
He didn’t even face me.
“Major!” I hated using the name I’d chosen to call the dog he’d been, but when the big furball had gotten too engrossed in rabbit chasing to pay attention to me, it always worked.
His dark eyes turned toward me, finally focusing on what was tangible and not the rage in his head. “Yes, Mistress?”
I let out the breath I’d been holding so long my ribs hurt. “Whew. So much better. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Jerking his arm, he tried again to free himself, but I wasn’t letting him go until the steam stopped coming out his ears. “The Efreet must be made to pay for their atrocities.”
“Not the way you were contemplating making them pay, bud.”
All he did was blink at me like a freakin’ idiot.
“You were this close…” I held my index finger a millimeter from my thumb. “…to giving up being a genie.”
When he shook all over as if he still had long fur and it was wet, I could tell I’d finally made an impression.
One hand scrubbed the side of his face while I maintained a death grip on the other arm. “Odin’s hairy balls.”
“My thoughts exactly.” I squeezed my hand and pulled him toward me. “Now, I’ll ask again, what the hell is wrong with you?”
“Wrong with me? How can you ask after seeing…?” His dark eyes narrowed and he speared me with a searching glare. “You haven’t seen, have you?”
“When I first came into the warehouse, I had an inkling something was hinky. Strange and scary and bewildering. But I was a mouse at the time. Everything’s strange and scary when you’re so low on the food chain. I can’t say for sure whether any of those rodent impressions were real.” I nudged my partner with an elbow. “Baz was about to shed some light when you showed up all hell bent for leather.”
“The Efreet… These people they’ve imprisoned…” Tryg’s words disappeared.
Basil’s hand dropped onto my shoulder. “The things you saw as a mouse weren’t far from the reality.”
I tried hard to remember exactly what my then tiny brain had processed, but nothing made sense. “I can only say for certain I couldn’t recognize any of the species. Definitely no genies, but then again the Efreet captured and tormented more beings than the brethren, didn’t they? So you can understand my not recognizing them. What are they?”
Both men acted like I’d fallen off the turnip truck.
“Back off. I’m not exactly a world-wise genie here.” I’d only been part of the Many since 1924, way less time than almost any of my friends. “So, I’ll ask again because I really don’t have the answer. What are they?”
Trygvyr shook his head. “My point, exactly. We have no clue. Precisely why we sent Raye to find you. They aren’t any species any of us have encountered in all of our combined years on this earth.”
“I guess what Tryg is trying to say here, love, is we can’t identify the species because they aren’t one single species. They’re… Well, they’re…” He turned gray.
“Out with it already.”
Basil swallowed hard. “The Efreet were, for lack of a better word, experimenting on these people, love.”
Experimenting. I let the word roll around in my head for a while. Experimenting… Which means…
“Oh, holy fuck.”
“Our thoughts exactly, Mistress.”
The Efreet, or their deity in charge, Prometheus, are playing with living things? I opened my mouth to give voice to those words, but the instant before they came out, my throat closed. Like a bad case of anaphylaxis. And I wasn’t allergic to peanuts or anything.
Basils held my hand while Trygvyr slapped my back. As quickly as it came, the choking dissipated. “Thanks,” I croaked. “I guess my orders not to talk about certain crap remain in place.”
The gods had forbidden me from repeating the things they’d told me. I hadn’t realized I couldn’t talk about what I learned on my own, too, though. Bastards.
Taking a deep breath, I told my friends to show me. Except I didn’t want to see. Hell, I didn’t want to know. I could only hope my mouse brain had exaggerated what it had learned or my rodent imagination had been working overtime. Perhaps I’d read too many paranormal novels.
Basil led me to the spot where I’d begun hearing Tryg snarl. We passed through a thin veil of magic and the cacophony within damn near blew out my eardrums. Screams and shrieks, cries and moans echoed all around me, along with a strange gurgling off to one side. Someone was shouting for its mama, but in no voice that made sense as human.
“What the?” I wished a change in my ears to dampen the noise without blocking the people around me. “What is going on here?”
“More like what was going on before we hit the beaches, love. What’s going on now is chaos wrapped in monstrosity layered with heartbreak.”
Everywhere I looked a cage, and every cage held some twisted thing my brain couldn’t quite deal with. A male werewolf caught mid-shift snarled at me, pulling my attention to the left where a being sat weeping and brushing her leaves. Part woman, part tree. And not in a good, pretty way like the dryads you read about. She had a branch coming out of the top of her head, for petesakes.
Next to her, a being with a rabbit’s head and a lion’s body flapped its wings pitifully. Something mooed at me from the other direction and I saw what could only have been a female minotaur, but no such thing existed. A fish head sprouted from… Is that a badger? It was as though someone had gotten a DNA-splicer for Christmas, and it also made julienne fries.
For one of the few times in my life, I was dumbstruck. No way could this get any worse. And then I caught the feeling of a djinn nearby. Only my sense of the brethren was tainted somehow. “They didn’t.”
I pushed past Basil. I could understand why Tryg had been out of his mind with anger. All of this had already become too much for me, and I was betting I hadn’t even gotten to the worst parts yet.
When I found the cage and peered inside, I mustered all of my willpower to keep my stomach contents where they belonged.
The voice was vaguely familiar. I knew this djinn, I just couldn’t place where or how. Whoever he was, I wasn’t sure what they’d done to him, but he appeared to have wasted down to skin pulled taught over bones.
“Guess I shouldn’t have walked out of the last meeting, eh?”
And then it hit me. The poor pathetic thing gazing back at me was the beefy genie who’d once been called in to save my ass when it didn’t need saving. Only he wasn’t beefy any longer. The last time I’d seen him had been before he teleported away from the conference room at Mayweather Antiquities.
I didn’t blame him for walking out on me then. I’d called all the genies in residence together to figure out how to stop the Efreet. He wanted a firm plan and a leader he could believe in. Since I’d admitted I didn’t have a clue what the hell I was doing, and then confessed how it had been my own damn fault the Efreet had escaped to wreak havoc, Lyle’d had every right to beat feet out of there. And it wasn’t long afterward I’d had to collapse the whole damn building to avoid getting captured by the very assholes I didn’t have a plan to defeat.
With a self-effacing grin I said, “I’m not sure things would’ve gone any better for you if you’d stayed.”
His eyes dropped toward his wasted self. “What could be worse than this?”
“Dead is worse.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“We can’t fix dead.”
“Can you fix this?”
“Won’t find out until we’ve tried.” I turned to Basil. “Let him loose.”
To my surprise, Baz shook his head vehemently. “We can’t.”
The tormented genie agreed. “You can’t.”
Oh, holy shit. I could see Baz exercising an abundance of caution. He was usually awesome at balancing my sometimes need to rush in without checking the depth of the shithole I was about to face. But having a prisoner, one who’d been tortured, want to remain in his prison? The notion scared me stiff. “What don’t I know? What did they do to you?”
The being’s hands twisted in front of him, impotent to fight what had happened and was happening to him. “I have no clue what they did. They wished me frozen, then strapped me to a table. I figured they were going to dissect me, for pity’s sake. I almost wish they had. It would’ve been better than this.”
A shudder broke over him so hard I feared it would snap all his fragile bones.
“When I woke up from whatever they did,” he continued, “six Efreet were laying around the table where I was strapped. They were dead. None of the others would come close to me.”
The idea of a genie who could kill Efreet without renouncing the Rules kind of intrigued me, but I stuffed my curiosity down deep. Most of the Efreet certainly deserved to die for what they’d done, but I had a feeling anything I did to put any of them in the ground would harm me almost as much as them. “Then how’d they get you back in here? Why didn’t you kill them all and set yourself free?”
“You’d have to ask one of the other captives.” He waved a hand outward. “Not in those cages, though. They are beyond rational thought. And if I were them, I wouldn’t want to remember anything I saw or heard in here.”
He paused for a moment. I couldn’t tell if he was composing his thoughts or catching his breath. He didn’t appear strong enough to stand around waxing eloquent on anything.
“I might’ve heard an Efreet wish me comatose,” he said. “When I opened my eyes, I was back in here. No one will come close enough to feed me, and my wishes don’t work right anymore. Damn it, Jo. I’m starving. But I can’t leave.”
“We’ll find a way to get food to you while we figure out what the hell happened.” I wasn’t sure how either thing was possible. Maybe we could stand outside the cage and throw food through the bars. “One last thing,” I said, being a shit mentioning it. “What is your name?”
“Lyle.” His face fell. And I felt like the heaping pile of excrement I was. “I shouldn’t have expected you to remember me, but I had hoped.”
“I remembered you. It’s the name I lost.” I wanted to reach out to the man, but fear kept all my appendages at my sides. “I promise you this, Lyle. I will never forget your name again.”
I'm still on track to have this ready for pre-order on the 5th and released on the 15th. (Even if I did take yesterday off to go fishing.) If you're interested, stop by Goodreads and 'want to read it'. Oh, and my brand new postcards have shipped. They look like this...
Anything I'm forgetting? The coffee hasn't kicked in yet.