The Way of the Word

30. September 2010

RIP Tony Curtis

Filed under: Commentary,movies,RIP,TV,Uncategorized — jensaltmann @ 11:11
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Born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925, died September 30, 2010

Bernard Schwartz, the son of poor Hungarian immigrants, became Tony Curtis when he signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1948, at the age of 23.  His screen debut was a rumba dancer in the 1949 movie Criss Coss. He was a very versatile actor who convinced audiences in whatever genre he was playing — western, romance, action-adventure, thriller, horror or comedy. In the course of his career, he played viking warriors, submarine officers (he served on a submarine in WW2), trapeze artists, serial killers (the Boston Strangler was perhaps his most acclaimed role).

He also worked for television, most notably on The Persuaders (a global flop but a huge hit in Germany), McCoy (kind of a prototype Leverage) and Vega$.

Since the 1980s, his focus had shifted away from acting and more towards painting.

For me, he will always be first Danny Wilde from The Persuaders, just before Lt. Holden in Operation Petticoat and The Great Leslie in The Great Race. Despite his versatility, I will always remember him best for his comedies. He was a very funny man.

The Gatherers – Chapter 11

“Yes, he’s quite the storyteller,” Habbassin said.

“Please, not so loud,” Ankhoro said. Ghenni noticed that he helped himself to yet another drink of water.

“It’s called a hangover,” Habbassin said. “You shouldn’t drink so much, if you can’t take it.”

“So you were there?” Ghenni said. Habbassin nodded.

“I felt his magic aura, and came to check him out. He’s really quite powerful, you know.”

“And he’s funny,” Miki added. Habbassin laughed, which made Ankhoro whince.

“He’s got a way with words, no doubt about it,” he said. “I mean, that campfire story he told almost even scared me, and god knows I don’t scare easily.”

“I could hardly sleep last night,” Miki admitted.

“No, that was because you overate,” Ankhoro said. “That story didn’t scare me at all. It was only a story. Wasn’t it?”

“I’ve seen stranger things,” Habbassin said.

“Let’s get back to the point, shall we?” Ghenni said.

“Spoilsport,” Habbassin said. “But okay, let’s.”

“Bolwyn is here because he’s looking for a magickal artifart.”

“Artifact,” Habbassin corrected her.

“Whatever. He felt your magic from wherever he comes from. He even managed to find the right island you’re on. I don’t think he’s going to go away before he has found what he’s looking for. And we all know what that thing is, don’t we?”

“Habbassin’s lamp,” Ankhoro said.

“Exactly,” Ghenni said. “So, I don’t think he’ll leave by himself before he has found the lamp. And I fear that we won’t be able to hide it from him forever. So we’ll have to do something.”

“But what?” Miki said. “He’s a mighty wizard, and we’re just three children.”

“And a djinn,” Habbassin said. “Since you’re doing this for me, I at least ought to pitch in, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” Ankhoro said.

“What do you have in mind?” Ghenni said.

Habbassin glared at Ankhoro.

“Not much, really. I don’t dare use my magic right now. I don’t know how powerful Bolwyn is. If I use my magic, he’ll certainly sense it, and I wouldn’t want him to find me until I know how to beat him in an unfair fight.”

“So, what do you have in mind?” Ankhoro sneered.

“First, we’ll need to gather more information,” Habbassin said. “I prepared something last night, while you all were busy celebrating.” Habbassin held out his hand, and three large crystals materialized. “These are far-seeing crystals,” he explained, giving one each to Ghenni, Ankhoro and Miki. They grew until they filled the childrens’s palms. “You look at them and think of who or what you want to see, and they’ll show it to you. It’s a very simple spell, and I don’t think Bolwyn’ll notice their magic. It should be too minor to attract his attention. And it enables us to keep tabs on him.”

“Let’s try it,” Ankhoro said. He stared at his crystal. A picture began to fill the crystal. Ghenni gaped. It was definitely Bolwyn, standing at the beach with Zoltan, Xulia and Yanag.

“What are they talking about?” Miki said.

“Concentrate,” Habbassin said, bending down to stare intently into the crystal. “Ankhoro, the one who holds the crystal must concentrate. Then we can hear their words too.”

Deep lines appeared on Ankhoro’s forehead. His efforts were rewarded by small, tinny voices that seemed to issue from somewhere deep within the crystal.

“Yes,” they heard Bolwyn say. “If you’ve seen anything unusual at all…”

“Not so much seen,” Zoltan said. “But there’ve been some really weird things going on recently.” He visibly swallowed, and then proceeded to tell Bolwyn of the things Ghenni had done to him and his friends.

“I don’t think that’s good,” Miki said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say,” Habbassin said. “I remember their faces when they…”

“Be serious,” Ghenni said. “That wasn’t what she meant.”

“Do tell,” Habbassin said, glaring at Ghenni. “Are you sure you’re a child, and not a short adult?”

“Quiet,” Ankhoro said. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

“And all those incidents involved that Ghenni and her friends,” Bolwyn said, stroking his chin.

“Yeah,” Zoltan said. “Something’s definitely weird about her, and since you asked about anything weird…”

“You did the right thing,” Bolwyn said, putting his hand on Zoltan’s shoulder. Zoltan seemed to gain an inch in height. “I don’t know if your information will turn out to be what I’m looking for, but it’s certainly worth a second look.”

The image vanished.

“Are we in trouble now?” Miki asked.

29. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 10

“As you might have guessed, I’m a wizard,” Bolwyn said. He sat, legs folded beneath him, on a blanket he had brought from what now was his hut. The fire the villagers had gathered around blazed merrily, easily outshining the moon. The smell of food dominated everything in the fire’s immediate vicinity. Bolwyn picked up a coconut and drank from it. He smacked his lips thoughtfully.

“What is this?” he asked.

“Coconut milk,” someone said. Bolwyn tasted it again.

“Not bad,” he said. “But there’s something lacking. It needs a certain, uhm, kick.”

The entire village had gathered around the fire, which they usually only did for major festivals. But then, Ghenni supposed, if the arrival of a stranger who didn’t belong to any of the other island tribes wasn’t something major special, what was? Exactly this was the argument Ghenni had used on her parents that had made them agree that she could stay up and listen to Bolwyn’s tales.

“Can someone fetch water?” Bolwyn said. “Lots of it, in a bucket or something. And bring it to me. I’ll show you what I mean.”

Zoltan and Xulia rose from their places at the fire and left. Trust those two to try and ingratiate themselves with the visitor, Ghenni thought.

“I come from very far away,” Bolwyn continued. “I think it’s on the other side of the world or something. I’m not sure myself. Magic travel’s different. You tend to lose track of distance. You can only tell that it was far by the drain on your magic powers. And I felt very drained, I tell you.

“Anyway, you’ll want to know why I’m here. I felt something in the ether, a powerful magic disturbance. I managed to track it to somewhere in this island chain, but I’m not sure exactly where it is. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.”

Zoltan and Xulia returned, each carrying a bucket. The put it in the sand next to Bolwyn.

“Thank you, my friends,” Bolwyn said, favoring them with a smile. The two returned to their places. “Now, as I said, you need something with a kick,” Bolwyn said, raising his voice so everybody could hear him. “Unfortunately, everything with a kick needs time to ferment, and since I’m thirsty right now, I don’t think I want to take the time just now to show you how to make it, and wait for fermentation to commence. So I’ll take a shortcut. That’s what I need the water for,” he nodded to Zoltan and Xulia. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a pouch. “Now, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “This isn’t quite as simple as it looks. It’s not just a matter of adding something to something else.”

He removed a pinch of something from the pouch and sprinkled it over one of the buckets. It seemed to glow in the firelight. Mumbling something unintelligible, he made sweeping passes with his hands over the bucket. The water inside glowed a brilliant red for a moment. When the glow faded, Bolwyn repeated the process with the other bucket.

From another pocket, he took a cup. He dipped it into the bucket. Whatever it was that filled the glas, Ghenni was sure it wasn’t water; it was too dark a shade of red for that. He drank it slowly and carefully.

“It’s not the best vintage I’ve ever tasted,” he declared, “but it’s definitely eminently drinkable.” He made a sweeping wave. “Come on, everybody, have a drink of wine, on me.” He giggled. “But be careful. I’m not sure if you’re used to this.”

Almost everybody tasted of the altered water. Ghenni preferred to abstain.

“Tastes weird,” Ankhoro pronounced. “But it makes a nice feeling in the head. Almost as if a bee’s caught between your ears.”

When the food was brought on, Bolwyn was one of the first to hold up his plate. Ghenni wasn’t sure, but it seemed to her as if most of the men already seemed to have a problem with sitting up straight. Still, that wine couldn’t have been all bad. They seemed to be very happy, and laughed a lot.

“Has anything unusual happened here lately?” Bolwyn bit into his fish. The grease ran down his chin. Some of it dribbled on his vest. He ignored it.”Say, this is good. Think I can have the recipe?

“When I say anything unusual, that’s just what I mean. What I’m looking for could quite literally be anything. So, don’t be shy. Give me all the weirdness you can find.”

The villagers told him of the tsunami, of the trees and Jamao’s mishaps, and of other strange things that had happened recently. Not all of which had been Habbassin’s fault. Ghenni was surprised how significant everyday mishaps could be made to look if you were looking for something supernatural. She was not surprised, however, that Jamao tried to play down those stories where he had appeared less than brilliant.

Bolwyn listened to all the stories, nodding and grunting encouragement and sometimes digging in with further questions.

He encouraged every teller, but somehow he only asked questions about those things that really were Habbassin’s fault.

“Have you found anything recently?” Bolwyn asked finally.

“What do you mean?” Yanag said.

“You’d know what I mean if you’d found it,” Bolwyn said. “Some… thing, the likes of which you’ve never seen before. Perhaps a ring with a shiny stone, or a necklace with intricate goldwork… It could be anything, really. It could be too big to move, or small enough to wear for decoration.”

“Could it be small enough to miss entirely?” Ghenni said.

“Could be,” Bolwyn conceded. He threw the remains of the first fish into the fire and took a second helping. “It’d surprise me. I mean, it would have to be very powerful if I can sense it halfway around the world, don’t you think? And usually, the more powerful artef– things are bigger. It has something to do with conservation of energy, I think.”

“What would you do with the thing if you found it?” Elomei said. Ghenni tried to ignore the old woman’s stare.

“I’d take it and go home, of course. I mean, let’s be honest with each other, shall we? You’ve no use for it. And if you don’t know how to use it, any magickal artifact can be very dangerous. Just remember what it already did to your village here, and none of you have even found it yet. Or have you?” Bolwyn waited a moment, but nobody answered his question. “On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of experience with magickal artifacts. I’ve made it my life’s work to gather and study them.”

“But wouldn’t it be dangerous to you too?” Jamao said. “I don’t think the people of your village would appreciate phantom tsunamis, or any of the other things that happened here.”

“I quite agree,” Bolwyn laughed. “They wouldn’t appreciate it at all. But back home, in my laboratory, I can easily contain the artifact’s magic. Contain… and control it. Nothing could happen there.”

“How big would it have to be?” Zoltan asked, waving his arms for emphasis. “Would it have to be as big as a hut?”

“It could be,” Bolwyn said, “but I don’t think so. I’ve yet to see an artifact of that size. Unless you count Castle Doom, but that’s another story.”

“What’s Castle Doom?” Ghenni said. Anything to distract the people.

“What’s a castle, anyway?” Miki expanded.

Bolwyn laughed.

“Questions, questions, questions,” he said. He threw the remains of his fish into the fire and helped himself to some of the fruit. “Actually, that story is perfect for a dark night around a campfire. All right, gather ’round me, lads and lassies. I’ll spin you a tale to chill you to the marrow. Gods know you can use it in this heat.”

28. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 9

“Sure, I could send you straight back to your homes,” Habbassin said, stroking his chin. “But are you sure that’s such a bright idea? I mean, you’re in hot enough water already, I don’t think you want to add to your troubles by having to explain where you come from all of a sudden.”

“What do you suggest, then?” Ankhoro said. “I mean, you don’t really expect us to walk home, do you?”

“Not that we’d mind, mind you,” Miki added. “But it’s awfully late already, and we wouldn’t get home before dark…”

“Hey, I didn’t say I wouldn’t teleport you back home,” Habbassin said, spreading his arms wide. Very wide. Impossibly wide. “Just not all the way back home. I think I’ll send you to a place just outside of your village, and you’ll walk a couple of paces. That’ll save you lots of explanations. Trust me. I mean, have I ever steered you wrong yet?”

“No,” Ghenni said. “He’s right. Please send us back to our village the way you just said you would, Habbassin.”

“Is that a wish?”

“You could call it that, I guess.” Ghenni wasn’t sure she liked the gleam in Habbassin’s eyes. There was something calculating, reptilian about it.

“Your second wish, granted,” the djinn said grandly, gesturing wildly. The world seemed to spin around them. The cave faded out

and they were back in the bushes near the village.

“It was different this time,” Ankhoro said. “Not at all like when he took us from the Throne to the cave.”

“Perhaps he just likes variety,” Miki said. Ghenni laughed.

“We’ll ask him tomorrow,” she said, dashing off to the village. Laughing, Miki and Ankhoro followed.

They stopped almost as soon as they stood among the huts.

“Why’s everybody at the beach?” Miki said.

“Something must’ve happened,” Ankhoro said, continuing his dash toward the crowd that had gathered on the beach. Ghenni and Miki followed.

Everybody stared in the same direction, toward the rocks that formed the beach’s natural border to the west. Ghenni stopped to look. There was something. She shaded her eyes from the setting sun’s glare with her hand to help her see. It looked like a man.

“A stranger,” Miki gasped. Ghenni nodded slowly. It wasn’t entirely unheard of, but strangers were rare on Kanaohe. Sometimes people from neighboring islands came to visit and trade, but they had done that for longer than Ghenni could remember, and for that they weren’t really strangers anymore.

This one was, if not a stranger, definitely strange.

As the stranger came closer, Ghenni was able to make out details. It was nobody she had ever seen before, so she figured he qualified as a stranger. It was a man. At least she thought it was a man. It was hard to tell, with all the peculiar cloth he wore. It covered his entire body, leaving only the hands and the face free. He even wore cloth on his head!

“How does he stand it?” Ankhoro whispered. “All that cloth, on such a hot day as this.”

“Ask him,” Ghenni suggested.

“It looks heavy,” Miki said. “And look at the color. I’ve never seen that shade of red before.”

“I’ve seen berries with that color,” Ankhoro said. “Whatever that is he’s wearing, it reminds me of Habbassin’s vest.”

“Especially the gold patterns,” Ghenni whispered.

Ghenni tore her gaze from the almost hypnotic patterns on the man’s vest and tried to look at the man himself. The man wasn’t even very tall; Ghenni guessed he wasn’t much taller than Ankhoro. His face was red and sweaty, but that probably came from wearing so much cloth on such a hot day. Even if it had already cooled a bit. Or perhaps the face was red from exertion. Unless he wore several layers of cloth he was even larger around his middle than Jamao. Large enough to have trouble when he moved too much, or too fast. Which he probably rarely, if ever, did. His gait reminded Ghenni of a bird waddling on the ground, instead of flying through the air.

He had a large bag slung over his shoulder. It looked full and quite heavy.

The man paused. He waved and yelled something Ghenni didn’t understand. Couldn’t he speak the tribe’s language?

“This is really weird,” Miki said.

“Yeah, he even looks almost weirder than Habbassin,” Ankhoro said.

“Just yesterday, I’d’ve thought that’s impossible,” Ghenni whispered back. “But I think I agree with you.”

None dared leave the group to approach the stranger. Ghenni and her friends moved closer. She felt better. Standing outside the group made her feel too exposed. You never knew…

Jamao and Elomei stepped forth from the crowd and took a couple of steps toward the stranger. From the way Jamao’s neck twitched, he probably had to force himself not to look back at the tribe.

They didn’t go too far, though.

The man quickened his pace and spread his free arm, the one that didn’t hold the bag, wide. He shouted something at the tribe. Ghenni still didn’t understand a word he said, but the voice sounded friendly.

Jamao conferred with Elomei for a moment, then he stood up straight and raised his right arm to shoulder height, outstretched, with the palm to the stranger.

“State your name and your business with the tribe,” Jamao said.

Miki snickered.

“Is it just me, or does he really not look imposing at all?” she whispered. Ghenni suppressed a giggle of her own.

“It’s not you,” Ankhoro said.

The stranger kept approaching until he was just an arm’s length from Jamao. He stopped, dropped his bag into the sand and spread his arms wide. He said something in his gibberish. It sounded as friendly as his face looked.

He had obviously come from very far. The clothes he wore had apparently been very fine once, but they showed the wear and tear of his travels.

The thought excited Ghenni. The stories this man would have to tell…

“If you come in peace, we welcome you,” Jamao said. “I am Jamao. I am the chief of this village.”

“I … am … Bolwyn,” the stranger said. He had a funny accent that made almost everyone chuckle, and he spoke as slowly as someone does who isn’t sure what exactly he is saying. He opened his bag and took something out of it. He removed the cloth from his head. Seeing how little hair he had, Ghenni understood why he wanted to protect his head from the sun. He put the contraption on his head. He shook it a little. Satisfied that it wouldn’t fall down, he gestured at Jamao as if encouraging him to talk.

That proved he was a stranger, Ghenni thought. A native would have known better than to encourage Jamao to talk.

“My name is Jamao,” Jamao repeated. He pointed at Elomei. “This is our shaman. Our island is Kanaohe. We call ourselves the Kanaohe. Your name is Bolwyn, and you obviously come from very far away.”

“You can say that again,” the stranger said.

“You speak our language?” Jamao gasped.

“I’m learning. Keep talking. I’ll learn as you speak.”

“It is that funny hat that teaches you our language?” Elomei asked. Bolwyn hesitated a moment, then he nodded.

“It’s a magic helmet,” he explained. “A teaching device. It accelerates learning. You pay for it with a monster of a headache, but sometimes it’s the best possible choice. I don’t use it very often, though. The beauty of it is, you remember everything you learn as if you’d learned it the regular way.”

“The funny hat — the helmet — is a magic device, then?” Jamao said. Ghenni thought Bolwyn’s smile looked a little strained.

“I thought I’d just said that,” he said. “This thing must be off.” He began moving it on his head.

“No, no,” Jamao said hastily. “I only wanted to know if I’d understood you properly.”

“Oh.”

“What brings you to Kanaohe?” Jamao said.

“Uhm, would you mind if I stowed my gear first? And then, if I might have something to drink? I’ve come a long way, you know, and it has been a while since I last had something to drink. I’ll willingly answer every single one of your questions once my throat feels less parched, I promise.” He laughed. The different ballshapes of his body moved in very funny ways when he laughed. Ghenni laughed too; it was catching.

“Well, there is an empty hut,” Jamao said. “Nobody’s using it right now. You’re welcome to stay there. You are also welcome to share our food and water.”

“Food?” Bolwyn smacked his lips and rubbed his belly. “Great idea. I’m famished. What do you have?”

“Fish and fruit,” Jamao said.

“And what’ll you have?” Bolwyn laughed. “Just kidding. No, really, I’m grateful for your hospitality. I hope I’ll get the chance to repay you.”

“That will not be necessary,” Jamao said. “Come, I will show you where you can, as you put it, ‘stow your gear.'”

27. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 8

“I think I already told you,” Habbassin said, “that where I come from I used to be the great and powerful wizard of a great and powerful kingdom. My people call themselves the djinn, and we are all powerful magic users. I was simply better than the others.

“There is, however, a major drawback. While we djinn are very powerful magic workers, We become rather helpless when we are locked into tiny, confined spaces. In my case, it was a beautifully wrought colored glass bottle. I won’t bore you with the details on how I was tricked to enter the bottle. That is a rather long story in itself, and it has nothing much to do with my present plight. And cease snickering. Yes, my part in that story is not too glorious. Suffice it to say that I was in that bottle, which then perforce became my home. To make a bad situation worse, the bottle was then acquired by a thieving rogue whose name was al-Haddin. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of him? Thought so. He wasn’t remarkable. Before he acquired my bottle, he was nothing but a petty thief who barely managed to steal fruit at the bazaar without getting caught. And a good thing for him it was too. The soldiers cut off the hands of thieves.

“Having possession of my bottle changed his life, and not for the better. Well, he certainly thought it was for the better. With my help, and I assure you I never assisted him voluntarily, his dreams grew slightly at first. He didn’t have to steal any more, but had me conjure him everything he needed to prosper. And prosper he did, but he grew bored quickly. I suppose it had something to do with having lived in constant danger all the time. He actually missed the danger, and so we went on a quest. Well, he did, and dragged me along.

“Now, there’s nothing wrong with going on a quest. In principle, anyway. It can be a noble and worthwhile endeavor. Rescue princesses, conquer evil wizards, slay dragons, recover long-lost holy objects — that’s all wonderful and worthwhile.

“Unfortunately, al-Haddin had not a single altruistic fiber in his entire body. He used me to recover lost treasures, which he hoarded in a cave. He robbed caravans and tormented pilgrims. Hey, I told you he thought small. Which wasn’t such a bad thing, for him. He was a pest, but somehow the authorities never bothered to hunt him down. To understand why, you must understand the land where all this happened. Let’s see, how can I make you understand. Imagine a beach. A very big beach. A beach so huge that it stretches beyond the horizon in whichever direction you look. There’s no water anywhere, only a couple of damp mudholes every few hundred miles. There is no shade anywhere, and the temperature is only slightly less than inside Wakano’s Throne. By day. At night, it freezes over. Now, if you were a soldier, would you want to go out there and spend days, or weeks, or perhaps months searching for one man who robs caravans? You might never find him. Or wouldn’t you rather simply tell the caravans to hire more guards and hope that more guards frighten the robber away?

“With my magic to do his work for him, al-Haddin soon grew bored again. So bored that he did something unique. He opened the bottle and let me out, not to command me to kill, rob or maim anyone, but to talk with me.

“‘ Tell me, Habbassin,’ he said, ‘how it comes that all the things I only used to dream of now bore me.’

“‘Is that a command, master?’ He insisted I call him master.

“‘Would you tell me otherwise?’ he asked.

“‘Hardly,’ I replied. ‘Unlike some people I could mention, I still care for my fellow man.’

“‘They aren’t your fellow men. You’re a djinn.’

“‘It’s the principle of the thing.’

“‘All right then,’ al-Haddin sighed. ‘I command you to tell me why I can find no pleasure in the realization of my dreams.’

“‘It is because it’s too easy, I think.’ It rankled me to have to tell him. “‘You just point at whatever you want and say ‘fetch.’ That isn’t much of a challenge. All you do is sit down, count your dinars and get bored to death. You need a challenge, something to do. You know. When you have a dream, and you’ve realized it, you’ll find that a considerable part of the pleasure comes from pursuing that dream. Often, having accomplished your desires is a major let-down.’

“‘I do believe you’re right,’ al-Haddin said. ‘This is all too easy. The caravan guards have not the power to oppose you, and since the soldiers can’t be bothered to come out here and chase me, I am undisputed ruler of …’ At this point he looked around and for I think the first time really saw the cave he had made our home. I had used my powers to make it a little more comfortable, but it was still a cave. ‘Of tons and tons of dirt,’ he finished. ‘No wonder the soldiers won’t come out here. There is nothing of value here. Except what I have gathered here, and that doesn’t mean anything at all. Tell me, djinn, could you have provided all this without having to rob caravans?’

“‘Naturally.’

“‘I was afraid you’d say that,’ he sighed. He actually looked sad. ‘What good is having the power to work miracles if there is no challenge?’ he wailed. ‘What good are great accomplishments when … when there isn’t anyone around to admire them?’ He clapped his hands, delighted. ‘I have it, djinn,’ he cried. ‘We shall conquer a city, no, a nation, and lord over those puny mortals. That will give us a lasting challenge, and something they will write poems about in eons to come.’

“Me, I thought he’d finally lost it. And I couldn’t help but pity the poor sods who’d fall under his spell. But so long as he held the bottle, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Well, there was one thing. You may have noticed that he wasn’t too bright. I had to obey his commands, but I’d sooner let Shaitan take me than do his thinking for him.

“‘I need to know where everything is,’ he said. ‘Show me a map of the land.’

“I conjured a map, a nice one with a red X to mark the spot where we were. It was an accurate map too, showing every dune and hill and mountain and city of the land.

“‘I like that one,’ al-Haddin said, pointing at one of the cities a little farther north. ‘I like its name. Zuhayr. The Sparkling. Think you that name might come from an abundance of sparkling jewels, djinn? No, that’s no command. Forget it. We shall conquer that city, djinn. And when we have, we shall rule it. Well, I shall. But I’ll see to it that you’ll get proper respect.’

He thought about it, or pretended to. I’m still not sure he ever really thought at all. ‘I command you to transport us both to Zuhayr with no time wasted.’

“‘Instantaneously, you mean.’

“‘That’s what I said, didn’t I?’

“‘Hold on to your stuff, then,’ I said and wove the transport spell around us, the same spell I used to transport all of us into this cave.

“I put us a few miles outside the city. It was quite a large city, sprawling, with thousands of people living inside. I wanted al-Haddin to see it before doing anything, hoping that perhaps he would see the folly of his ways and abandon his mad scheme.

“I should have known better.

“‘That’s quite a bit we’ve bitten off,’ al-Haddin said. ‘Are you sure we can chew it?’

“‘No,’ I replied. ‘A city this huge has to have a wizard in residence. Perhaps more than one. If he’s good, or they, we might lose.’

“‘We’ll never know until we try,’ al-Haddin said, rubbing his hands. ‘Let’s get on with it.’ He pointed at the city. ‘I command you to conquer that city for me.’

“I had no choice but to obey. The first thing I did was issue a challenge.

“‘I claim this city for my master, al-Haddin,’ I declared, loud enough for everyone in the city to hear me. ‘You have no choice but to obey. All hail your new master, al-Haddin the Magnificent.’

“They were less than impressed.

“‘It seems they refuse to simply surrender their city,’ I informed al-Haddin.

“‘Then I command you to conquer it with force.’

“I had no choice. The first thing I did was call up a sandstorm. Not a big one; I didn’t want to hurt anyone, only scare them.

“Mind you, it was a magical sandstorm. That means it wouldn’t blow until its force was spent, it would blow until I’d tell it to stop.

“But it stopped without my say-so.

“‘There must be a wizard in that city,’ I told al-Haddin.

“‘Then destroy him,’ al-Haddin said. ‘But before you do, I want an orange. I’m hungry.’

“‘I gave him an orange and flew toward the city. I was met halfway by a man flying toward me from the city.

“‘You’re a djinn,’ he said when he reached me.

“‘And you’re observant,’ I replied.

“‘What are you doing here? I thought you djinn were peaceful.’

“‘I’m under a bottle-geas, and the man who commands me wants to rule your city.’

“‘Not while I’m around to prevent it,’ the wizard said.

“‘I was afraid you’d say that,’ I said. ‘I suppose that means we have to fight.’

“‘Unless your master sees reason…’

“‘Hardly likely,’ I shrugged.

“‘Then we fight.’

“And fight we did. It was a great battle. I was compelled to fight, so I don’t think I really did my best, but the wizard was no slouch either. After an hour of trading spells, I decided that perhaps he was even better than I. Slowly but surely, he drove me back into the desert.

“I think it happened during the earthquake he caused. It distracted me for a while, as I had to save myself, but when I took to the air to escape its effects, the compulsion to fight him, to do my master’s bidding, had vanished.

“I instantly realized what had happened. Somehow, the earthquake the wizard had conjured had broken the bottle. And without the bottle, I was free to do what I wished.

“I retreated back to the camp, where al-Haddin stared at he and shook his fist at me.

“‘What are you doing retreating?’ he yelled at me. ‘I command you to beat that wizard and conquer that city, so that I might rule it.’

“‘Oh, stuff it,’ I said and changed him into a toad.

“The wizard, close behind me, arrived and saw what I had done.

“‘I thought you were under a geas,’ he said. I rummaged through al-Haddin’s pack and pulled out a couple of glass shards.

“‘It broke when this bottle did,’ I said, showing him the shards. ‘I’m my own djinn again.’

“‘I’m glad. The city was in serious danger from our fight.’

“‘I’m glad too. But what do we do with al-Haddin here?’

“‘That is the least of our problems,’ the wizard said. He cast a fireball and incinerated al-Haddin. And good riddance, I say.

“‘That’s all nice and well,’ I said, watching the smoldering remains of the toad. ‘But I have a major problem now. You see, my home isn’t in this dimension.’

“‘So?’

“‘I’m stuck here. I don’t know how to travel dimensions. Do you?’

“‘I fear not. But I have many books of ancient knowledge. Perhaps the answer you seek is in there somewhere.’

“The wizard, whose name was Salazar, let me join his entourage and took me to his home. He lived in a palace. I mean that quite literally. Salazar served a great and mighty sultan and was charged with Zuhayr’s magical defense. Al-Haddin had attacked the city, and Salazar had defended it. Now he brought me to live with him in the palace.

“That was the life. There were beautiful wenches who lived only to serve my every whim. I studied magic with Salazar and became even more powerful than I had already been. I studied the books in his library, looking for a way home. I kept the shards of my bottle, to remind me what I had lost and regained. And there were strange and exotic sights to marvel at.

“But it grew stale after a while. I was the only one of my kind. Despite the friendly people who were all around me, I felt lonely after a while. Servants do not replace friends. Admirers can’t replace family. Strange and exotic sights and hard work cannot replace excitement and adventures. Truth to tell, while I had hated working for al-Haddin, I had grown accustomed to it. I’d even come to appreciate the finer points in that existance. I found life to be stale without the rush of danger and excitement al-Haddin had unwittingly provided.

“So I started to provide some distractions.

“It wasn’t that much I did. I spread a rumor that our sultan considered conquering a neighboring city-state. They promptly sent their wizard to fight Salazar. We won, of course. Then, there was that mad prophet who had come to Zuhayr to preach of his god. I helped him with his miracles, without revealing myself of course. He thought it was his god working through him. You wouldn’t believe how quickly a couple of miracles can convert the unbelievers. It was quite amusing for a while. Until the prophet decided he was powerful enough to force the sultan off his throne. Those stupid converts actually followed his order when he told them to rebel. We put the rebellion down, of course. You should have seen the prophet’s face when he tried to work his miracles against me and found his god had abandoned him! Hmm, I don’t think Salazar or the sultan were as amused as I. I think it’s a blessing they never found out what I had to do with it. At least I think they never found out.

“There were another couple of pranks I played on them. They are too numerous to mention, and I can’t quite decide which ones I should amuse you with. Hmm, perhaps I won’t go into details on any of them just now. Just trust me when I say, they were some real hoots.

“I think the one where I went too far was after that argument with the vizir. I don’t even remember exactly what the argument was about. It had something to do with the sultan’s harem, and a prank I’d played on them. The sultan hadn’t seen the humor in the prank, and the vizir always toed the party line. Anyway, I soon tired of the argument, so I told the vizir he was nothing but the sultan’s parrot and turned him into one. A parrot, that is, not a sultan. You should have heard him squawk as he waddled away. I don’t think he ever figured out how to fly. He wasn’t a parrot for long, though. I suppose he waddled straight to Salazar and somehow convinced him that he wasn’t what he seemed. On the other hand, aren’t politicians always? Well, Salazar came to me with the parrot on his shoulder and asked me what it was all about. Right there in the courtyard, with all the courtesans and courtiers gathered round. The situation had a great potential for embarrassment, for me, so I turned the tables on them and changed the vizir back right where he was, which was perched on Salazar’s shoulder. So the joke was on them. Everybody found it very funny, except for Salazar and the vizir.

“‘Salazar, you brought that demon into the palace,’ the vizir cried. ‘It’s your duty to remove it now before it does real harm.’

“‘You’ve gone a step too far, Habbassin my friend,’ Salazar said.

“‘ You know I held back the last time we fought,’ I reminded him. ‘I won’t go so easy on you this time.’

‘I care not about that,’ Salazar said, raising his hands. ‘It is my duty to defend my sultan. Have at thee!’

“With those words, he began his conjurations. While he’s delivered his speech, though, I had prepared for his attack, and was ready. Oh, what a battle it was. The magic we wrought to defeat the other was mighty and terrible, worthy of a conflict the gods themselves might carry out. The spells we created to defeat each other were the likes never seen again in Zuhayr. And better off for it they are, I’m sure. I don’t know how much time has passed since then, but if the time has been long enough I’m sure our fight has since passed on into legend. It levelled the palace, that much I remember.

“I told you that Salazar taught me most of what I knew. Unfortunately, he only taught me most and not all of what he knew. Eventually, I fell to my knees, exhausted from spending so much of my power in such a short time.

I looked at him closely and saw that he too was close to exhaustion. Had I marshalled my remaining strength for one last effort, I would have beaten him.

“‘Do you yield?’ he said.

“‘I didn’t start this fight,’ I told him, ‘but I choose to be the one to end it. If that means I must yield, so be it.’

“‘I am glad,’ Salazar said, ‘that this battle is over. But I fear you can not remain in this sultanate. You must go into exile.’ The vizir had other plans, though.

“‘You must banish this creature,’ he demanded. ‘Canst you not see what damage it has caused.’ He obliquely avoided noticing that the entire fight had been his fault. ‘A creature of such power cannot remain unchecked. It might return and wreak terrible vengeance on what remains of our once beautiful city. You must do something about him.’

“‘But I cannot send him home,’ Salazar said. ‘I don’t know where his kind come from. And banishing him anywhere else would be cruel.’

“‘To those who live there, aye,’ the vizir said. I considered changing him back into a parrot. ‘But don’t you forget one thing? He’s a djinn.’

“‘Yeah?’ I said. ‘So what?’

“‘Djinn live in bottles, don’t they? Just put it in a bottle, put the stopper in and we can forget about it.’

“‘Our fight most likely destroyed every shard of glass in the city,’ Salazar said. Had I said my former friend before? He was my friend still, trying to find a way out of this dilemma for me.

“‘Then imprison him in anything else. I care not what, so long as he can not harm the city any further.’

“Rubbing his chin, Salazar looked around the grand room we had fought in. Among the rubble, something caught his eye. He went to fetch it.

“It was a lamp. Out of many lamps that lit this room, when it had been a room, one had survived.

“‘That must be an omen,’ Salazar said. The vizir nodded eagerly. ‘Habbassin, you must get into this lamp.’

“‘What if I don’t?’

“‘We will kill you,’ the vizir said helpfully.

“‘Can I turn him back into a parrot?’ I asked Salazar. Salazar laughed.

“‘No, my friend,’ he said. ‘But it is banishment or death. Before you choose, think about it. Sooner or later, someone will release you from the lamp. Nothing can release you from death.’

“Now, being imprisoned in a bottle in every djinn’s worst nightmare. It’s terribly cramped in there, and you can only get out if someone pulls the stopper. Even worse, when someone lets a djinn out of a bottle, the djinn has to… But that is not for children to hear.

“The lamp, I noticed, had no stopper. There was the opening where the oil was filled in, and the opening where the wick is stuck in. No stopper, that meant I should be able to get in and out at my leisure.

“‘I choose the lamp,’ I said. ‘But before I go…’ I wove one last spell and turned the vizir back into a parrot. Then I turned myself to smoke and went into the lamp.

‘I spent a little while laughing about the vizir’s face when he squawked instead of speaking. After I felt enough time had passed, I decided I could safely get out of the lamp.

“Only I couldn’t. I was stuck in the lamp, as surely as if it were a stoppered bottle.

“And that ends my tale. I resigned myself to spend eternity in the lamp. Obviously, the same rules apply to djinns in lamps as to djinns in bottles. Anyway, you found me, rubbed the lamp and released me. That’s the first thing I’ve known since Salazar trapped me so ignominiously. I don’t know where your island is in relation to Zuhayr, or how the lamp ended up here. But then,” Habbassin shrugged, “I don’t think it’s worth the effort to find a way to go back.” He stared into the fire for a moment. “I’d love to go back home, however. I expect everybody I knew is dead by now, but still. There’s no place like home, children, never mind what kind of a place it is. And don’t let anyone ever tell you anything else.”

26. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 7

“Surprise,” Habbassin said, grinning widely. So wide that it stretched far beyond the boundaries of his face. He sat next to the children, his legs folded impossibly underneath him, his arms folded across his chest.

Ghenni, Miki and Ankhoro just stared, open-mouthed.

Ghenni was the first of the three to recover.

“I knew it,” she said, slapping her thigh. “I knew you weren’t gone.”

“So much faith in me?” Habbassin chuckled. “I’m flattered.”

“No, not that,” Ghenni said with a dismissive wave. “It’s just, your being still around was the only explanation for all that’s happened that made sense.”

“Why are you still here, anyway?” Miki said, ignoring Habbassin’s pout.

“That’s right,” Ankhoro said. “You said you were gonna leave.”

Habbassin spread his arms wide, put on a lopsided grin, cocked his head to one side and wiggled his eyebrows.

“I couldn’t.”

“Don’t tell me you appreciated our company so much you couldn’t bear leaving us,” Ghenni said.

“Aren’t you a little young to be so cynical, child?”

“Well?” Ghenni prompted. She would find out later what cynical meant.

Habbassin sighed.

“All right. Yeah, it wasn’t that. I was really gonna leave, and good riddance. I mean, this place is beautiful to visit, but I wouldn’t want to be buried here. Uhm, well, there was a problem I didn’t expect. Come along, I’ll show you.”

Without bothering to unfold his legs, Habbassin rose into the air, waving at the children to follow him.

The children hurried to keep up, but found it difficult to follow Habbassin’s lead precisely. Travelling through dense shrubbery was so much easier for someone who could simply turn himself into a ghost and pass through the thick branches, or treetrunks.

“Does he have to look so relaxed doing that?” Ankhoro grumbled.

“Habbassin, wait,” Ghenni called out. “We can’t keep up.”

Habbassin appeared in a little blue cloud before her.

“Say again?” he said. “Did I hear that right? Children who’ve reached the limits of their endurance?” He clapped his hands. “I never thought I’d live to see that. And I’m quite old, mind you.”

“How much farther?” Miki said.

“Right over there.” Habbassin pointed.

“There’s Wakano’s shrine,” Ankhoro said.

“Not exactly the shrine,” Habbassin said.

“You mean the lamp’s still where we hid it?” Ghenni said.

“So that’s why you’re the leader,” Habbassin said. “You’re quickest on the uptake.”

“Why didn’t you move it?” Miki said.

“Therein lies the problem,” Habbassin said, raising a finger in a scholarly fashion. Where did those round, reflective yet transparent things come from that he suddenly wore on his nose? He drifted closer to the lamp and parted the twigs to lay it bare. “I can’t.” Habbassin reached for the lamp. His hand went right through it.

“I can’t touch it,” he said. “This happens whenever I try. My magic doesn’t work on it either. It seems that only an ordinary, mortal human can move the lamp.” He winked an Miki. “Such as you three.”

“Is that why you brought us here?” Ankhoro said. “To move the lamp for you?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you leave without it?”

“Remember what I told you about the curse? I can’t. That’s the point of the curse. I can move a couple of leagues away from the lamp. I suppose I can go even farther if the master of the lamp orders me to. But I’m bound to it. I can’t move it, and I can’t leave it. That means I’m stuck with it.”

“And with us,” Ghenni grinned. Habbassin nodded, the corners of his mouth pointing groundward. Ghenni forced her grin away. “What do you want of us?”

“Well, I don’t expect any of you can teleport me somewhere else. Anywhere else. So long as it isn’t as dull as this place.” Habbassin paused, looking expectantly at the children. They looked back at him. “Thought so,” he finally said. “Why I brought you here. Uhm. This is your deity’s most frequented shrine. I’m afraid my lamp’s a little too, well, exposed. I was wondering if you knew of a safer place to put it. Someplace where nobody ever goes.” He made the expectant face again.

“There’s the wildwater cave,” Ankhoro said. Ghenni nodded slowly.

“Sounds good,” she muttered.

“Wildwater cave?” Habbassin asked. Ghenni nodded at Ankhoro, who beamed.

“It’s east of here,” Ankhoro said. “You know that Kanaohe is all beaches at the water?”

“Yes.”

“Well, not all over. To the east, just behind Wakano’s Throne, there’s a cliff that goes straight down to the water. It’s real steep. It’s rocky too, and the sea batters against it. There’s lots of wild waves that smash against the rocks. Our parents forbade us to go there.”

“Which made it irresistible,” Habbassin grinned. “Right?”

“Right,” Ankhoro grinned back. “Anyway, there are a lot of caves there. Nobody but us ever goes there. I don’t think anyone else even knows of the caves.”

“Which would make it the perfect hideaway,” Habbassin mused. “Okay, I’m sold. Have you ever considered going into real estate, kid?” Habbassin studied Ankhoro’s blank expression. “Forget it.”

“What can we do to help you?” Ghenni said.

“Well, it’ll do if one of you’d pick up the lamp and hold it,” Habbassin said. Ghenni picked it up.

“That’s it?” Miki asked. Habbassin laughed.

“Not quite. Now, please think very hard of that cave you were talking about. It’s important to think of where exactly it is. Got it?”

Ghenni closed her eyes and concentrated. She called up the image of the cave and the cliff, turning it around before her mind’s eye.

“Got it.”

“Great. Now make a wish that I should take us to that cave.”

“Why don’t you just do it?” Ankhoro said.

“Has something to do with the curse,” Habbassin said.

“I wish you would take us all to the cave,” Ghenni said. “The one I’m just thinking of.”

“Gotcha,” Habbassin said. Ghenni wasn’t sure what he did, but something tugged at her, so hard that she had to fight to keep her breakfast down.

“This place sure needs a little work,” she heard Habbassin say. “Strike that. It needs lots of work.”

Ghenni opened her eyes.

“Wow,” she said, gaping open-mouthed at her surroundings. They were all in the cave, just as she had visualized it.

“Did you do that, Ghenni?” Miki asked.

“I did,” Habbassin said. “I took the image from Ghenni’s mind and teleported us all here, just as she wished it.” He smiled at Ghenni. “Why don’t you put the lamp down now, dear.”

Ghenni looked around and discovered a large rock that had a moderately level surface. She put the lamp down upon it.

“Is that all?” Ankhoro said.

“You were just magically transported from one place to another,” Habbassin said. “And you want more? Boy, are you difficult to impress. What else do you want?”

“Something to eat, most likely,” Miki said. Ankhoro swiped at her, she ducked.

“I’ll have to do some spells to clean this place up and make it liveable,” Habbassin mused, “but it definitely has potential.” He made a couple of gestures with his hands. A miniature tornado swept through the cave, along the walls, beween the stalagmites (or were they stalacites? Ghenni kept mixing them up) and all over the floor. The tornado caught centuries of dirt, cobwebs and hundreds of small insects, and carried them outside. Ghenni never even felt a breeze from it.

“There, that’s a start,” Habbassin said. He gestured again, and several cushions appeared, gathered in clusters in a circle on the ground. “More comfy than having to sit on the stone floor,” Habbassin commented. He scratched the back of his head. “It still isn’t quite right. But what… Ah!” He conjured again, and a campfire appeared in the midst of a circle of cushions. Habbassin sat down by the fire and held a stick with a white glob over it. Ghenni had no idea what that white substance might be, where it came from, or why she and her friends also each held a stick in their hands without warning.

“Come on, kids, sit down. If you hold the candy into the fire, it’ll taste even better.”

Ghenni probed the candy with her finger. It yielded. She frowned at Habbassin’s glop, which was starting to look charred.

Miki plopped herself down on one set of cushions and held her stick over the fire. Ankhoro followed suit.

“Oh, why not,” Ghenni said under her breath and sat down also. She pulled some of the soft substance from the candy and tasted it before holding the glop into the flames. It felt gooey, and tasted terrifically sweet.

“There’s a tradition with campfires,” Habbassin said. “It’s called storytelling. Our ancestors always did it, and I expect they’ll still do it thousands of years into the future. Anyone know a good ghost story?”

“You do, I’ll bet,” Ankhoro said without enthusiasm.

“That’s right,” Ghenni chimed in. “You keep telling us you’ve been cursed. That you used to be a powerful wizard who lost a fight and was locked into that lamp.”

“It’s true,” Habbassin protested.

“Why don’t you tell us that story?” Ghenni suggested.

“Yeah, great idea,” Miki said. Even Ankhoro grunted assent.

“That’ll only bore you,” Habbassin said.

“We’ll tell you when that happens,” Ghenni promised. “Now, come on.”

“All right,” Habbassin said, raising the glop to his lips and taking a bite out of it. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s a sad tale, full of heroics, of valor and magic, of love and of tragedy.”

25. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 6

“I didn’t stop the wave,” Elomei said. Jamao nodded sagely.

“Something did,” he said. “You wouldn’t make us believe we all only imagined it, do you?”

“Of course not,” Elomei snapped. “There was something. But I didn’t stop it. I’m not nearly powerful enough to work the magic required to stop such a wave.”

“If you didn’t stop it, who or what did?”

“I’m not sure. Ghenni perhaps.”

“Ghenni?” Jamao snorted. “You mean Pahone’s older daughter? Nonsense.”

Ghenni suddenly didn’t find it so hard to keep from giggling anymore. If she had known magic, she would have taught Jamao not to dismiss her so out of hand. She felt a stirring beside her and cuffed Ankhoro with her elbow to stop him from teasing Miki.

“I gotta hear this,” she hissed. It was tight enough in the crawlspace beneath Jamao’s hut without those two monkeying around.

“You know what they say about listening to other people talking about you,” Miki reminded her. Ghenni nodded absently.

“She bested Zoltan and his bullies,” Elomei insisted. “She was there when the trees rejected Ikiri. She was at the beach when the tsunami came. If Ghenni isn’t working magic, something far stranger is going on here.”

“Like what?” Jamao asked.

“I don’t know,” Elomei said. Ghenni imagined a defeated expression on her face. “But I’ll find out.”

“Not if you keep insisting that Ghenni is behind all this.”

“I’ll find out,” Elomei said, stomping out of the hut. Ghenni felt the vibrations as the witch-woman went down the three steps to the ground. Obviously, the show was over now. Ankhoro and Miki crawled back into the bushes behind Jamao’s house. Ghenni remembered how they had found this crawlspace under the chief’s elevated house. She had used it to hide during hide-and-seek. It used to be fun to hide under the chief’s house when he discussed village business with the elders, or dispensed justice.

It sure was strange to be the subject of his deliberations.

Ghenni crawled out and, like her two friends before her, ran a wide circle before returning to the village.

If Elomei hadn’t stopped the wave, who had? Ghenni knew she hadn’t had anything to do with it. She didn’t know any magic.

If Habbassin hadn’t left…

“So what’re you gonna do now?” Miki asked. Ghenni looked up, startled.

“What do you mean?”

“What’re you gonna do about Elomei?” Miki said. “I mean, we three know you don’t know any magic. How do we convince her?”

“Dunno,” Ghenni shrugged. “I’m still working on that.”

“What’s so bad about it?” Ankhoro said. He picked up a stone and threw it almost vertically into the crown of a palm tree. The stone returned, landing beside him with a soft thud. “If Elomei thinks you have a talent for magic, all she’d do’d be take you under her wing and train you as her replacement for when she dies.” He picked up the stone and threw it again. When it came down again, it was accompanied by a coconut.

“Yes, but the village’d be in a pretty bad way when they’d find out their new witch doctor can’t do any magic,” Ghenni countered. She picked up the coconut and studied it. “Not ripe yet.”

“But what’re you gonna do?” Miki pressed.

“Nothing. If Elomei takes me on as her apprentice, she’ll figure out soon enough that I don’t have any magic. Besides, those weird things can’t go on happening forever. When they stop people’ll lose interest. You’ll see.”

Ghenni turned to see Jamao walk down the steps from his hut. As usual, he paused on the next-to-lowest step to look around.

“Me boss,” Ankhoro whispered, puffing up his cheeks. It was a tired old joke between the three children, but it still never failed to make them laugh.

Jamao went one step further and slipped. For a moment, he just sat on the last step. He made a face like a fish: wide-eyed, his mouth silently opening and closing. Then he rose, stepped on the sand and turned around. He stared at the last step while rubbing his behind with his right hand. He stopped and held the hand before his face. He looked up at the sky.

His face livid, he turned.

“That’s very funny,” he shouted. “Who put the rotten banana on my doorstep?”

Ghenni and her friends laughed. Jamao, hearing them, stomped over to where they stood.

“This is not funny,” he said, holding his hand toward them. “I could have seriously hurt myself.”

“We didn’t do anything,” Ankhoro protested. “But you should have seen yourself.” He paused, then laughed even harder. “That was so funny.”

Jamao grabbed Ankhoro by the ear. The laughter turned into a moan.

“We’ll see if you can still laugh about it when we’ve discussed this with your parents,” Jamao said. He waved a finger at Ghenni and Miki. “And your parents, girls. You won’t get away with it this time.”

“We didn’t do anything,” Ghenni said.

Jamao was hit in the face by a banana.

Ghenni laughed, Miki giggled. Jamao let go of Ankhoro’s ear. While Jamao wiped the rotten banana from his face, Ankhoro rushed back to his friends’s side.

“Who did that?” Jamao roared.

“Not we,” Ankhoro said.

Another banana hit Jamao.

“I think that came from there,” Miki said, pointing. “But I didn’t see anyone throw it.”

“I am the chief,” Jamao screamed, stomping off toward where Miki had pointed. “I am entitled respect, and by Wakano, I will have respect!”

This time, the banana appeared in front of his feet, providing another opportunity for Jamao to fall down. Which he promply did.

“That thing came out of nowhere,” Ankhoro whispered. “One moment, there wasn’t anything, then it was there. Out of nowhere. Honest.”

“What’s going on here?” Miki whispered back.

Another banana hit Jamao just as he was about to rise again. And another. And another. Soon, there were so many bananas flying at the chief so quickly that Ghenni gave up trying to count them. Howling, Jamao ran back to his hut on all fours. He scrabbled up the stairs and hid himself inside.

Ghenni went over to where the bananas lay. she picked one up and made a face.

“Those things went rotten several days ago at the least,” she said, discarding the fruit.

“What happened here?” Miki said.

“Magic,” Ghenni said. “I can’t think of anything else.” She thought back to the other incidents. “No wonder Jamao and Elomei think I’m a magician. Everything that’s happened happened when I was around.”

“Perhaps you are a magician,” Ankhoro suggested, “and you just don’t know it.”

“I am not,” Ghenni snapped. “If I’d conjured a tsunami, I’d know. And I dont’s, so I didn’t. So it can’t be me. No, there has to be another explanation.”

“Let’s go to the beach,” Miki said. She glanced at Jamao’s hut. “Do you think he’ll come back out again today?”

“Hardly,” Ankhoro laughed. “Come on, last one there’s a rotten banana.”

The race only brought them halfway.

“Going somewhere, runts?” Zoltan said. His accomplices stood by his sides. All three had their arms folded across their chests.

“Get out of our way,” Ankhoro said, imitating Zoltan’s pose. “Or don’t you remember what happened the last time you messed with us?”

“That was when the magic started to turn the island upside down,” Zoltan said. He took a step toward Ankhoro. “Come to think of it, perhaps there’s a connection. Perhaps there’s three runts got something to do with it.”

“Oh yeah?” Ankhoro said. “Perhaps we did.”

“If we did,” Ghenni said, “do you really think it’s smart not to leave us alone?” She waved her arms. “Because if you don’t, we will hex you again.” She felt Miki tug at her sarong and shook her off. “Well?”

Zoltan took another step toward her. Ghenni gulped. Did it mean he was leader because he was the dumbest of the bunch? Never mind. Habbassin had said he had prepared a surprise for Zoltan’s bullies.

I guess, Ghenni thought, we’re going to find out what it is. If it works.

“Do your worst,” she challenged.

She forced herself not to close her eyes as Zoltan’s fist came toward her face.

And she was glad she didn’t.

Zoltan’s fist never reached her. It stopped a couple of inches from her nose. Obviously, Zoltan hadn’t planned it this way. He looked much more surprised than she felt. His biceps bulged, his face became a red grimace of effort as he tried to move his arm. In vain. Something held it stuck in place. So much so that Zoltan couldn’t even take a step back.

“See what happens when you mess with us?” Ankhoro said. He used the opportunity to kick Zoltan’s shin. Zoltan’s leg buckled, but the frozen arm kept him from falling.

“I’ll get you,” Zoltan howled in frustration. He turned his head toward his friends. “Go get them.”

“Do you want the same to happen to you?” Ghenni said, waving her arms again. Xulia stopped. He cocked his head to one side.

“No,” he said.

Ghenni went closer to Zoltan. He grabbed at her with his other hand. Ghenni grinned when he couldn’t even move that one anymore either.

“I told you not to mess with us,” she said. “I think I’ll let you stand here like this for a while, so you can think about it. I mean, is it really worth all this embarassment just to try to beat up some children who’re smaller that you? Especially since it won’t work anymore? Why don’t you go and pick on someone your own size instead?”

Ghenni turned around and walked away. Ankhoro stuck out his tongue at Zoltan, then followed. Miki ran to catch up with Ghenni.

They went a couple of yards into the jungle before they stopped and laughed.

“That was great,” Ankhoro said. “Did you see Zoltan’s face? If that doesn’t make him leave us alone, nothing will.”

“Yes,” Ghenni said. “That was something. Habbassin sure picked the right way to pay them back. I wonder how long it will last?”

“Oh, about a turn of the hourglass,” Habbassin said. “Or two. It depends on how angry he gets. The angrier he is, the longer’ll it take to wear off.”

24. September 2010

Q&A With Jim Turner

A couple of days ago, I reviewed James M. Turner’s autobiographical novel Beyond the Comfort Zone.

For those who like e-books, the book is also available for the Kindle.

Jim took the time to answer a few questions about the book and the story behind the story.

1) What compelled you to write Comfort Zone?

I knew it was an interesting story involving important social issues and I didn’t want the events and things brought to light in the book to be just consigned to the memory banks. I’m not a great lover of quotes, but I will say this: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

I think that applies to the writing of the book. I’m aware that I have possibly put myself in jeopardy by writing the book, but you either stand and do something or you look away. I couldn’t do that.

2) It seems odd that, as a performing artist, you would choose to write a book about your experience, rather than try to turn it into a movie. Why did you make that choice?

A movie is a very different proposition from a book. It involves a lot of other people right from the start of the process. For myself I needed to feel confident that the story stood up as a narrative that would hold together for the course of a book. After that, making the leap to film is in some ways easier because the plot is mapped out and the book fits neatly into three acts I think. Going: Book, screenplay, film is a lot easier than trying to go in the opposite direction.

3) Will there be a movie, eventually?

I can’t guarantee that there will be a movie. But I am in talks at the moment with three prospective film makers. I would like to think a movie will see the light of day at some point. As anyone who’s read the book or knows me will testify – I don’t give up easily!

4) How authentic is your story? To which extent did you change real events (if you did)?

Some of the names are changed to keep the individuals concerned safe. The final timeline is condensed a little, but not much. Other than that the events rolled out just as they did in the narrative of the book.

5) You said that writing the book required two years and was emotionally very exhausting. How did you see it through?

Through gritted teeth! Application of disciplines I learnt as both an athlete and musician. Each word written is one step closer to the finish. Don’t procrastinate, stop whining, get on with it – that’s my mantra.

6) Have you been back to Thailand since then?

Yes I try to get back as often as possible, it still feels like my true home which is strange as it is so very different from where I was born. Home is where the heart is I suppose.

7) Are you still in touch with Franco, Nok and Jack? Where are they now? Do you know what became of Franco’s Contact?

Nok is married, happily I hope. Jack has moved on to fight battles elsewhere. The contact’s future was set out when he made the choice to cross that border. I feel sure that he is languishing in a Thai prison somehwhere, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that, though not having participated in the trial I don’t know for certain.

Franco? Franco has melted into the background somewhere. I was in fairly frequent contact with him until some months ago. His whereabouts are a mystery. I wish him safe passage wherever he is.

8) You’re still involved in the fight against this child trafficking, I gather? Although no longer so directly?

Well just having the book out for people to read is an involvement by increasing awareness. But, I guess you are refering to my establishing a fund to help both the unfortunate victims of not only trafficking but any child who needs a better start in life to overcome the cards that fate has dealt them. I’m hoping to either support existing establishments or, if the funding levels allow it, to create my own infrastructure. People can read about it at the link further down the page.

9) What’s next for you? Will you ever tell the tsunami story?

Next is my TV series and a couple of other films I’m involved with the production of. I’ve got another fermenting idea for a fictional thriller, but the Tsunami story? I don’t know. I’m not sure I can rake up that particular emotional adventure any time soon.

10) If anyone wants to help these children, what can they do? To whom can they turn?

Well, they can donate to my fund here if they specifically want to help children in South East Asia, or, of course there are many children focussed charities out there that offer a broad range of support for children in need. Two that spring to mind are ‘Children in Need’ and ‘Save the Children’

The Gatherers – Chapter 5

The next day, Ghenni ran over to watch two strong men cut down the afflicted trees, under Elomei’s supervision. The witch-woman sat on a nearby log, managing to look imperious and important despite her bent back. She smiled when she saw Ghenni approach and waved at her to join her. Ghenni hesitated.

“Come, child, I won’t bite,” the old woman said, patting the log beside her.

Ghenni went over and sat down at the log’s far end. Elomei favored her with a toothless smile.

“What happened to the trees?” the witch-woman asked. Ghenni stared at her.

“Why do you ask me?”

“Slime on one tree, glue on the other, appearing out of nowhere. That smacks of magic, child. Now, I know some magic. Not too much, true, but enough to serve our village. I know enough to recognize it when I see it, though, and yesterday’s spectacle certainly was magical. That makes me wonder just who worked that magic.”

“That’s as good an explanation as any,” Ghenni said, shifting her seat on the log.

“The only magic other than mine own I ever saw on this island was when you and your friends faced off Zoltan and his gang a couple of days ago. That makes me wonder if it might have been you who worked that magic.”

“Me?” Ghenni wished she did know some magic, just enough to be able to magic herself somewhere else. “That’s stupid. I don’t know any magic. Anyway, who should’ve taught me?”

“That is precisely what I cannot fathom. But what happened yesterday was something a child might have done. It was embarrassing, it was funny to look at, and the only thing hurt was Ikiri’s pride. I would call it a practical joke. Wouldn’t you?”

“If you put it that way,” Ghenni said, “I guess I would too. But grown-ups play pranks too.”

Elomei smiled again and nodded. For a moment, she had a very far-away look in her eyes.

“True, true,” she said. She chuckled and shook her head. Ghenni would have given a lot to know just what had just gone through the old shaman’s head. “That doesn’t answer my question, though,” Elomei said. “The manner in which you handled Zoltan was magical. If you don’t know any magic, how did you manage to do that? Did you have help?”

“Yes,” Ghenni said before she caught herself. She couldn’t tell Elomei of Habbassin. While the spirit of the lamp might have left, he was still a secret she didn’t want to share except with her closest friends. “Zoltan and his friends always gave us trouble. So we, uhm, prayed to Wakano to help us. I suppose he did, or we couldn’t have done what we did. Uhm, or could we?”

There, that was close enough to the truth not to be a lie. Ghenni sat up straighter and grinned at Elomei. The old woman didn’t smile back. Ghenni shrank again under the shaman’s gaze. She looked at the men cutting down the trees. The first tree fell at just that moment, hitting the sand with a crashing noise Ghenni would have considered unlikely. Elomei also turned to look.

Ghenni used the chance to dash off to the beach. The boats were all out on the water. Some had gone really far out to sea. Others had moved to fishing grounds on the island’s other side. Several were still within easy sight of the beach. Ankhoro was on one of them, Ghenni knew. He was old enough now to start working with the men. He had proudly told her that today his father would take him along to learn to fish. Which was nonsense. Ankhoro had been fishing often enough with his friends, so Ghenni knew he knew how to do it. But Ankhoro had been so excited. Then again, perhaps grown-ups really did do it differently.

Ghenni looked at the boats, wishing she knew which one Ankhoro was on. Surely, it was one of those near the beach. His father wouldn’t let him on a boat that would range far, or she didn’t know Ankhoro’s family at all.

Funny, she didn’t remember the horizon being so high in the sky. And coming closer too.

“Wait a second…”

That wasn’t the usual waterline at the horizon. Actually, it reminded her of a giant wave.

She remembered a story her mother had told her some time ago. In that story, mankind had displeased the gods, so they had sent a giant wave to cleanse the world of evil, allowing only a chosen handful to survive. That wave had even had a name. If only she could remember what that name was…

When she did, Ghenni turned from the beach and ran toward the village, screaming.

“TSUNAMI!!”

“Impossible,” a woman said, looking up from the torn net she was mending.

“TSUNAMI!” Ghenni cried again. The woman turned around to look at the horizon… … and at the looming wave.

“Tsunami!” she joined in with Ghenni’s cry, dropping her work and running toward the huts.

With every moment, the giant wave loomed larger. The fishermen turned their boats toward the beach. Ghenni thought of Ankhoro. She spared a glance at the boats. They came closer, but they were much too slow. It was painfully obvious, even to her, that they would never reach land in time. Even if they did, there was no place on the island where they could take shelter from a wave of such proportions.

If the gods were mad at them, why hadn’t they said anything? They would have mended their ways if the gods had told them what they did that offended them.

There was no place to take shelter from the wave. Ghenni stopped. Perhaps there was. If the gods had sent the tsunami to cleanse the world, it would still spare Wakano’s Throne. If they could reach the mountaintop, they might be safe. Unless, of course, Wakano didn’t want them there. If he had sent the wave, he certainly didn’t.

Ghenni stopped and turned. She saw Elomei, standing at the shore, waving her arms at the wave. At least the old witch-woman was trying, even if she appeared pitifully small and frail against the wave that by now filled the entire horizon. Ghenni didn’t think Elomei had enough magic to stop the tsunami. The old shaman had said herself that she wasn’t very powerful.

The wave broke, the crest coming down straight at the huts. Ghenni stood and waited for the water to crush her, idly wondering why none of the drops flying from the crest hit her, and why that monster of a wave was so silent.

Ghenni ducked. The wave washed over Ghenni, washed over the village.

And vanished.

One moment, the wave was there, soundlessly looming over the village, threatening to destroy it to serve a god’s whim.

The next moment it was gone, vanished without even leaving a few patches of damp ground.

Ghenni looked around. People who had dropped to the ground picked themselves up again, wearing funny expressions on their faces. Was her own expression any different? Ghenni didn’t really think so.

She looked at the sea, where the boats dimpled peacefully in the surf. The fishermen looked as confused as everyone else.

Wakano had changed his mind. They had gotten away. Ghenni threw her head back and laughed. She spread her arms wide and turned and turned and turned around. They had gotten away. When she had calmed down she chanced to look at Elomei. The witch-woman watched her with a funny expression on her face.

23. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 4

Someday, Ghenni knew, she would climb the palmtrees as easily as Ikiri did. Ikiri was the best treeclimber in the village, and he brought back the best coconuts. He wasn’t nearly as good at fishing as Ghenni’s father, Pahone. But then, Pahone was very clumsy at climbing trees. If Pahone were to slide down the tree upon almost reaching the top, it would have been comical, but hardly anyone would have been surprised.

That this happened to Ikiri was unusual enough to gather everyone around the tree. Including Ghenni.

“I’m fine, really,” Ikiri said to someone when she arrived. He craned his neck to look up the tree. “I don’t know what happened, really. One moment, everything was fine. The next…”

He reached out to touch the tree trunk. He rubbed it with his fingers. When he drew his hand back, a thin trail of slime stretched between the tree and his fingers.

“This stuff is all around the trunk farther up,” Ikiri announced, holding his hand up for everyone to see. “I’m not sure what it is or where it comes from, but it makes holding on to the tree impossible. I’m lucky I didn’t get killed.”

“Is it just this tree,” Jamao said, “or are the others also afflicted?”

A general murmur among the crowd agreed that this was, indeed, a vital question. Fruits harvested from the trees and bushes that grew on Kanaohe were a vital part of the villagers’s diet. Even Ghenni knew enough to shiver when she thought about not having them to eat anymore.

“I don’t know,” Ikiri said. He looked up the tree once more. “We may have to cut this tree down to keep it from infecting the others, if they aren’t already.” He went on to the next tree. “I shall climb its neighbor. We may yet be lucky.”

Ikiri wrapped his arms around the palmtree and pushed himself up with his feet. Quickly, he scuttled up the rough bark. Up to a point.

“I can’t go on,” he called down. “Do you see the slime infect this tree also?” Jamao called up.

“There is no slippery slime on this tree,” Ikiri called. “There is something else on this tree. Something sticky.” He paused. “I’m stuck.”

“Nonsense,” Jamao said. “Just climb back down.”

“I tell you, I can’t!”

“It’s not that high,” someone else called. Ghenni wasn’t sure, but it sounded like Zoltan. “Let yourself drop. We’ll catch you.”

“I’m stuck, damn you,” Ikiri screamed. “I can’t climb down, or let myself drop, or anything. I can’t even move.”

“What do you think?” Miki said softly behind Ghenni. Ghenni didn’t bother to turn. Turning would have told Miki she’d surprised Ghenni. Letting her know that would never do.

“I think they’ll have to cut the tree and scrape him off,” Ghenni whispered back. “But how they’ll do that without making the tree crush Ikiri is beyond me.”

“Habbassin left, didn’t he?” Ankhoro said. Ghenni looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

“Why do you say that?”

“It looks like magic to me,” Ankhoro shrugged. “The only true magic-user I’ve ever seen here was Habbassin.”

“Elomei…” Miki began.

“Doesn’t count,” Ankhoro stated. “This isn’t the kind of magic she works, anyway.”

“Habbassin left,” Ghenni said. “You were there, both of you. This can’t be his doing.”

“Try to push against the trunk with your legs,” Jamao called. The chief turned to the children.

“Go fetch Elomei. I fear we need her spells here.”

Miki turned and ran off, Ankhoro close on her heels. Ghenni ignored them. The two of them would be enough to call one ancient woman, and she might miss out on something interesting here.

Like the fact that Ikiri visibly strained against the tree. There was a snapping sound, like of a breaking line, and Ikiri sailed down in a flat arc. His fall seemed impossibly slow, until near the end of the arc when he was only a foot or so above the ground. The last foot was an abrupt drop. Ikiri landed on his buttocks.

When Elomei arrived, she assured everyone that, while Ikiri would have to be careful sitting down for a couple of days, the only serious wound was to his pride. Jamao ordered the two trees cut down.

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