This short story is based on the April 2021 image prompt for Writers Unite! Write the Story’s project. I hope you enjoy it!
A Thousand Nights
D. A. Ratliff
Amir Farsi was a happy man.
Blustery icy wind from the churning Irish Sea sprayed the sleepy village, empty of summer tourists. The winter weather was so unlike the warmth of his homeland, yet he was happy.
He sat at a table next to the window watching the sea and the few souls braving the outdoors, with Finn, his five-year-old Golden Retriever, at his feet. The pub would open at eleven a.m., and he still had an hour before the regulars arrived. While revenue during the summer tourist season kept the pub in business, Amir loved the winter months with the lads who lived in the village year-round and came by for a pint and a chat. In the forty years he had been in Ireland, he remained enamored with everything Irish.
He smiled as he turned to look at the portrait hanging over the bar. The Red Fox was the pub’s name, but the painting was of his beautiful wife Colleen as she was when he met her—fair of skin and red of hair. Lovely then and lovely now, and he loved her as much as the first time he met her. He missed her as she had left the day before for an archeological symposium in the States. He poured another cup of his favorite Bewley’s Dublin Morning Tea as his mind wandered to the day his fate changed.
Colleen O’Hara was an archeological student on a dig in his homeland when they met. He had been passing through the valley when he found the dig site. He had been alone for so long, enduring a life not worth living. Then he emerged into daylight and found his Irish beauty.
She had been a sight that day. Knee deep in a trench, face soiled with dirt and sweat, bright red tresses contained in a red bandana. Curious, he approached the trench to see what she was doing, and the moment she looked up at him, her eyes the color of sapphires, she captured his heart. A warmth he had never felt swept through him, only deepened when she spoke, in an accent he had never heard and one that gave him joy. He closed his eyes and remembered.
Amir hadn’t realized he had kicked dirt onto the area she was sweeping with a brush. She stood with her hand on her hips. “Feck off…don’t be bothering me work.”
He had taken an awkward step backward, never taking his eyes off of her. “I am sorry. Forgive me for disturbing you.”
She continued to stare at him as a grin crossed her face. “You can stop gawking.”
He responded, confused. “Gawking?”
She laughed. “Not from Ireland, are ya?” She reached out a hand. “Help me up out of this hole.”
He pulled her up, and for a second, they were standing close. At that moment, he understood love. At a loss for words, he muttered his name. “I am Amir Farsi.”
“Glad to meet you, Amir. I am Colleen O’Hara.” She wiped the sweat from her brow. “Your country is scorching hot. I need a cold drink—come with me.”
He had followed her that day and would for the rest of his life.
Lost in thought, he jumped when Ray, his bartender, tapped him on the shoulder. “Sorry, guv, but time to open. You look like you are a thousand miles away.”
He rose and grabbed his tea mug. “This weather will do that, lost in the sea.” That was only partially true. He had been lost in time as well. “Come on, Finn, time to go to work.”
Amir unlocked the front door a bit after one a.m. With Colleen gone, he had remained at the pub until it closed. Finn ran toward the trees as soon as he jumped from the car, and Amir stood in the doorway waiting for the big dog to make his rounds.
He shivered but not from the cold. The shiver emanated from his core, and he attempted to shake it off, but the tremors remained, leaving him anxious. He yelled a bit louder for Finn than usual, and once he had the dog inside, he closed the door quickly.
There was never a question that he felt as if part of him was missing without Colleen, but this was different. Something else was happening, a sensation creeping into his soul that he didn’t recognize, and it filled him with fear.
Finn whimpered and nuzzled his hand. “It’s okay, boy. Let’s go to bed. I’m likely just tired.”
He woke at five a.m. from a restless sleep. He thought perhaps the storm awakened him, but he knew better. Dreams had invaded his rest, blurred images, random sounds, nothing clear, and nothing made sense. He lay in bed until nearly six before a persistent Finn managed to get him up and outside.
When they came in, Amir was making tea when his mobile rang. It was Colleen.
“Amir, good morning, my love.”
“What time is it there?”
“Almost eight-thirty in the evening. We just got back from dinner, and I am exhausted. Going to try and sleep. I will call you later.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. Oh, something came up at the last minute, and I need to tell you… Hold on.” Amir could hear muffled voices before she came back on the line. ”Darling, gotta go, just found out an old colleague is here. I haven’t seen him in many years. I’ll call you again as soon as I can. Love you.”
He held the phone to his ear for a few seconds before he put it down. He missed Colleen. Perhaps that was why he felt so out of sorts. Maybe it was loneliness. He needed to shake off his doldrums.
“Finn, let’s have breakfast, and then off to the pub.”
His day was long and tedious. At least it was delivery day, and he insisted no one help him put away stock. His skin was tingling and felt as if there was a coiled spring inside him. He hadn’t planned on staying late to close and clean the place, but he sent everyone home again and did everything himself.
Driving home, pellets of icy rain struck the windshield, and despite turning the heat up in the Land Rover, he shivered. Finn, asleep in the passenger seat, stirred and turned his belly toward the warm air blowing from the vent. Amir chuckled. That dog loved his creature comforts.
Turning onto the narrow cobblestone drive leading to the house, he shook off a feeling of dread that washed over him. The reason he should feel so anxious wasn’t apparent. He missed Colleen, but she had gone on digs for weeks at a time before, and he had not felt this way. He hated to go to the doctor. Always in fear that they would discover…. Well, they hadn’t yet. If he didn’t feel any better soon, he would go.
The imposing stone house loomed in front of him. A sight that always made him feel warm inside but not this time—if anything, he was colder. He and Finn dashed to the front door, the dog much faster and pawing at the door by the time he reached the stoop.
“Finn, you are one spoiled dog.”
Once inside, Amir decided a hot shower might help. He poured a double of Irish whiskey and headed upstairs, surprised how winded he had become when he got to the top of the stairs. He stripped and turned on the faucet. As the bathroom steamed up, he glanced in the mirror, surprised to see how pale his olive skin appeared—his crystal green eyes dull. He shook off his worry, downed the whiskey, and stepped into the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, Finn beside him, Amir slipped into sleep.
For the second morning in a row, he woke after a restless sleep, but this time in a cold sweat. He struggled to sit up, his head was spinning. Finn was gone, no doubt gone outside through the doggy door. He pulled on a robe and made his way downstairs to make tea.
The light in the kitchen drew Finn back inside, and as his tea steeped, Amir fed the ravenous Golden Retriever. A pang of hunger hit him, but he shuddered at the thought of food. However, he had to eat and pulled a hunk off of a loaf of soda bread, poured his tea, and sat at the breakfast table. Images from dark dreams floated in his memory.
The images were fuzzy but familiar ones from his youth. Why would his past be haunting him? It had been forty years since he left that existence, never expecting to relive it. He missed Colleen more than usual and thought that had to be the reason for his unease. He finished his tea and hurried upstairs to dress. Better to be at the pub and busy than sitting around the house brooding.
As he left the house thirty minutes later, Finn didn’t follow him. He ducked back into the house. “Finn, where are you?” He walked into the front parlor, where the dog sat in front of the library door. “What are you doing? Mum’s not in there, she’ll be back in a couple of days, and all will be well. Come on, let’s go to the pub.” He turned to leave, and Finn followed but not before looking back at the library door. Amir shook his head—yes, boy, I miss her too.
By mid-day, Amir was so weak he couldn’t take another step without nearly passing out. He told his staff that he hadn’t slept well, and he was going home to take a nap and would be back. On the drive home, he wished Finn could drive. Arriving home, he could barely crawl out of the Land Rover, and when inside, knew he would never make it up the stairs. He stumbled to the parlor, dropped onto the couch, and fell asleep immediately.
His ringtone shattered his sleep and he awakened abruptly. In the darkness that had fallen, he groped toward the glow of his phone screen. He exhaled —it was Colleen. He had been avoiding her calls because she would know he was not feeling well from the sound of his voice.
“Darling, how are you? I hate that we keep missing each other and voice mail is not enough.”
Mustering all the energy he could, he responded. “Been busy, love. Sorry. How’s the meeting going?”
She hesitated, uttering a short grunt as if she wanted to say something else but spent the next few minutes telling him about her presentation. He was getting weaker by the moment, and when she finished, he decided he needed to end the call. He managed to say, “Darling, no problem here. Let’s… talk tomorrow.”
“What’s wrong, Amir? Tell me.”
“I’m fine, just been busy.” He took a breath. “You know me, love, hate the cold, but I have to go.”
“Okay, but I want to talk to you later.”
“Of course, I love you.”
He fell back against the cushions, his breathing shallow when he realized that Finn was sitting in front of the library door, nose against the door frame. He struggled to stand. “Finn, she isn’t in there. I’ll show you, boy.”
Opening the door, Finn’s reluctance to enter surprised him. The dog sniffed the air, a deep growl coming from this normally gentle creature. Amir flipped the switch to turn on lamps and walked in, Finn close on his heels.
The house they lived in had been Colleen’s ancestral home for several generations. She loved this house and this room in particular. Bookshelves lined the walls, leaving only a few spaces for family portraits. Amir stood in the middle of the room as hairs on his neck bristled. Something felt wrong—something was missing.
Amir turned toward the one thing in the room connected to him—the earthenware jug. It was gone.
The alcove Colleen had constructed to hold the vessel was empty. He had told her it was a precious family heirloom, an earthenware water jug handed down through generations of his ancestors. It was not.
That it was aged was a fact Colleen confirmed, but he had hidden the actual use of the jug from her. It had not housed water. The jug had been his prison.
He stumbled to an armchair, sagging onto the seat as fatigue overcame him. Where was the jug? Did someone steal it? Was that why Finn seemed so interested in the room? He glanced at Finn, now leaning against his legs, the hair on his back ruffled. What did Finn sense?
His head felt too heavy to hold up, and he rested it against the chair back. He should have told her. The Master warned him that he needed to remain connected to the jug. He could be gone from its proximity for short periods, but the transformation would dissipate if too long, and the jug would trap him forever. He had feared traveling with Colleen as she begged him to do, until one day, when cleaning the jug, a small piece of the handle chipped off. He dropped the piece into the jug for safekeeping.
Colleen was traveling to his old home and pleaded with him to come. How could he tell her that he could not go unless the jug went with him and not tell her everything? Then he thought of the small fragment of the jar—would it be enough to protect him? It had been. Now he traveled with her to digs, they vacationed, and all was well. When he returned, he hid the small piece in the jar until the next time he needed it. Now, everything was gone.
Memories overwhelmed him as he thought back to those days—when he was a jinn or genie as some knew them. Amir was a mischievous spirited genie, often in trouble because he loved to create havoc by possessing humans or haunting the places they dwelled or worked. He had relished the fact that humans were afraid of him, but once he took his revelry too seriously, and the Master imprisoned him in the jug as punishment. Once granted his freedom, the Master required that he keep the jug with him at all times as a reminder to behave.
Then he met Colleen when he was on a walkabout, trying to stay out of mischief. He had never been in love. Although jinn could live as a human, marry, have children, and die, he had never found anyone that made a settled life seem more exciting than his wanderings.
Colleen changed that with one look into her blue eyes. He wanted to spend his life with her, grow old with her, but he feared his jinn ways would lure him again, and he couldn’t risk losing her. He petitioned the Master to banish his skills, and the Master had agreed but warned him. The jinn soul was powerful, and his life only sustained if his jinn essence remained close. Amir had agreed, and the Master cast out his jinn and entombed it in the jug which he must keep close.
Exhaustion overtook him, and he fell to sleep. Finn’s guttural growling woke him up hours later. Moonlight streamed through the trees, casting shadows in the room, and for a moment, he didn’t see the figure standing near the alcove. When he did, his blood ran cold.
Amir shushed Finn, who obeyed but continued to lean against him as he rose as if to offer support. He bowed.
“Master, I am honored to stand in your presence.”
The figure stepped from the shadows. Tall, muscular, his olive skin glistening in the moonlight, the Master folded his arms across the silk vestment covering his chest. Adornments of gold and silver disks jangled as he moved.
“Amir, you were warned. Explain yourself.”
“I have little to explain, Master, as I do not know what has happened. I have honored your command that I keep the jug close by, but I will admit, I tested its limits to find out how far away I could travel. Then a small piece chipped off the handle, and by keeping it with me, I was able to travel anywhere I chose. I do not know where it has disappeared or why.”
“You were always quite resourceful, Amir. You could have continued to live as jinn and accepted a moral life without the purge of your spirit, but I understand your fears. We have changed over the eons and allowed others to rewrite our story. We would have never caged our kind in vessels if that French writer had not translated the mythology of our kind and added his special twist. Since we are shapeshifters, the idea of a tiny genie in a bottle was humorous. Thankfully, we do not do it often. The stories of a thousand Arabian nights were enough to tell our history, but as myths to many, embellishment is expected.” The Master sat in the other armchair and motioned Amir to sit as he continued.
“I have maintained a connection to you all these years. I came to warn you, but I can do little to help you. You have forty-eight hours at best to reunite with your jinn spirit, or the life that it sustains will cease to exist.” As he began to vanish into the air, the Master said, “The jug is not lost. That I do know.” With that, the Master of all jinn was gone.
Amir struggled to get to the couch in the living room, and as he collapsed on the cushions, he noticed his phone. A missed call from Colleen, but she left a voicemail.
“Darling, I am worried about you. Please, please call me. I have so much to tell you. I tried to tell you the other night that I took the jug with me to show to my colleagues on a whim. They were so excited and impressed with the artifact. Call me.”
His heart seized. Colleen had the jug. Perhaps there was hope. He called, nearly too weak to talk, and when she answered, he stopped her. “Bring the jug home, now. I need it to survive.”
The fright in her voice was evident as she reacted. “Survive? What do you mean? Of course, I will be home as quickly as I can. Amir, I love you. What is wrong?”
“Just bring the jug.” He hung up and willed himself to last long enough for her to arrive.
The sunlight was glaring in his eyes as he slowly raised his lids. He was breathing and felt stronger. Finn whimpered, and he realized the dog was lying next to him on the couch. But who was holding his hand?
He turned his head to look into the beautiful blue eyes of his love. “Colleen, you made it.”
“Yes, and I have the jug right here.” She picked it up to show him, and he brushed the fingertips of his free hand across it, feeling his energy rise.
“Thank you… I needed it here.”
“I don’t understand. What is happening? Why do you need this jug with you?” Her voice trembled and her eyes wide with distress.
He smiled as relief washed over him. “I will tell you all, my love, but it will take a thousand nights.”
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