How to Be a Genie: 12 Easy Steps Ch. 02byaltar_ashes©
Chapter Two: Step One: Never Trust Another Genie!
To say that the old apartment building was dilapidated would have been diplomatic. It had to be a serious fire hazard, with the roof sagging like that, and most of the paint coming off in dangling strips. But it was the correct address, he was positive of that. There was only one Georgia Street in town and this was it. Well, I wanted to know where she lived, Avery thought, as he made his way up the creaking steps and onto the apartment's front porch. It's really my own fault.
It was Friday evening. When Cypress hadn't shown up for class that day, Avery had taken it upon himself to find out where she lived, so he could return her sketchpad. What if, he'd thought to himself, she was sick in bed or something? And bored out of her mind, because she didn't have her sketchpad. Okay, so he knew it was more than likely that she had another one at home. Any excuse to get out of seeing Vivian was a good one, in Avery's opinion. And besides, he thought, as he rang the buzzer for her apartment, I don't want her to be worried about where her sketchbook is.
He was buzzed up immediately. The inside of the building was just as bad as the outside; the carpet smelled of rot and mildew, the wallpaper was coming off in strips, and the banister on the staircase wobbled beneath his hand. When I decided to take a trip today, Avery thought, wiping his hand off on his jeans, I didn't realize it was going to be a guilt trip. Not that his family had ever been rich, really, but they were well off enough. Places like this always made him feel guilty.
The door swung open before he ever really got a chance to knock. He found himself looking down at a plump, balding man, who—judging based on his scowl—was not at all happy to see Avery. In fact, none of the occupants of the apartment were happy to see him—he was also greeted at the door by a monster of a cat that hissed at him in annoyance. I hope the whole family isn't like this, he thought, taking a step back. Cypress really seemed like a nice girl. Avery held up the sketchbook for the man to see.
"Um...I'm looking for Cypress," he explained. "See, she dropped this the other day and uh...well, I wanted to return it to her. Except she wasn't in class today and I..."
The man continued to glare. "She isn't here," he growled.
"Oh," Avery said, taken aback. This must have been her father...right? "Well, would you give this to her? When she gets back, I mean?"
Of all the things Avery was expecting, Cypress' father practically breaking down crying on his shoulder wasn't one of them. The man swayed, sagging against the doorjamb. Even the cat, which had been so hostile before, sat down in the doorway and looked up, mewing plaintively. Okay, Avery thought, what the hell is going on here? Did he somehow get the wrong apartment? This crazy guy couldn't really be Cypress' father, could he?
"Um...sir..." Avery said hesitantly.
"She's missing," Cypress' father explained, in a hoarse, choked voice. "Since Wednesday...she just...just disappeared!"
"Oh," Avery said quietly. "I...I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to...you don't know where she is? Not even a clue?"
He just shook his head. Feeling uncomfortable, Avery handed over the sketchbook, then stepped away from the apartment. He stared at the door for a long time after it had closed. She's missing, he thought, frowning. Since Wednesday... Which was the last time he'd seen her, the day he'd run into her—literally. He couldn't help wondering if she'd maybe run away. Having to live in an apartment like that, with only her grouchy dad and her cat...Except it seemed to Avery like she wasn't the type of girl who would leave her cat behind. Or her dad, really, but definitely not her cat.
Well, there isn't anything I can do, he thought, as he started back down the stairs. I feel bad, yeah, but... Well, maybe he could do a little asking around, see if anyone who knew her might know where she was. Perhaps she'd gotten frustrated and taken off for a few days. Maybe she's just as psycho as the rest of her family seems to be, Avery thought. Maybe...ugh, this sucks. He stepped outside into air that, while not exactly fresh, was a heck of a lot less musty. It was true that he didn't owe Cypress or her family anything. It was also true that they might all be crazy and she'd just simply run off. But he felt like he should do something, at least.
Cypress knew instinctively that she was not at home, or any other place she knew. She could tell, because never before had she woken up in such a comfortable bed. Also, the sounds around her were foreign; the soft rustling, as if of silk, the whisper of murmuring voices, the faint music drifting in from a room nearby. She turned over slowly, feeling silken sheets slide over her bare skin. Whoa, wait a minute, Cypress thought, coming fully awake in an instant. Where the hell are my clothes?
She sat up, clutching one of those sheets to herself—not that it did her much good, as it turned out, the sheets were sheer. Cypress folded herself up, trying to cover herself, and took a look around the room. Although it was a place most extraordinary, with its gauzy drapes hanging everywhere and lamps made of faintly glowing crystal, it was hard to take her eyes off the woman sitting on a divan not too far away. Ephasia, she remembered suddenly. What on earth...? Except Cypress was beginning to doubt that this place was anywhere on the earth she knew.
Ephasia was still dressed in that Disney-ized harem outfit. Whoever she'd been talking to a moment before was gone, but Cypress imagined they'd be back. What is going on, anyway? Cypress wondered, watching Ephasia rise from the divan. There was no doubt in her mind that this woman, who had claimed to be her sister, was not your average human being. While she liked to consider herself the skeptical sort, it was pretty hard to deny that something otherworldly was going on when one was in the middle of said situation. But what precisely was happening—not to mention why—remained a mystery.
"So glad to see you awake," Ephasia gushed. "I was worried! I forgot that your human blood would make you sensitive to the crossover."
Cypress blinked. "My what would make me what to the which?"
Ephasia laughed, a soft, musical sound. "Oh, Cy, you're so cute," she said, smiling. "I've always wanted a baby sister. I wish mother had told me sooner."
"Mother?" Cypress sat up straighter, forgetting that she was naked. "You mean...my mother?"
Ephasia let out that musical laughter again in answer. She snapped her fingers noisily, and suddenly an entourage of young women, dressed somewhat similar to her but less Disney-ized, came pouring into the room. Cypress found herself being pulled from the bed and bundled into a robe which, even though it was also silk, was fortunately not see-through. They all look so perfect, she thought, eyeing them. Not a single hair out of place. And that was a lot of hair to not be out of place. Most of them were blondes, one was a red head, and two were brunettes, but all of them had hair down past their waists. Cypress suspected hers might be that long by now, if it didn't stick out the way it did.
"Our mother," Ephasia said, when Cypress had finally found her way free of the seraglio. "She's my mother too, Cy."
"I...I don't understand..." Cypress stammered. "Who are you? And who is my mother? Where is she? Can I see her?"
"Calm down," Ephasia said, putting an arm around Cypress' shoulders. "Ease up, sis. You'll meet her soon enough, I promise. She just wanted me to be the one to talk to you first...guess she figured, what with us being close to the same age and all, that it would be easier, coming from me."
"What would be easier?" Cypress asked, puzzled.
"Oh, that you're a half-genie," Ephasia answered, as if it were no big deal. "I mean, duh, mom is a genie, after all."
Cypress' first thought was something along the lines of 'yeah fucking right', but she didn't get much chance to express that. Ephasia was steering her down a long, colonnaded corridor, past a number of rooms shielded only by thin, sheer curtains. Which, as it turned out, did not keep her from seeing what was going on in some of those rooms. Oh my god, Cypress thought, forcing her gaze straight ahead. As if some harem girl telling me I'm half-genie isn't shocking enough! There was no way she was half-genie. These people apparently had no sense of modesty.
As they were walking down the corridor, they did pass other people. Occasionally one of Ephasia's little seraglio—as Cypress had taken to thinking of them as—broke off and disappeared into one of the many rooms. She was beginning to think that this place was one long, endless corridor, when they finally turned a corner—and nearly walked into one of the most amazing looking guys she'd ever seen. If Avery Bachman was a Celtic forest spirit, this guy was a Greek god. Like Ephasia he had long, golden hair, although his seemed to want to curl—a lot like hers did, except that hers usually succeeded.
"Ephasia!" he said sharply, his eyes flitting over Cypress. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Oh, don't worry, bro," Ephasia cooed, pulling Cypress up against her side. "I'm just showing our sister here the world she belongs in."
He frowned. "Ephasia, I don't think—"
"Relax!" Ephasia interrupted. "Cy, hun, this is Solomon. He's my...well, I guess I should say he's our brother. And he is such a worrywart!" She lifted her free hand and snapped her fingers again. "Girls! Show my brother how to relax!"
Cypress was reminded strongly of a swarm of bees, as Ephasia's seraglio descended upon Solomon. Or maybe fire ants, she thought, when you knock over their hill and they all come rushing out in a panic. Except the one panicking in this case was Solomon. Cypress could hear him trying to fend off the seraglio as Ephasia began leading her down the next corridor. I have a sister and a brother I never knew about, she thought, and both of them are genies? Nuh uh, too weird. I am totally having strangeness overload here.
She tried to look back over her shoulder and see if Solomon was all right, but Ephasia was insistent. Finally Cypress found herself pretty much forced into another room, this one with—surprise, surprise—an actual door. There was a bathtub, a brass, claw-footed monstrosity, and one of those old-fashioned changing screens, plus a huge, antique looking armoire. It would have all been very normal, if it weren't for the presences of those sheer hangings and the crystal lamps. Oh, yeah, and the whole tub filling up with water as soon as they entered the room thing. That, Cypress thought, definitely did not fall under the category of normal.
"Climb in, Cy," Ephasia said, indicating the bathtub. "You could use to be cleaned up."
"Um...I don't think so..." Cypress said hesitantly. "I mean, not that I'm not um...well, honestly, I'm totally weirded out by this...but...my dad..."
Ephasia smiled brightly. "Oh, don't worry!" she gushed, giving Cypress a push towards the tub. "Time passes differently here than it does where you come from."
There was something about Ephasia's smile that made her uneasy, but the bath did look inviting. And she felt pretty icky. Even if time did pass differently here, she didn't know how much time had passed here. For all she knew, it could have been days—of this world's time—since she last showered. So despite her misgivings, not to mention the lack of privacy, Cypress found herself climbing into the tub. And it felt as inviting as it looked, too. There was something in the water that made it feel like silk against her skin.
"So, where is here, anyway?" Cypress asked. After all, there was no use freaking out. If this did turn out to be some weird dream or hallucination, she'd wake up eventually—she hoped.
"Iifa," Ephasia replied, as she walked over to the armoire. "Land of our people. Genies, or djinn, which is generally what most of us prefer to be called. Especially Solomon. He hates the word genie."
"I'll just bet he does," Cypress muttered, leaning back in the tub. "So, why did you bring me here, anyway? I mean, you don't really expect me to believe that I'm a genie, do you?"
"Half genie," Ephasia corrected absently. "Why don't you believe it?"
"Um, have you looked at me lately?" Cypress asked, opening her eyes more fully to stare at Ephasia, who was pulling what looked like fluttery bits of silk from the armoire. "You and Solomon...I can believe you're genies. Skeptical I might be, but blind I ain't. But me? Genies do not have frizzy hair and glasses!"
"That can be remedied easily enough," Ephasia said. "Come on out, Cy. I'll show you what I mean."
Cypress would have liked to have stayed in the bathtub a little longer, but she decided to oblige her newfound sister. Who knew what Ephasia was capable of when she was pissed off? She was a genie, after all. I can definitely believe that she's a genie, Cypress thought, as she toweled herself off, occasionally throwing paranoid glances in the direction of the door. But I am so not genie material.
Ephasia must have thought differently, judging based on the outfit she handed over. Cypress wouldn't have even put it on, but she figured it would prove once and for all that there was no way she could be a genie. As far as she was concerned—when she looked in the mirror—she was right. The halter style top, this one dark blue silk with a silvery fringe lining the hem and silver beads draping off her shoulders, did not work for Cypress like Ephasia's did for her. And did she get the cool harem pants? No, she got this sort of loin cloth, except that it was two very long panels of blue silk, rather than short bits of animal hide like Tarzan.
"See," Cypress said, pointing to her reflecting in the mirror. "You aren't going to make me walk around in this little clothing, are you? I mean, I make a laughable enough genie as it is."
Ephasia rolled her eyes. "Here," she said, handing over two long, wide scarves of silver silk. "This will help." And she showed Cypress how to drape them over the sides of her loin cloth, so it actually looked like something resembling a full skirt.
"Still don't look like a genie," Cypress said. "Look, can I just see my mother and then go home? All of this is seriously giving me a headache."
She turned to Ephasia. Her sister was holding golden bands, like the ones around her own upper arms, except these ones were etched in silver with runes. Cypress wasn't sure why, but they made her very nervous. She tried to pull away when Ephasia went to put them on, but for a petite little blonde, the woman had a lot of strength. I don't like this anymore, Cypress thought, as the bands closed around her upper arms. I want to go home! It had been well enough to joke around about this whole genie thing, but now she was starting to get scared.
"There," Ephasia said, turning her forcefully towards the mirror. "Now you are most definitely a genie."
Whoa, Cypress thought, her fear momentarily forgotten. That's me? She wasn't sure what exactly Ephasia had done, but it had worked. Oh, so she wasn't some petite little beauty queen or anything; she never would be. But her hair had smoothed out, so that it was indeed as long as Ephasia's, and looked like a curtain of light brown silk, rather than a big brown bush. And her complexion had cleared, too. Still not genie material, Cypress thought, a smile coming to her lips, but I think I could believe the whole half-genie thing.
"You're going to want to look this over," Ephasia said, shoving a scroll into Cypress' hands. Her sister was no longer being so nice. "This will tell you everything you need to know about being a genie."
"Are these rules or something?" Cypress asked, opening the scroll.
"Rules, steps, call them what you wish." Ephasia shrugged. "You're going to need them, sis, big time. Take a look at step number one."
Rule, step, guideline; Ephasia was right, it really didn't matter. Because first on the list were the words 'Never trust another genie!' in big, bold letters. Looking up from the scroll, Cypress saw the lamp Ephasia was holding. Or, at least, that was the only word she could think of. Actually, it looked a bit more like a vase, really, exotic blue blown glass with gold trim. Gold trim that was, she noted, etched in silver runes. I've had some pretty bad days before, Cypress thought, taking an involuntarily step back, but this one wins the prize. Even in her rising fear she was a wise ass. Yeah, some genie she made.
"Isn't the lamp thing a little cliché?" Cypress asked, hoping to buy herself some time to...well, she didn't really know. "And the whole gold bands thing, too?"
"Oh, these?" Ephasia touched one of the gold arm bands she was wearing, and it opened, falling away. "Mine are just for show. Yours, however, are the real thing. And this," she held up the lamp, "comes with those. Sure, it's a bit old fashioned. We don't usually do the whole 'curse the genie with eternal servitude' thing anymore. But I think it's just perfect for you."
"Why?" Cypress demanded, her panic and confusion starting to get to her. "I've never done anything to you! I don't even know you!"
Ephasia didn't answer. She just smiled triumphantly. Cypress had only a moment to reflect on how stupid she'd been, just trusting this woman, and how absurd this whole situation was. Only a moment, and then things started to get really weird. The room swayed, twisted, and shrank, as if she were drunk or drugged. There was no pain, only a fleeting sense of some intangible thing binding her tightly. And then, for the second time in what was—to her anyway—only a day, the whole world went black.