It was over when I found out she had been unfaithful. I came upon them together - her and that bastard Samual Granger. That should have been the end of it. I should have burned the pictures, threw away the keepsakes and changed my number, putting the whole thing out of my mind, but I didn’t. In my bed, lying in the dark, my mind was running over everything.
She said it was an accident that only happened once. But every unanswered call, every time she said she was working late, every friend she hung out with was replaying in my mind. One time in particular: the night we announced together that we would move away from our hometown.
Every night for the week after we broke up I was tossing, turning, the same questions in my head. I drank mint tea. I read a book. Nothing helped, and on the verge of a breakdown from insomnia, I was close to tearing my pillow apart in anger. I told myself to put it out of my mind. There was no way to know, and even if there was, what good would it do? Everything was over. Leave it over.
Suddenly the room felt different. I sat up in bed, squinting into the dark.
I wasn’t alone.
I screamed. Not the yelp of a sleepy chihuahua, but the shriek of a banshee that would have woken up both of the neighbours of my tiny, city-centre apartment. A man sat at the foot of my bed, hunched over. He wore a tank top, presumably to show off his immense biceps. Even in the dark I could see how big they were, there was no way that could be natural.
He wasn’t looking at me, and I remembered the cricket bat beneath the bed. I don’t play, but it was a welcoming gift when I moved to this town. I might have been able to reach it. Heaven knows how I thought I would get it without being noticed, because I had barely moved when he spoke.
“It would be futile.” His voice was off. Like someone had turned up the bass setting way too high, and now it fuzzed and vibrated around the room.
“What are you doing in my house?” I demanded, trying to sound confident.
“You are in pain.” He said. “And I come to those in the throes of torment.”
What was he on about? I decided to risk it, and in one move reached down and grabbed the bat, bringing it up to my chest. He didn’t even flinch, just turned slowly to look at me.
If not for his eyes I would have assumed he was just a man, but his eyes were strange. Imagine holding an emerald up to the sun. There was light behind his eyes, coming out from within him, it was like they were glowing in the darkness.
I gasped, remembering my grandmother’s bedtime stories about a tribe of tricksters that visited people in the night. It was ridiculous, genies were a middle-eastern folk tale. No one from my generation believed in them. But huge arms, fiery green eyes...What else could it be?
“You are a djinn! A genie!”
He nodded, the corner of his mouth twitching into a smile. “A Marid, to be specific. I can give you something you desire.”
“Just one thing? Aren’t I supposed to get 3 wishes?”Had I remembered my grandmother’s stories better I might have been less cocky, and more completely terrified.
His brow furrowed just slightly, and I could swear his eyes got brighter. A split second later the bat flew out of my hand, clattering on the floor, and he was pressing me against the headboard by my chest. Or at least, something was, he was still on the edge of the bed.
“You dare to mock me? You should have paid more attention to your grandmother. I am a maker of things where there was nothing, a force unfathomable by your feeble mind, not some slave to your sorry requests. You have no idea how honoured you are. There are no three wishes here, but-“ he grinned, “-I can give you one thing that you want.”
He stood, his head nearly reaching the high ceiling, and strode across to the window.
“You are in pain. Spiralling, spinning, you sentence yourself to solicitude, and from what? The past?”
I sat confused for a moment, trying to understand what he was saying. He sat back on the bed, leaning towards me.
“It is in my power to help you perceive the pure, palpable, verity of the eve that hounds your subconscious.”
He sighed loudly. I was meant to hear the displeasure dripping from his voice as he repeated in simpler terms, “Wouldn’t it be nice to know what happened that night? The one you are doubting so much?”
It wouldn’t just be nice to know. Right now I needed to shut the voice up, to get a good night’s sleep, to be able to function at work.
“Is there a catch? Do I have to give you something?”
“Only what you choose.”
I looked at the Marid, trying to remember the stories. Marid were powerful, I remembered that much. There was something that escaped me - why would he offer me this?
The Marid leaned in further. Somehow he was at the end of the bed, but it felt as if he was breathing into my face. “Ask...”
I hesitated. I wanted to go, to see I was driving myself crazy, see that she had truly loved me before we moved. What if I was wrong? What would that mean? There were too many questions, and all were pointless without knowing anything for certain.
“Ok.” I said, taking a deep breath. “Stop the self-doubt.”
He smiled wide, shiny white teeth visible in the dark, and began to chuckle. Smoke billowed around him – no, from him, and surrounded us both. I tried to hold my breath as it surrounded me. It stung my eyes, and tears formed.
I was out of the bed, my legs hanging free. My stomach was churning. I was going to be sick.
And then my feet were on solid ground. There was no impact, just nothing one moment, concrete the next. I wasn’t ready for it, and promptly collapsed in a heap on the floor. The Marid said nothing, but I could see his feet next to me clad in expensive leather sandals.
I sniffed the air. It was different, colder, and with a faint taste of saltiness. I could hear gentle waves lapping at rock.
I stood slowly. We were standing in a marina. An ancient marina by the looks of it, there were picturesque byzantine battlements on the harbour wall – typical of this part of the world – and an old clocktower on land. A sign was hanging, declaring the upcoming summer holiday, with a date of 2 years ago. Suddenly I knew exactly where we were. This was my hometown, at 8PM on the night we announced we were leaving this town.
The Marid extended a hand, waving towards the town. “Where shall we commence the night?”
I took a deep breath. I didn’t quite believe he had actually done it.
“The Post Office Bar; that was where we started.”
It didn’t take long to walk through the small town. No one paid us any attention, like they could not see us. I thought perhaps we were ghosts, and kicked over a trash can to test it. To my surprise, it fell with a loud crash, yet not a single head turned.
“You are present, but powerless in this procession of the past. Observe only, and speak when you have settled your sanity.” The Marid warned me.
As the door of the bar opened, the smell of alcohol, disinfectant and greasy food hit my nose. It had been 2 years since I was in this place, and my tastes had clearly improved since then. I wouldn’t be caught dead in this place now. I knew where I was going. We made for a corner booth where I – or at least, the one from 2 years ago – was surrounded by friends and his girlfriend.
To say it was a shock was an understatement. The old me had a much leaner face than I remembered, and he leaned back in the booth with a confidence that I didn’t remember having. She was next to me, quiet, but smiling. He - or I, whichever - finished off a beer and squeezed out of the booth, offering up this round. Who was this person who was so at ease, so happy joking around with people?
I shut my eyes, reminding myself why I was here, and examined the scene as I, other I, returned with drinks. On either side of where I sat were friends and – anger flared in me – Samual Granger. Our friends were spread out, mine on one side, hers on the other. Samual was on her side of the booth, but sat some 5 people away.
I took a long deep breath. Everyone was happy. There was nothing between them.
Our group of friends wanted to know where to go next. Her friends begged for the cocktail bar, mine objected. I remembered it clearly, and was already outside when the group decided to split up for the night. She and I would have plenty of time together after we left the town, so we might as well give our friend groups the night they wanted. Our old selves left the bar, exchanging a quick kiss before heading off with our respective groups.
I smiled. We really had been happy then...
“Perhaps we should pursue?” The Marid interrupted my thoughts.
I looked at the two groups walking off. To be honest, I could have ended the night there. We seemed happy, my heart rate had mostly settled, and I felt a bit guilty at the idea of trailing her – even with the benefit of hindsight.
“You recall the curtain has run down on your relationship? Forget what she would think.”
The Marid had a point. Nothing I did here could affect anything anyway, so there was no reason not to. I followed her and her friends. I trusted her, I wasn’t being crazy. I didn’t trust Samual though, so I was just there to keep my eye on him.
They did nothing suspicious. She and Samual always sat apart, with the rest of her friends somewhere between them. There were no lingering looks, no rubbing of legs under the table, no inside jokes. It was just a normal night out. I sat and watched, the initial happiness turning into self-loathing.
The town clock struck 11, and the bell rang for last orders. Right now I was at home with my friends, sneaking a cigarette that I never told her about, and sending her a goodnight text that she didn’t receive. I stood and walked out of the bar, the Marid silent beside me. His expression was one of sheer glee, like he was enjoying every second. At least someone was.
My stomach had tied itself in a knot. The kind that mountain climbers use, with about 50 loops and so secure that you could hang a car from it. What was I doing? Had I not seen enough? Everything fell apart at the last moments of our relationship, not before. That was what happened, and I should just be happy at that and go home.
The door opened, the noise of the group leaving the bar shaking me out of my thoughts again. Everyone was going home, saying their goodbyes. I was about to do the same, then I heard Samual Granger speak.
“I might go for a stroll actually, just along the waterfront.”
God I hated his voice.
She was looking at her phone, but stopped and put it away. “I’ll join you, it’s a calm evening.”
My heart pounded. The Marid raised his eyes at me. I took another deep breath, reminding myself this was a safe town. It was very common for young people to go for a walk along the seafront at night. I’d done the same on hundreds of occasions over the years, with almost all of my friends. Sometimes even as late as 2AM.
They headed off together, hands in their own pockets, just talking as friends do. I didn’t follow them. Instead I looked at the Marid and said, “Let's go.”
“Are you sure?”
I looked around. I hadn’t seen this town for 2 years, and probably wouldn’t be back anytime soon. It would be nice to see it a little longer...
I took a deep breath, and set off back through town towards the Marina through the backstreets I used to take on my way to work. I went the opposite way to her and Samual. I told myself that I didn’t need to listen in to their conversation; that I was above that.
Before you reach the Old Marina there is a turn off that takes you through a park. The park goes up to the wall of the marina, giving you a stunning view out from those beautiful byzantine battlements. The view goes out to the bay and back towards the lower area of town.
I stopped at the turn-off. I could say I wanted one last look at the view of my hometown. I could say I missed the atmosphere of those care-free days and just wanted to bathe in the nostalgia of simpler times for a while longer. I could say I was enjoying the walk and was aware I needed more exercise.
But those are lies.
I knew the way they would be walking, and I knew they would end up at the viewpoint.
I swallowed. The knot had tightened further in my stomach. I stepped towards the turn-off.
No, I was happy with what I had seen; happy with how the night went.
I stepped back, turning towards the Marina. What harm would there be?
I gritted my teeth.
I took the turn-off. I walked up past the benches and playground, up along the 73 stairs to the battlement walls. Up to the viewpoint.
I saw them. I saw her first. I saw her arms around a man’s neck, Samual Granger’s neck, I saw her lips locked with his. It wasn’t just a passionate kiss, it was a hungry kiss. I hadn’t felt a kiss like that for months. I wouldn’t feel one for the rest of our time together.
I screamed, lashing out at trash can. It made a truly deafening clang. They didn’t flinch. I picked up a stone and threw it their way. Nothing.
“Observe only.” The Marid said.
I don’t know what sound I made. Somewhere between a dry-heave, a cough and a deep breath. Except no air came into my lungs. I fell on my knees, gasping, desperately trying to keep control of myself, but it was pointless.
2 years. My worst fear had come true. Our move to a different town, the life we started together. Every decision I had made from that night onwards had been a lie.
I turned on the Marid, screaming, “What is the point of being here? Why show me this if I can’t do anything about it! What do you get from this?”
I expected a defence of his actions, some twisted reasoning that I had asked for the truth, that it was my choice to come this way, or some monkey’s-paw explanation about how I should be careful what I wish for, but there was none. He just smiled, ear to ear, teeth a dazzling white, eyes on fire as if the sun itself was burning behind those green orbs.
“For this,” he said, amused and gesturing at me.
He looked at the lovers on the battlements. I stayed on my knees, sobbing.
I should have kept walking. I should have gone home. I should have let the past be the past.
There was no pity in his voice. “We leave when you ask.”
“Now,” I sobbed, “Just take me away from here.”
“Yes.” I snapped.
Smoke billowed out from the darkness, from him, covering the town, the marina, the battlements, and at last, painfully slowly, it covered the lovers on the wall.
The world spun, and I was back in my bed, flat on my back. My body ached. The cricket bat was propped against the wall, and I wondered if he had actually just spent the last few hours beating me with it. I tried to move, but my muscles wouldn’t respond.
The Marid stepped into view, leaning down towards my face. He had an evil grin.
“Your suffering is my settlement. Your pain, my payment.”
“Why?” I croaked.
“Do not ask why. You will never find a satisfactory answer. Ask what you do with your new clairvoyance.”
“What do I-?”
He laughed, and spread his arms wide, dodging the question. I blinked, and he was gone, the room empty and silent.