The video call connected and my boyfriend smiled. “First, I love you and I miss you and I can’t wait until you get home.”
“I love you, too, and I can’t wait either!” I peered at the computer screen. “Where are you?
“I’m in the attic,” Brody replied. “When I put my archery equipment up here, I found something cool.”
He’d just purchased an old house in Houston in a quiet neighborhood that I hoped would someday be our neighborhood. We’d dated for three years now and I thought he might propose after my college graduation this spring.
“Check this out.” He pulled a dusty chest under the dangling light bulb so I could see the inscriptions. It looked Arabic. He opened it and pulled out a triangular-shaped amulet made of silver. It had the same markings.
Next, a tiny sliding box that contained bits of paper and wood, and some unidentifiable chunks.
“Smells like… jasmine?” he said, sniffing it.
The next item was a drawstring bag. He opened it and poured the contents in his palm. “Ugh. Toenail clippings? What the hell..”
The last two things in the chest were a tattered copy of the Qur’an and a box of glass balls.
“No. There’s no place to put a hook or string. There are three clear ones and this one.” He held it up for inspection. It was nicotine yellow.
I swear the ball lurched in his palm. It crashed to the floor and shattered.
Something flashed, like fire. Brody cursed.
“What was that?” I cried.
“I…I don’t know,” he said, staring at something out of my line of sight. He cocked his head, listening.
“Brody,” he said, then “Donnette.”
Donnette was his mother’s name.
Brody looked blankly at the screen and said, “I have to go.”
Without another word, he ended the Skype call.
I tried to call him back, and he didn’t answer. He didn’t answer that night. Finally, the next morning, he did.
“I’m a little busy right now,” he said, his voice heavy.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, and ended the call.
I heard nothing from him the next day, so I called his sister and asked her to check on him.
She called back an hour later. Her voice was guarded when she said, “Yeah, Aalia. I saw him. He looked a little rough. Look…have you guys been fighting?”
“He just looked at me when I told him you were worried.”
“He was fine yesterday. We were making plans for Christmas break.”
Another hesitation. “He almost acted…stoned. I’ve never known Brody to-“
“He doesn’t. Ever.”
“Well, just… give him a day or two. Maybe he really is just busy with something. I’ll let you know if I hear from him.
But she didn’t. I didn’t either. He ignored my calls and texts. This was so unlike Brody. My stomach was in knots and I don’t know how I made it through finals. I thought about the strange things he’d found. It had to be connected.
My grandmother was originally from Bangladesh, and a Muslim. My father didn’t practice any religion, but I’d taken a class on Islamic traditions last semester. I’d loved the professor and dropped by her office the morning before my flight home.
“Aalia! What a nice surprise.”
Her smile faded when I told her about Brody’s find, and that strange video call. She went to the shelf and picked up a book. Thumbing through the pages, she stopped and handed it to me. “Did the markings and amulet look like this?”
“Yes. What is this?”
“We didn’t discuss it much in class, but the Qur’an holds that there are three sapient creations of Allah: angels, humans, and jinn. The objects you describe were used by magicians to control and use jinns to do their bidding. Sometimes they trapped these creatures in glass balls.”
“A jinn?” I laughed. “You mean a genie?”
“The things you described are evil magic. You said he repeated his mother’s name? The legend is a magician needs three things from you to discuss you with the demons. A name, your mother’s name and a trace. Hair, nail clippings…”
“You don’t really believe in genies?”
She looked at me for a long moment, and then said, “I’m sending you an email with passages to read to ward off Jinn possession. When you see Brody, why don’t you just try it? And Aalia… be careful.”
I laughed off her warning, but my heart felt heavy when I knocked on Brody’s door that afternoon. He opened on the third knock.
His appearance shocked me. He looked tired. Unshaven. He stared at me as if I were a stranger.
“Brody? What’s going on?”
Something flitted in the hallway behind him, like the aftermath of a camera flash. I swear for an instant I saw a woman made of flames.
He glanced behind him, then back at me. “You should go.”
He shut the door in my face.
I waited till nightfall and took the hidden key to let myself inside.
The house was quiet as I crept through it, searching for him. When I peeked into his bedroom, I gasped.
Brody lay prone on his bed, staring at the ceiling. The flame woman sat on top of him. Her head whipped around when she heard me and she hissed, revealing a pair of inch-long fangs.
Through the house, doors sounded like gunshots as they slammed. The front door wouldn’t open. I screamed and jerked on it.
She was coming.
The attic ladder was down, so I lunged up the steps. I dug out my cellphone, trying frantically to open the email from my professor.
Through the opening, Brody and the flame woman stared up at me.
The door swung shut.
I’ve been here for hours. I screamed the passages my instructor sent until both my voice and my cell battery died.
Now I smell smoke.
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