I had been completely unprepared for my previous travels via genie. This time, I was ready. I expected my vision to blur or the buildings to warp and fold, but no sooner had I begun looking for something to happen than something had. It was dark, cold and windy. I looked down to see I was standing in snow, which was only slightly more surprising than the fact that I was wearing fur boots, upon which I promptly threw up.
Isaac started moving forward and, still holding tight to his collar, I followed. We were not only in the snow we were in a blizzard. I was dressed head to toe in fur clothing and soon stumbling along in my disorientation as the snow deepened. I started to yell at Lakedema, whom I assumed was still on the other side of Isaac, but I found I had nothing to say, nothing to ask, and with this thought I was suddenly overcome with a sense of relative calm and warmth. With the exception of my face I was, indeed, warm. The feeling of calm, I realized, came from Isaac who was telling me in his way that I should not worry.
One question did occur to me. “The furniture in my living room was still missing this morning,” I said.
In my head, Isaac’s voice was a deep and soothing baritone, a voice my imagination must have assigned him. “I ate the furniture,” he said, and then waited while I tried to picture him eating the couch. Then he started laughing. The tiger was a comedian.
Looking ahead, I saw what appeared to be a dim and distant light, and then almost as soon as I saw it we were upon it, a lantern held in the bare hand of a man in robes. We passed through a tall gate into a courtyard of some sort and then I saw Lakedema speaking to the man with the lantern, who pulled back his hood, revealing an elderly face of some Asian descent I guessed, though his wrinkles could have hidden any clues. I did not understand their words though it was clear they were speaking of Isaac. The man reached out to scratch Isaac’s chin and then they walked off together. Lakedema took my hand and we entered a building off the courtyard, walking into a room filled with candlelight and the smell of incense.
I understood why Isaac had not followed. Even with his ability to walk through walls there was simply no room for him once he did. There were candles everywhere, an old wood burning stove in the center of the room and various benches placed about, all covered with intricate carvings of some kind, as were the walls and the shelves that held the candles. I removed my heavy fur coat.
Before I could ask where we were, Lakedema spoke. “We remain in your world but in a place that cannot be found in the world, a place that does not appear on the maps… on your maps of the world. Is this enough?”
By this, I understood she was asking if I needed more information. I could not think of any question worth asking. I preferred the calm. I just smiled.
She returned my smile and she was beautiful, but I felt no overpowering desire as I had before. “It is true,” she said, “even for jinn it is difficult to hold our worries in this place. It is above all else a place of peace and neutral ground. It has other names, for many it is known as Sanctuary.”
I felt the smallest nagging curiosity at the edge of my thoughts. Neutral ground?
Lakedema invited me to join her on a bench. “Deep Water, when he spoke to you of the world of jinn, he explained in some way that despite our powers, as they appear to you, we are not without our own concerns and troubles, perhaps.”
“Yes, in his way,” I said. “I imagined some great genie bureaucracy filled with the concerns that only bureaucrats can really appreciate, you know, schedules, budgets, procedures. Believe me, I understand. There are more bureaucrats than there are artists on a movie production. Max did hint at some danger but I didn’t give it any thought. In fact, I felt very safe while Max was around.”
“This is as it should be,” said Lakedema. She hesitated, choosing her words. “Who is to know, John, what all the realms hold? Before your time as the Designate arrived you knew nothing of jinn, or what you knew you considered fairy tales. In the same way, the old jinn may not know everything that exists, in your world, the worlds we understand, or in some realm only rumored among us.”
“Yes, at the same time, we do know well that there are others, very similar to us, who are not purposed to fellowship with humans or whose fellowship is self-serving. For them, other things are written.”
“What, bad genies?”
“It is their destiny and they must follow their destiny. They are known among us as the splinters and their duties are different. They remain apart, in their own communities. To interfere, in a direct way, with their work, or they in ours is forbidden. Together we purchase our portion of the balance.”
The old man entered the room with a tray and Lakedema smiled.
“I should have told you, John, that in this place those from the immortal realm have few powers. Once we cross the threshold outside we are as you, or very nearly. This makes me very tired, so I am glad for the tea.”
The old man placed the tray on the floor, knelt, and began to pour our tea. In perfect English he said, “My good friend Isaac can rest in the Common Room if he wishes but he will walk in the gardens, even in this blizzard. He sends word to you, John Tilton. Isaac says that Lakedema,” as he spoke her name he bowed in her direction, “is a pure heart, purposed to delight everyone she meets, and may have difficulty speaking plainly when, perhaps, urgent and direct words are required.”
At this Lakedema blushed, her blue cheeks darkening.
The old man continued. “Isaac believes the treaties among the splinters have been discarded and, he believes, Master Max thought this as well.”
We took our tea in silence. After a time, I looked at Lakedema, who seemed visibly exhausted, for some indication. She smiled weakly and shrugged.
She said, “To openly break the treaties is unheard of since they were established, though there have always been, well, disruptive activities among the splinters. I cannot deny that open defiance would explain a great deal, even though I have no understanding of how it could happen. I must rest now, John. I will remain here and connect with my community as I rest. We are safe here.”
Like a magician, the old man produced a rolled mat from nowhere. As he placed it on the ground, it appeared to unroll itself just as Lakedema lay down, already asleep. The old man gazed at her, clearly pleased.
I was about to ask his name when he looked at me, his eyes shining in the candlelight, and said, “My name is Teddy.”
With that, every crazy moment I had lived since meeting Max burst forth and I began to laugh and I didn’t stop. I laughed for a long time, until my stomach began to ache and my cheeks were shining. I laughed so long and so hard I felt indebted somehow, as if I had laughed more than my allotted fair share. Teddy laughed too, but whereas my laughter was a fat flood unleashed, his was gleeful, like water dancing over rocks.
“You will tell me now,” I said through my breathless sighs, “that you were named after Theodore Roosevelt, the president.”
“Yes,” said Teddy, “I was indeed.”
This brought on a second wave of long tedious giggling from us both.
Eventually, catching his breath, Teddy said, “My mother was American and I was born the same day the president died.”
“That would make you… well, I don’t know when he died but that would make you, you know, old.”
“Yes, I am approaching 100 years.”
“How long have you lived here?”
Teddy looked around, taking in his surroundings as if for the very first time and nodded approvingly. “I came to the mountain when I was nine years old.”
“That… that is a very long time to live in one place, Teddy.”
He nodded, still sitting on his knees and smiling comfortably, as if we were old friends sharing a firm and simple silence.
“And then, where is this place?”
Teddy stood, bowed slightly and motioned to the far mahogany wall, which then became a door opening into another room. He raised his brow, daring me I thought, to enter the room, which I did with unexpected urgency.
I entered a round room, also lit by candles but candles unseen. The light seemed to increase steadily with every step I took. As the light grew, shapes appeared on the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. Stars began twinkling beyond the shapes above me and blue sky dawned beneath my feet, complete with clouds and odd geometric shapes and words that rose, like holograms from the floor. The shapes on the walls looked familiar, and after a moment I realized I was looking at a map, but it was backward. I was looking at a glass globe from the inside out. As I watched, the simple map transformed and along the walls oceans and shorelines, mountains, forests, deserts, jungles and cities of every kind moved around me. After a while, it became clear I was not simply an observer, I was controlling the room and I could zoom in and out at will, just by focusing or wishing it. Then I was overcome with dizziness and Teddy’s hand was at my elbow, steadying me. He led me toward the wall.
“You are here, John Tilton.”
I was looking at a land mass that, despite being inside out, seemed vaguely familiar, somewhere in Asia, maybe. Yes, I saw India down to my right. Then I began to zoom in on a vast mountain range, then a group of mountains, then a single mountain and its peak, then a structure.
Teddy pointed at the structure. “You are here.”
I could see the gate where we came through and the courtyard. Teddy’s finger touched the room where we were now and just above his finger, something moved. I thought it was something crawling on the wall, but it was in the wall, in the garden just outside the room where we were. It was Isaac, weaving his way around the trees in his lumbering, giant tiger way.
I jumped back and was then staring at a static map of the entire eastern hemisphere. The stars were no longer moving beyond the shape of the map and the clouds below were frozen in place.
“What is this place Teddy?”
His expression now somewhat solemn, at least solemn for him, Teddy shrugged. “This is the map room, John.”
“No, this place, what is this place and who are you?”
Teddy walked toward the Indian Ocean and the walls parted, opening onto a balcony. It was no longer snowing and narrow patches of late afternoon sun touched the garden that didn’t belong on a mountain top. I joined him and we watched Isaac approach. He sat and let out a low growl, asking us what was taking so long.
“Lakedema is resting, my friend,” said Teddy, “and Mr. Tilton needs more time. I understand that we cannot delay without cause.”
Isaac lay on his side and began to purr, reminding me about Max. I had nearly forgotten.
“Teddy, can we use the map room to find Max?”
He smiled. “I cannot. Who is to know what the Designate can do on a day such as this day?”
I turned around and faced the map room, which was already moving again.
“Teddy, before I go back in there and do, I don’t know what, tell me where I am.”
“You are on the Fulcrum, Middle Ground among the jinn and the few humans who pass here, Sanctuary according to heaven and hell, as it is a place you might describe as between heaven and hell, where neither angels nor demons hold sway. No part of the splinter rules here and the old jinn carry no favor. They all use different names at different times for this place, willy-nilly.”
At that, he winked at me. “Though I should admit, some of my best friends are old, some say true, jinn. We are on the earth but apart from the earth. This is the center of the compass where old jinn and splinter jinn, the jang, the jynx and the jade come together but never meet, unless they are members of the Center Council. I, and those who came before me name it the Fulcrum. Those who find rest here call it Sanctuary. Those who value that powers are equal here say Middle Ground.”
Teddy nodded, conceding that my understanding was close enough. I walked back into the map room and followed the circle of the wall, dragging my fingers along the contours of the world, which went about its business under my touch. I tried to put angels and demons out of my mind, along with jang and jade, more new words. For some reason I decided that this room had been created for me and for this moment. If I was going to get past the overwhelming feeling of looking for a needle in a haystack, and the feeling that everything happening to me was impossible, I had to trick myself, so I told myself over and over that this was my map room. It was something Morey taught me.
Once I had returned from an argument with someone from wardrobe with my tail between my legs and Morey dragged me back to the set.
“Whose set is this?” he asked.
“I don’t understand.”
“Whose set is this?
“The director’s set?”
“Wrong. Whose set is this?”
“It’s your set.”
“Say it,” said Morey. “Your dad used to say it, back when we were at Desilu. He used to yell it at me and I yelled it back and we both meant it and we were both right. Now say it.”
I didn’t want to do it. It felt silly. I felt silly. He insisted, making me repeat it several times until he thought I had said it with enough conviction. After a time, it became a common refrain. When someone was doing something we didn’t agree with, usually messing with placements, I would say, “Not on my set they don’t.”
“This is my map room,” I said, and then like a mismatched echo in my head I heard my dad telling me to expect nothing and something at the same time.
From the garden, Isaac roared so loudly that I felt it in my bones, but it did not startle me. I knew he was at once confirming my thoughts and waking Lakedema, because something, not nothing, was going to happen. I could feel it.
Walking faster in a circle around the room I began to repeat out loud, “This is my room, this is my room.”
One of the clouds on the floor caught my eye and I remembered the flying carpet in my dream. I stopped. I heard Max’s words, which didn’t make sense, telling me his red book was in my pocket.
I reached out and touched the sections of the wall that contained the part of the world where the mountain on which I stood was located and I moved it to the part of the wall that was now a door opened onto the balcony. Before I even willed it to happen, I was zooming in on the mountains, searching for our mountain. I found the building and the small dot that was Isaac sitting in the garden. I pushed forward until I could see the balcony and then… there I was, standing where I was standing.
For a moment, I became disoriented, seeing myself seeing myself. I kept zooming in, forcing the images to become larger until the balcony filled my view and I felt I could reach out and tap myself on the shoulder. Finally, I gave into temptation and turned to look up, but of course I saw only gray sky.
I looked back to the wall and my near life-sized self, wearing fur pants held up by suspenders. My eyes returned to my actual clothing, which I had not taken time to examine until now and found what I was looking for, a pocket on my denim shirt.
Looking back to the wall, I zoomed in even further, until my head on the wall and my head on the balcony were nearly the same size. Then I reached out toward myself on the wall as countless versions of me reached out in the same way. I half expected my fingers to bump up against the hard surface and half expected what happened.
My hand entered the image on the wall and then slipped over my shoulder and into my own shirt pocket where my fingers found the binding of a small book. I looked down at the pocket on the shirt I was wearing as I stood on the balcony and saw only a pocket.
I returned my attention to the me on the wall and held tight to the book, pulling my hand back. As I brought the book back toward me the images on the wall quickly zoomed out until I was again looking at a simple inside-out map of Asia.
In my hand was Max’s little red book.
On the cover, in gold letters, it read “Shapes.” I hadn’t noticed that before. The word faded as I watched, and was replaced by a golden target with the bull’s-eye off center.
“Do not open the book here, John.” It was Lakedema, standing behind me and placing her hand on my shoulder.
Without hesitation, I placed the book into my own shirt pocket, the same pocket from which I had just taken it from the me on the wall, and buttoned it closed.
Copyright © 2016 by Mike Ferguson