MAELSTROM

by Ann M. Pino

CHAPTER ONE
Was there life after the Apocalypse? Ricky Landon sure hoped so as he wedged his Tahoe into an open spot in front of Jamal’s Trash and Treasure. Apocalypse was the third big client to fire him in the last two years, and Ricky was beginning to think he had made a mistake getting into band management. As he walked toward the grim little shop, he noticed a man slumped over a saxophone, playing an out-of tune melody that sounded vaguely like Stairway to Heaven. Or maybe Jingle Bells. Ricky dropped a dollar in the open sax case. “Thank you, man. God will bless you.” “I could use it.” The musician squinted at him. “Something good’s about to happen to you. I always know these things.” He licked his reed and started playing again. Ricky pushed open the door of the junk shop and the faded proprietor glanced up from a book behind the counter. “Half-price items are in the back.” Annoyed that Jamal had read his impoverished state so easily, Ricky made a show of examining every expensive-looking item he could find, as if he needed a suit of armor or ivory-inlaid wardrobe instead of a cheap birthday gift for his mom. As soon as he was sure the proprietor was no longer looking, he slipped into the sale room. Cluttered tables in the center of the room held a jumble of items of questionable worth— dolls with missing limbs, cracked teacups, and stereoscopes with no lenses. Ricky examined some cloudy pink bottles, a wristwatch that no longer kept time, and an operating manual for an iron lung. His dilemma was no different here than at the department stores—the only things he could afford were the things not worth having. He wandered to the collection of oil and kerosene lamps. His mother was a collector, and if one was unique enough, maybe that would make up for any flaws. The blue hurricane lamp was no good because part of the metal housing around the top globe was bent, an invitation to snag sleeves and cut fingers. The bone china lamp was intact, but the porcelain was stained. The brass lamp— well, it was tarnished, but at least it had no dents. Ricky picked it up and admired the stamped designs running in bands around the base. He rubbed a spot of tarnish with his cuff. It left a green smudge, but maybe the dry cleaner could get it out. The lamp was starting to feel warm now, and heavier. It jerked in his hands as if it Page 1

Maelstrom had a life of its own and he dropped it in alarm. A cloud of bluish smoke poured out and something fell to the floor with a thump that shook the room and rattled the chimneys of the hurricane lamps. “You break it, you buy it,” Jamal shouted from the front room. Before Ricky could answer, a husky female voice added, “Or at least pay the medical bills.” As the smoke cleared, something in the haze got to its feet. Even with his heart pounding and the blood rushing in his ears, there was nothing wrong with Ricky’s eyes. This was a female, and a nice-looking one at that, all curves, and with a thick mane of russet hair that she tossed over her shoulder as she stepped out of the smoke. For a long moment she stood in silence, watching him with feral eyes. Then she sighed. “What the hell did you do that for?” “I—you—” She took a step toward him, a sudden light of hope in her eyes. “You know who I am?” “You’re a genie, right?” “Oh, for Shiva’s sake. I’m not Barbara fucking Eden, okay?” She noticed where Ricky was looking. “Quit staring at my breasts and help me find the lamp.” Ricky jumped to do as he was told, but his mind was reeling and he wouldn’t have recognized the brass lamp if it had been tricked out in flashing neon. How did she—but who—and wasn’t there something important one was supposed to do in a situation like this? He struggled to get his thoughts together. Meanwhile, the genie, or whatever she was, had gotten onto her hands and knees to reach under the table, her shapely derriere only adding to his distraction. “Two thousand, six hundred, eighty-three years, four months, and twelve days on this benighted plane,” she muttered. “And just once I’d like to meet an adult human male who didn’t stare at my tits and ass, like you’re doing right now, Ricky Landon.” “You know my name?” “Human names are easy to figure out. It’s just usually not worth the trouble.” She found the lamp and got to her feet, turning it over in her hands and frowning. “I also know you’re one of the clumsiest of your race. Look what you’ve done.” She held out the dented lamp for his inspection. “I’m sorry. I’ll—” “Nah.” She tossed it onto the table where it landed with a clatter on top of two similar lamps. “It wasn’t really my style. It was kind of cramped and the floor plan was all wrong.” She picked up a different lamp, bronze with an inlaid pattern of geometric designs on the handle. “What I really want is something modern, something flashy. I want something that says I’ve arrived.” She put the bronze lamp away and picked up one of tarnished silver set with red and yellow gems that winked in the light of the overhead bulb. She opened the top and peeked inside. “This might be more like it.” She set the lamp on the table and gave Ricky a perfunctory wave. “Have a nice life, human, and keep your hands off my lamp this time.”

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Now Ricky remembered what it was he had heard about genies, and he grabbed her by the wrist. “Wait a minute. You’re supposed to grant me three wishes.” “That’s a fairy tale. Let me go.” “But I released you. You’re supposed to be grateful.” “I wasn’t trapped. I was only browsing new real estate. Now let me go, or I’ll—” “What? Smite me? Make my life a living hell? I’m broke, unemployed, my dog ran away and I’m about to get dumped by my girlfriend. Even my own family thinks I’m a screw-up. Good luck making my life any worse than it already is.” “Ever had cancer?” “That would be just my luck. I don’t even have health insurance.” Ricky let go her arm and took a step back. “And to think I believed something might go right for a change. But okay, rules are rules. Never mind.” She looked at him with an odd expression. “What? Go play in your new house or whatever. I know you have orders and you can’t just go doing things because you want to. You’ve got a master or something, right?” She drew herself up tall. “No one’s master of me. If I grant you one wish—just one—will you shut up your pathetic whining?”

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Maelstrom “You can do that?” “As long as it’s not something unfair like wishing for a hundred more wishes, or to be president of the United States. If it’s just a yacht, a villa, or a Lamborghini, no problem.” “How about a job?” “A what?” “You know, work. Paid employment. I’m not an opportunist trying to get something for nothing.” “Could’ve fooled me.” “All I’m asking for is a job in my field where I can work hard and prove myself.” “And what’s your field?” “I’m a band manager.” The expression on her face changed slightly. “What kind of bands?” “Metal, usually. But I have contacts for emo and indie, too.” “And you’re sure you haven’t heard of me? Kalila Yusra?” Ricky shook his head. “I guess that explains a lot,” Kalila muttered. “So that’s your wish, then? A job managing a rock band?” “Yes. A good one, though.” Kalila’s lips curved in a slow feline smile. “Don’t worry. I’ve got just what you’re looking for.” She reached into her back pocket, pulled out an envelope and laid it in his hand. “Your contract and instructions are inside.” With that same maddening smile, she vanished in a cloud of blue smoke and the silver lamp on the table rattled. Before Ricky could recover his senses, Jamal toddled in, sniffing the air and scowling. “What’s the matter with you? Talking to yourself, smoking when there’s no smoking allowed…are you going to buy something or are you just here to cause trouble?” He picked up the silver lamp and examined it critically. “It’s scratched. I told you if you break it, you buy it.” “But I—” “Don’t make me call the police, young man.” Reluctantly, Ricky handed over his last twenty dollars and scooted out the door clutching the lamp. Once he was on the sidewalk, he held it up to the light. Then on an impulse, he peered inside. Page 4

Maelstrom Empty. “I know you’re in there,” he said. “And don’t think I don’t know the little scam you just pulled on me.” A passing woman looked at Ricky like he might be dangerous and hurried away, fumbling in her purse for her cell phone. Thinking it wiser to continue the conversation in private, he got into the truck and set the lamp on the dashboard. “Don’t tell me you couldn’t find a way to get the lamp out of there on your own. You’re a genie.” “The correct word is djinn,” came a disembodied voice, tinny and faint. “Well, whatever you call yourself. It wasn’t fair. That was all the money I had until I get my final check from Apocalypse next week, and I needed it to buy a birthday present for my mother.” Silence. Ricky picked up the lamp and shook it. “Did you hear me? That money was to buy a lamp for my mom. You can afford your own goddamn lamps.” This time the voice was fainter, with a slight echo. “Your mother likes lamps?” “Yes, she’s a collector and she likes those old oil lamps.” “Ah, a Zoroastrian. Tell her I wish her Mazda’s blessing.” “What does a car—?” Before he could finish speaking, the lamp vanished in a wisp of smoke. Ricky sat in stunned silence until a meter-checker brought him back to reality. He didn’t need a ticket, today of all days. He would just have to tell his mother he loved her and hope it would be enough.

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All rights reserved. Copyright ©2009 by Ann M. Pino No part of this chapter may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. Artwork is by Rebecca Gunter, and is the exclusive property of the author. For more information about the art, go to: http://soap-committee.deviantart.com/ For more information about the book, go to: www.maelstromrock.com

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