Author: E.B. Tatby
Publisher: Dream Tag
Purchase at AMAZON
All her life, sixteen-year-old Kenza Atlas has heard the stories, but she never believed them. She never expected the allure of power or, worse, how far the dark shadows could cast. Genies and wishing are for fairy tales, not teenage girls, and especially not in Omaha.
But when a Moroccan jinn with undulating tattoos and mysterious black eyes whisks her 500 years back in time, she witnesses the death of her powerful ancestor and the gorgeous slave she loved. They sacrificed themselves to escape the Caliph, a tyrant named Mazin.
And now he’s after Kenza.
He’s tracked her to her present time. Now she spends her days stealing paranoid glances over her shoulder, obsessing over a slave who died hundreds of years ago, and praying her family will survive.
For as long as I could remember, my dad would recite Moroccan legends, filled with magical jinns who could manifest anytime, anywhere . . . but I never believed his stories. I had attributed them—and all of his other tales—to a hyped up imagination, ranked right up there with fairy tales and never-going-to-happen endings. I didn’t believe that a living, breathing Prince Charming existed, or that any prince had a kiss potent enough to awaken a comatose princess, and I didn’t believe in jinns. Even if my dad’s animated retelling made beautiful and devious genies sound exotic, I preferred realism, boring as it often proved in Omaha.
That’s why I didn’t freak out when a soft breath trailed across my shoulders. But when it happened again I spun around, eyes darting around the room. Nothing was there except my bed, my desk with my embarrassingly antiquated computer, a couple of posters on my lavender walls, and the pile of dirty clothes by the closet. Still, to be safe, I pushed on my door to make sure it was locked, and then sped from window to window wiggling all the latches. Nothing looked out of place, but something felt very wrong.
When a pungent smell permeated the room—worse than the rotten Easter eggs I’d forgotten in my playhouse when I was five—I cupped my mouth, trying my hardest not to puke. My dad had often described the putrid smell that accompanied jinns, so this had to be my vivid imagination on steroids. Not sure if the smell or my rising fear created the nausea, I stood in front of the mirror and peered into my startled, dark-brown eyes.
“Stop being ridiculous,” I whispered.
I blew out a puff of air to reassure myself that I was being silly. But when a fleeting shadow floated past the mirror, I spun around, gasping, and splayed my back against the wall. I shook my head several times, but the apparition didn’t disappear.
“Who are you?” I exclaimed.
Wordlessly, she floated toward me, her long dress rippling effortlessly, never touching the ground. I focused on the fact that she was floating. I tried to analyze it, to make sense of it, but suddenly she paused right in front of me, within reach. She wasn’t tall, but compared to me—and the fact she was floating—she had to tip her head down to look at me with her wide coal-black eyes. Her caramel-colored heart-shaped face and bow-shaped lips certainly made her look Moroccan, as I would, if I hadn’t inherited my mom’s light complexion and smattering of freckles.
“I don’t believe in jinns,” I whispered, my voice quavering. “I’m imagining this. I know I’m imagining this, so don’t even think that you’re scaring me, because you aren’t.” The spooky apparition tilted her head to one side but didn’t budge. I drew in a sharp breath, clenched my fists.
When she locked her eyes on me, I studied what appeared to be undulating henna tattoos casting lacy shadows over her skin . . . but I couldn’t tell if they were real tattoos or only an illusion. I peered harder, noticed her ringlets of black hair sway from side-to-side slowly like a mermaid’s would underwater; studied how her long sparkly dress shimmered with a million stars from the night sky, emitting tiny bursts of light all around my room.
I raised my eyes and stared hard into her eyes, intently wishing I could burn the image—although stunning—from my mind by sheer will. I tried to call for my dad, but nothing came out. I tried to move, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I drew another breath. “You can go now,” I said, praying I sounded brave.
She stared into my eyes, willing me to “hear” her. No words were spoken, but I heard an unfamiliar voice in my head. “It’s time,” she communicated, “I’ve come to prepare you.”
My heart beat out messages: Caution! Danger! Run! I sucked in a breath, bolted for the door, unlocked it, wrapped my hand around the knob, and gasped when it became clear that someone on the other side was trying to get in.
“My Kenza, why are you not yet asleep?”
“Don’t come in, Dad,” I shouted, bracing myself against the door, grinding my heels into the carpeted floor. He’d warned me for years that one of his magic jinns might show up to pirate me off to Morocco. If he saw this apparition, it would mean that he’d been right all along, and that Mom and I had been wrong to make fun of his stories. More importantly, if he saw the jinn, I wouldn’t be able to pretend that she wasn’t real.
Not one to let me get away with anything, my dad pushed hard against the door, sending me stumbling backwards, falling onto my bed. I glanced furtively around the room. She was gone.
“What is wrong with you, Kenza?” Dad spread his feet apart, placed one hand on each hip, and glowered. “I am waiting . . .”
My heart was still thundering, but I wanted time to figure this out on my own. So I did what I typically did when my parents confronted me: I said whatever popped into my head to throw him off. “So what if I’m still awake. Why does it matter so much to you?”
“It matters because you should be in bed. You have school tomorrow . . . and it’s your sixteenth birthday, so the sooner you go to sleep, the sooner it will come, my Moon.”
“A birthday I don’t even get to celebrate thanks to you and Mom,” I said, affecting what they called my “obnoxious teenage attitude.”
“Let’s not dig up old bones,” he said.
First of all, my being grounded was not “old bones.” They’d grounded me only days prior. And secondly, my dad was always translating lame Moroccan expressions into English. I used to find them funny, but now they only irritated me, mostly because they were irrelevant. The one he chose tonight, however, made me shiver . . . because it seemed spookily relevant.
True to his roots, Dad bent over at his waist and waved his hands in a rolling motion toward my bed, inviting me to grant his wish by settling in to sleep. “Please, My Moon, it is time for slumber. Your father is willing you to obey his wishes.”
Because my heart had not yet quieted, I didn’t have the will to fight him. I switched the lamp to its lowest setting, crawled underneath my blankets, and tugged them up to my neck—silently praying that, should it be necessary, burrowing my entire body underneath them would blot out a repeat performance. No more jinns.
Dad sat just south of my toes on the bed. “Something’s not right,” he said. He wrinkled his forehead and squinted his eyes, as if he were scrutinizing me—or my aura. I often felt like a specimen my parents were trying to mentally dissect.
“What are you talking about?” I said, sounding disgruntled, mostly because I felt too exhausted to dream up a lie.
He pursed his lips, scratched his chin. “Oh right, I forget. I am not supposed to care about my precious daughter . . . unless she needs money or a ride or something that her father can buy for her. This is the life of an American teenager. In Morocco—”
“Dad, stop,” I said, raising one hand and waving it, as if I were truly surrendering. “I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t need coddling. Sometimes it’s just a weird mood, okay? And staying up a little later than usual isn’t going to kill me.” Milliseconds later, a crack of lightning sounded in the distance. I felt my whole body tense, and thrust my head deeper under my covers.
“Ah, you are worried about the storm, yeah?” He turned to look at the window, unaware I had tightly shut the blinds. “Even though it rains almost as often as it snows in Omaha, you’ve always had trouble sleeping during a storm.”
“You can’t blame the rain, Dad. It’s not doing it on purpose.”
His face brightened. “Why don’t I tell you a story?”
“Can you tell me about Jamila of Diab?” I asked.
“You always liked that one best,” he said, patting my shin, smiling. “How about I tell you a new story? It is also about our ancestors, but not so far back as your precious Jamila of Diab.”
I closed my eyes and grinned. I was willing to try anything to take my mind off a twisted hallucination. Besides, saying “no” to my dad was fruitless. He’d always shown his love by reciting bedtime stories, and I rarely allowed him this privilege anymore.
“Back when I was a little boy, growing up in the high mountains of Fez, my grandfather used to recite the legends of our ancestors,” he said. “At bedtime, on rainy nights like this, my grandfather would sit on a rug, sheltered by only an old-fashioned desert tent, and all of his grandchildren would compete for a chance to sit on a corner of his long white robe, honored to be in his presence.”
I turned my cocooned body on its side. My dad had always been a great storyteller, a dying tradition in Morocco . . . or so he told me. When I was little, his stories had often transported my imagination from the confines of Nebraska to foreign lands. Tonight, I welcomed the chance to envision an exotic land, something so far away it would banish all thoughts of the apparition. “Just don’t throw in jinns,” I said.
“This is not a story about jinns; it is the story of your heritage, and the power that has passed from generation to generation, and now to you.”
“Okay, great,” I mumbled, settling deeper into my bed.
My dad cleared his throat. “The city of Fez is a magical place in Morocco, but you know this, right my Moon? In Morocco, everything is splendidly beautiful: the colors, the smells, the merchants selling their wares in the square.”
I drew in a slow, deep breath. “The story, Dad?”
“Ah, yes, I was born in Fez, a great city in North Africa. Do you know what that makes you?” he asked.
“Half American, half Moroccan?” I answered quietly, without even opening an eye. We’d done this drill a thousand times.
“Half American, half mysterious,” he clarified. Dad loved feeling exotic and mysterious and in Omaha he was both. “I was born in Fez, and so was your grandfather, and his father before him, all the way back to the time when the Tribe of Diab reigned.”
“Dad,” I interrupted, popping my head out for one second, “that’s the Tribe of Wolves, right?” He’d told me this story many times before, but my mind was transitioning from wakefulness to sleep—and remained a little traumatized.
“Yes, diab means wolf. I heard firsthand about their unrivaled magic. My grandfather met Aisha Kandisha himself.”
“Aisha Kan-what?” I asked.
He pointed his finger upwards. “Aisha Kandisha is a very famous jinn in Fez. I never told you about her before because you were too young, but now it is time you should know. She uses her powers to destroy families, but she couldn’t cause a grain of harm to ours, even though she tried.”
I propped myself up on my elbow, opened my eyes. “I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to throw in jinns.”
He crossed his arms. “This isn’t about jinns, Kenza. It’s about the Tribe of Diab and the fact that we carry their bloodline. Now why don’t you lie down and relax? Let yourself get lost in the story.”
I settled back into my bed, jerking the covers up and over my head.
He lowered his voice to a whisper. “One day, my grandfather went into the fields to help a young boy tend to his family’s sheep. My grandfather—your great-grandfather—was a teenager then; I can’t remember his exact age, but he was older than the other boy. After a long day of work—and he was a hard worker, like you—they stopped to rest alongside a stream. According to my grandfather, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen approached them. She had coal black eyes, an enchanting smile, and rings with sparkling jewels on every finger. She called herself Aisha Kandisha.
“She offered them hot couscous—a treat out in the fields—which they should have refused, but were too weak to pass up. When they finished eating, they thanked Aisha Kandisha for her fine hospitality and prepared to leave. Not long down the road, she reappeared, as if by a puff of smoke, and would not let them pass. Her intentions were not good.”
“Here we go again,” I said, elucidating a strong dose of sarcasm.
“What do I do with you, my Moon? Oh never mind . . . I cannot take the doubting American attitude out of you, so I might as well not try . . . now, where was I . . . oh, yes. Aisha Kandisha reached out to touch my grandfather and then suddenly drew back. ‘You have the blood of the Tribe of Diab,’ she told him. ‘They are very powerful and dangerous. Even I cannot penetrate the protection that has been placed upon you.’ ”
I lowered my covers, peered at my dad. “That doesn’t make any sense. You’ve told me many times that the Tribe of Diab was evil. Why would they want to protect your grandfather?”
“Most of them were evil,” he clarified, “but not all. You are not evil, and I am not, and we are both from that line.”
I felt chills run up my spine. “So did Aisha Kandisha leave them alone after that?”
“Not without first laying her hands on the younger boy. It nearly broke my grandfather’s heart to return him to the village. The boy never regained his speech, and he forever stared off into the distance . . . like one of your modern-day zombies.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“When my grandfather told the villagers who did this to his companion, they informed him that Aisha Kandisha was a female jinn,” he said.
Secretly, I decided to turn my mind off in protest. When I’d said “no jinns” I’d meant no jinns . . .
“She used dark magic to seek out men,” he continued, “no matter their age, and enslave them as her husband until the day they died.” He shook his finger at me. “That is why you must watch out for jinns around rivers and streams. They prefer the flowing water. They drain its energy and use it to enhance their powers . . . ”
“Come with me, Kenza” she communicated. “It is time to learn what you must know to survive your future.”
I sat up and looked straight into her mesmerizing eyes. “I know that I’m dreaming, okay, and I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Do not be frightened,” she said, her voice echoing through my mind, as softly as a gentle breeze. “This is not a dream, and you must come with me. We must go now so you can return before your morning comes.”
I didn’t remember climbing out of bed, but I suddenly realized the jinn and I were alone in a stark white room, surrounded by nothing. She reached a graceful hand up and swiped the air, as if clearing a fogged window. I could see myself lying on my bed, my head still resting quietly on the pillow. I watched my dad pat me affectionately before leaving my bedroom. I turned to the apparition, feeling completely freaked out. Her face morphed before me, as if she were attempting to smile, which made her feel less threatening than before, almost peaceful.
“Your physical body will remain in your bed, but the real you is coming with me,” she explained. “I must show you something.”
“Do I have a choice?” I’d seen A Christmas Carol a hundred times so astral travel wasn’t exactly foreign to me.
“I must show you things that will affect your destiny,” she said, her voice sounding melodic, alluring. “We will not be long there, and then I shall return you.”
I glanced around. The view of my room had completely vanished, and we were alone in the white room. “Where is here?” I asked, shrugging.
“Exactly,” she replied, winking at me.
“I want you to promise me that I can return whenever I want . . . and I mean back to my house, to my room. Can you promise me that?”
“Of course, you can return at any time,” she replied, “but, once you see him, you won’t want to rush back so quickly.”