Every Desert is Different
by Kelly Matsuura
“Where the hell are we?” Soraya surveyed her position three-sixty degrees, seeing nothing but dry yellow sand. “Where are the pyramids?” With a huff, she sank to the ground, and pulled the flowing length of her hijab over her face to protect her eyes from the hot desert wind.
“We aren’t lost,” Harun insisted. “I’m just not sure which way …” He scratched his rough beard on the left side, as was his habit when he wasn’t confident in a spell.
“Are we even in Egypt?” Soraya ran some sand through her fingers. It was vastly different from the red desert near Riyadh at least, so they’d transported somewhere far away but she had no clue where.
“We must be.” Harun scratched his beard again.
I mean really, what was the point of having a djinn boyfriend if he couldn’t even find gigantic pyramids! And he’d been here before, many times, he insisted. Had he only said that to impress her? Soraya wanted to throw her shoe at him but the sand was too hot to go barefoot.
And that horrid beard he’d taken! He had changed his human form recently from a muscular warrior with exotic style to a more typical Arab businessman-type, and he thought the beard made him look smart, for some reason. Soraya thought he looked like a fool, and had said as much to him.
“You can stay in djinn form, you know. No one can see you out here.”
Harun shot her a look of confusion but then changed forms without complaint. She’d grown accustomed to his djinn form; the red skin and his fire-eyes were intimidating to others maybe but she thought he was perfect.
“It is cooler,” he admitted. He waved a hand, and a huge white linen tent appeared over Soraya, bringing immediate shade and comfort.
“Thank you.” She was about to ask for water, when a silver table appeared right at her side, with a jug of lemon cucumber water and a plate of sliced melon beside it. Her daily favorites. She conceded a smile. Well, he wasn’t completely useless …
“Come, join me,” she called, her frustration cooling along with her body temperature.
He entered the tent, waving his hand again to add more luxuries: a rug beneath them, a few silk pillows to recline on, and a beautiful tortoiseshell cat sat elegantly in one corner, fanning them with a bunch of ostrich feathers.
Soraya laughed hard. “Please tell me that’s not a real cat you’re controlling!”
“I promise, it is simply magic.” He took her small human hand in his larger, red-skinned hand, and kissed it. “How about some champagne?”
“Why not?” Soraya breathed out a relaxing sigh, and took the offered glass. This day was not going as expected but they were together, and Harun loved her. That’s all she wanted. Maybe she was too hard on him sometimes?
They sipped their champagne in silence for a few moments, and Soraya rested her head on his shoulder. “I wish we could live somewhere together, in the human world, where you could be yourself. I think you’re the most beautiful djinn, or man, to ever live,” she whispered, in a rare moment of vulnerability.
He kissed the top of her head. “There’s a place I’ve heard about recently. An island in the Seychelles. It’s said to be a secret paradise for fae and humans to live freely as one community.”
Soraya sat up in excitement. “There is? Why haven’t you been to see it?”
Harun shook his head and his gorgeous silky hair flipped over his shoulder to hang down his bare back. “I wanted to tell you about it first, and see if you’d like to go. I wouldn’t want to see it without you.”
“I’d love to.” Then Soraya frowned. “But can we just, teleport in, no questions?”
“No. I would have to secure an invitation with an entrance spell first but I know someone who lives there now and would probably invite us. May I ask him?”
Soraya nodded eagerly. “Of course! We should go see if it’s right for us.” She didn’t have many ties in Saudi Arabia. Just her sister now, who Soraya was sure would support them.
Harun was smiling. “All right, then. I will. Not today, though. We have more important matters.”
“Huh?” Soraya wondered what else he had on his mind.
She watched Harun’s eyebrows jump. “Your birthday surprise, naturally!”
“Oh! Right.” Soraya had briefly forgotten they were on a mission to see the pyramids, her request for her birthday present. “Well, now that you’ve rested, can you have another go at taking us to the pyramids? Please?”
Harun grinned his most mischievous grin. “Not necessary!” With a grand sweep of his hand, the tent flew up into the air and transformed into a flock of white birds—which dispersed and flew off towards the slowly setting sun. Harun himself doubled in size to his smokey-djinn form, and both he and the lovely cat appeared in top-and-tails in an instant.
Soraya’s jaw dropped in surprise. “ Oh my lord …”
“Drumroll, please!” Harun called to the cat, who now had a small hand drum before him and two sticks in his little paws. He struck up a lively rat-tat-tat, and Harun did a little jig, his smokey lower half swirling around and stirring up the sand below him.
Laughing again, Soraya asked, “What are you doing? Crazy djinn!”
“Too much? Ok, ok.” Harun returned to human size, and stood beside her on the rug.
“May I present to you, the majestic pyramids of Egypt.”
In the blink of an eye, two huge pyramids appeared in the distance, the melting sun between them, casting a stunning array of pink and orange hues over the horizon.
“Oh, they’re so incredible!” Soraya leapt to her feet and spun around, discovering another pyramid a little further away behind them.
All her life, she had dreamed of visiting this mysterious land. When she met Harun, she listened to his stories of the world and all the places he’d been, but it was the pyramids that she had most wanted to see. Finally, she was here.
She slapped Harun’s arm. “You tricked me! How did you hide them?”
Harun smiled. “I didn’t. I just put a tiny spell on you, so you couldn’t see them.”
She slapped him again but followed it up with a deep kiss. “You are cruel sometimes, but I do love you so.”
“I love you too. You’re the only thing I will never give up in this world.”
She hugged him again, and when they broke their embrace, all the drinks and the pillows, and even the cat had gone. All that remained was the rug under their feet.
Looking down at it, she had a thought. “So, I know I always say that magic carpets are for fairytales but we are going to have a closer look, aren’t we?”
Taking her hand, Harun made the carpet lift off the desert floor ever so gently, making sure Soraya didn’t even stumble.
“Happy birthday, my beautiful princess.” He kissed her again, and gestured for her to take a seat.
“I’m no princess,” Soraya uttered as she adjusted her clothing, and settled on the flying carpet.
“You are today,” Harun promised. “And you are, always, to me.”
Kelly Matsuura writes diverse YA, fantasy, and literary fiction. She is the creator of Insignia Stories (Asian fantasy-themed blog & anthologies), and has had stories published with Ink & Locket Press, A Murder of Storytellers, Black Hare Press, Harbinger Press, and many more.
Kelly lives in Nagoya, Japan with her geeky husband. She loves traveling, knitting, cooking, and of course, reading.