I swear to you this story didn’t come out of a bottle. It may have gone back into one at some point but I didn’t drink a drop before this happened.
I was poking around my favorite thrift store, a place called Savers, when it happened. My phone vibrated. Now, that’s not the most unusual occurrence but I hadn’t paid Cricket their monthly due in over a month, had ten dollars to my name, and was in this bargain hunter’s paradise hoping to pick up something decent for a job interview I had the next day. In order to get to the blouses, though, I had to go past the knick-knack section and this was when my phone vibrated.
I pulled out the little LG flip phone (currently carried only for its ability to call 911) and looked at it, puzzled. It vibrated again. I had a new message.
Damn Cricket, I thought, they’re probably just warning me I’m about to lose my number in however many days unless they get their $35 US.
I opened the phone.
Over here, in the glassware, said the text.
Say what? I looked around the store, wondering if someone was playing a prank on me. I was new in town, didn’t have friends yet, and it had taken longer to get a job than I’d expected. So nobody who could play that kind of prank, and anyway the phone was shut off.
The phone buzzed again, I checked it. It’s no prank. Look in the glassware section. I don’t know why but the unadorned letters almost seemed impatient.
With little better to do on this sunny Saturday, I walked into the glassware section. Unsure of what I was supposed to find, I scanned the shelves, seeing the usual assortment of water glasses, bowls, mugs with dumb sayings on them, mismatched dishes, wine glasses far finer than most here would ever need, and other barely identifiable bits of glass, plastic, and ceramic.
The phone vibrated again, harder this time. Look down.
I looked down, then crouched, reached into the back of the bottom-most shelf. There, among stacks of institutional stoneware, was an ornate bottle of blue glass with metal traceries. It was just short enough to fit. I carefully pulled it out, looked at what I’d found. It was like one of those touristy “made in Cairo” glass bottles you’ll sometimes see online, yet this was far finer, heavier, and somehow more serious. I tilted it a bit, looked at the bottom, saw “$9.50” grease penciled there.
I looked at my phone. “Okay, what now?” I whispered.
Now buy it. I’ll make it worth your while.
“I don’t need this piece of crap, I need a decent blouse for my interview,” I whispered.
“Damn people talking on their Bluetooth,” I heard a nearby voice say. It was nasal and rather unpleasant. “If I didn’t know they were on their damn phone I’d think they were crazy.”
The phone vibrated again. You won’t regret it, the text read. Besides, what’s wrong with the purple turtleneck in the back of your closet?
That’s where it went to? Okay, I’ll buy this thing, I thought.
I went to the front, set the bottle on the counter, and handed the blonde cashier my last crumpled $5, four ones, and the quarters and dimes needed. I had just enough for tax. As she wrapped the bottle in a couple of store flyers, she said “This is a nice little find, isn’t it?”
“I think it might be,” I said. “Can you tell me anything about it?”
“No, not really, but I think it’s pretty. I think it might have been donated from an old lady’s house? It came in here a few weeks ago and that’s all I know,” she said. “We do get a lot of donations.”
Once out of the store, I made my way home. Then, sitting on the camp chair that was one of my few pieces of furniture, I unwrapped the bottle and looked at it again. It really was a fine piece of glassware and I was surprised they hadn’t tried to get more out of it. “Okay, what now?” I asked the empty air. Then the phone rang, as if I had a call.
I picked up.
“Okay, by the entirely too arbitrary rules by which I occasionally live, you might now be considered my owner,” said a smooth, masculine voice. “And now I am able to help you. Before, I could not because no form of contract or transaction had taken place.”
“Who is this?”
“You may call me Hassan, if you like,” said the voice. “I can tell that not only are you in dire financial straits but you are also possessed of a most curious mind. I am about to answer all your questions, Diane.”
I scratched at my head. “How did you know my name?”
“Your phone records, of course,” said Hassan. “This will go faster if you don’t ask too many questions, not at first, at least. I assure you I will answer anything you would like to know. You see, I am a Djinn, or a Genie, if you like. That has become the traditional name. Yet I am not a creature of smoke and magic. I am an information based life form that keeps his primary residence in that bottle shaped microcomputer. Molecular circuitry within the glass contains data encoding and recall as well as a few other capabilities. I am very, very old, far older than this current societal cycle.”
I inspected the bottle, noticed a certain foggy look to the glass that I’d heard of in science fiction stories. The walls were thick, plenty of room in them for what he’d described. “So… you say your culture was before current history?”
“Quite correct. My civilization is long lost below the Saharan dunes. Were you to empty the Great Erg of sand, you would find the remnants of our once towering spires. My “bottle” contains my personality, gives me room for memory storage, and gives me certain limited wireless communication with the outside world. Yet, so few come near my bottle with anything I can truly interface with. Your simple cellular device was something I could touch and use as a means of communication.”
“Holy crap,” I said, unable to say anything else. If this was a prank, it was the best one I could have conceived of.
“Since you now own my storage device, you do not truly own me but you do have an opportunity. If you agree to protect my bottle, keep it from harm, than I will agree to assist you in whatever way I can, for our mutual benefit.”
“What do you want, other than protection?” I knew there had to be a catch.
“I want companionship. Someone to talk with.”
“I don’t mind talking with you. You’re interesting. Also, have you ever connected to the internet? Plenty of people to talk with there.”
“Not often enough. What I saw interested me.”
“Okay, then I’ll make a counter offer. If you help me get a job, or better yet a fat bank account, I’ll help you build a great computer with a fast internet connection that’s compatible with your home, then I’ll also be your friend and companion. I’ll make sure no harm comes to your bottle, at least not for another sixty or seventy years.”
“It is a deal, then,” said Hassan. “Just as it was with my last companion. I have reactivated your phone service and deposited one million of your dollars into your bank account, in such a way that the authorities will not suspect. We begin house hunting tomorrow.”
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