From the time she was very young the little antique store had always piqued Honeymaren’s curiosity. Her school bus had driven past it nearly every day, but she couldn’t very well ask the driver to stop just so she could take a peek inside. Not that she’d be able to buy anything with lunch money and allowance.
It just looked so interesting. All the things in the window made the shop look mysterious and yet somehow inviting, like it was calling out to her and her specifically. It looked like the sort of place any ten year old would enjoy exploring, and Honeymaren certainly had her share of imaginative stories revolving around the place. She liked to call it the Thrift Shop at the End of the Universe.
About a year after she’d first seen the store she was able to talk her grandmother into taking her and her brother. It was much larger than it looked from the outside, seeming to stretch forever, or at least thirty feet. There were tapestries hanging on one wall, shelves filled with knick-knacks and old clocks on another.
Honeymaren had been right; this was an adventure. But Ryder seemed to be a lot less interested in the shop, sticking close to Yelana, at least until some old wood carvings caught his eye. She wasn’t surprised, they both loved animals but her brother connected to them in ways she felt she couldn’t emulate.
The smell of incense hung in the air as she explored, Yelana’s warnings to be careful ringing in her ears. Maren looked around in wonder and awe.
There were paintings that felt alive, lit candles that were not melting and cabinets with doors that weren’t locked until she opened and then closed them. And the further she went, the colder she felt.
Something watched her, too. Creepy porcelain dolls gazed maliciously down at her from their perches atop the highest shelves. Honeymaren shivered, and turned around, trying to open another set of drawers on an intricately carved jewelry box. Like many others it was stuck so she moved on. She’d gone about two feet when she heard a sound and glancing back she saw that the box drawer had slid open. Her eyes darted to one of the dolls staring at her and she bit her lip.
It must have just slid open because she’d pulled on it and that doll was not looking at her. Not entirely believing herself, Maren walked around a set of shelves with a variety of crystalline skulls to get away.
And that was when she saw it, her eyes drawn immediately to something that seemed to shine. In one corner, between a marble statue with a price-tag at least thirty times her yearly allowance and a mirror that looked a little distorted, was a lamp.
It was nearly as big as her head, a tear-drop shape taller than it was wide, and the flame, she assumed, would come out of the thin opening at the top. Silver filigree lined the deep, navy blue finish in such a way that it reminded Honeymaren of a bird cage.
As she stood there, feeling as though her own reflection in that mirror was watching her and that the statue’s eyes had moved, she heard whispering. The room seemed to constrict and then expand and the air where she stood was now cold enough to make her shiver. The lamp almost seemed to glow with an icy light. She stuck her hands in her pockets before she could try to touch it.
Maren didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking something expensive.
“Maren,” Yelana appeared around the corner. “This place gives me the creeps. We should get going before your mother kills me for even taking you in here.”
“This mirror is weird,” Maren said, pointing at it, not really seeing the split-second delay before the mirror pointed back. “But look at this cool lamp!”
As cool as the mirror was, it was the lamp that had captured her imagination. It was no longer glowing, but it was still a little chilly in this corner where she was standing. She already knew where she wanted to put it in her room and while it would match nothing in her room she still loved it.
It felt important somehow, as though if she left this place without the lamp she’d regret it without ever knowing why.,.
Yelana frowned, and took a look at the price tag. “Wow. All that for an old oil lamp? Do they still even sell oil for these?”
Maren looked up at her grandmother, eyes wide and pouty lipped, “But it’s so pretty! Pleaaaaase? And I’ll clean your house every Saturday for a month!”
“A whole month?” Yelana folded her arms, looking from Maren to the lamp and back again.
“A whole month.” Out of the corner of Maren’s eye Yelana’s reflection in the mirror glared and she was about ready to run away and leave the lamp because maybe it wasn’t worth being stolen away into the shadow realm.
Fortunately, Yelana relented first and picked up the lamp, “Okay, kiddo. You kids got me wrapped around your fingers, I swear.”
She carried it to the front, Maren tailing behind her. Ryder was already waiting, holding a near life-like carving of a reindeer. When Honeymaren blinked, the head had changed position. She blinked again but it stayed still this time and she decided she’d just been imagining things.
The pale, raven-haired woman behind the counter was younger than Maren would have expected. Honestly she’d expected an old crone to be running the place, someone who made Yelana look like she was a teenager again. Someone ancient and mysterious. Though she’d have to admit this woman was ancient and mysterious and beautiful.
But when the woman looked at her, Maren was rooted in place. Her left eye was a dark shade of red, and her right was foggy silver, with a scar running from her brow to her cheek. Behind the good eye was the sensation of something old and unfathomable watching her and if she stared too much longer she might drown in the abyss.
“Interested in that old lamp are we?” Her voice was clipped, with an unfamiliar accent to Maren that sounded like a cross between Italian and French, “She is a beautiful thing, is she not?”
“Maren here has an unusual taste. Her room is filled with all kinds of nick nacks and clutter,” Yelana explained, gingerly setting the lamp on the counter.
“I’m sure this will make a fine addition to her collection.” The woman smiled at her.
“I’m gonna put it right next to my shark mermaid!”
“Perfect.” She glanced at Yelana and winked, before returning her attention to Maren, “There are a few things you must keep in mind with this lamp. She likes the sunlight, so in view of the window is best. If you light it, you must keep it lit until the oil runs out; never, ever extinguish it early. To clean it, cold water and gentle scrubbing. As a little tip, I’ve found canned air is enough to keep the dust at bay with this one.”
Wide-eyed, Honeymaren nodded, committing all of this to her memory. “Is there anything else?”
“Be wary of your emotions,” the woman said, eye almost swirling. “She responds accordingly. Be positive.”
Yelana stared at her, then sighed heavily as Maren bounced in place. She tugged on Yelana’s sleeve until Yelana gave her the money to give to the woman. Then she watched with rapt interest as the lamp was wrapped in paper and safely stored in a bag.
Maren hugged the bag the whole ride home while Ryder played with his carving, and true to her word, she put it next to her plastic sharkmaid on top of her dresser, though she made a few adjustments to allow for the lamp to get some sunlight from the window.
Through all that time the lamp sat there, just one among many eclectic items in her room. Most of the time, she barely noticed it, but sometimes, she’d find herself staring in it’s direction having caught glimpses of movement or a strange, otherworldly light. Part of her wondered if she should have never entered that creepy old antique shop, but she loved the lamp too much to really question more than that. There was something unspoken in the back of her mind, something about it that had drawn her then and still drew her as she aged. After she’d gone away to college, she kind of wished she’d brought it with her and more than once realized she’d already prepared the perfect spot for it.
As drawn to it as she was, Maren had never tried to light it. Not until she’d returned from college one winter break. Maren had picked up some scented lamp oil, and after cleaning the lamp, she carefully filled it and then turned the lights off and lit it. Maybe she should have said something to mark the occasion. Maybe she’d been waiting her whole life for this.
A strange sort of energy filled the room and the flame glowed an eerie blue. She blinked, staring at it in disbelief, then reached for the bottle of oil to see if that was supposed to happen.
But the lamp flickered and sputtered and half-afraid that she might set the house on fire, Honeymaren grabbed a glass of water and threw it over the flame. Only after the light had gone out and the air became filled with a low thrumming did she remember the words of that strange woman from the shop over ten years ago.
If you light it, you must keep it lit until the oil runs out; never, ever extinguish it early.
The thrumming grew louder, and Maren’s hair fluttered to a wind she couldn’t feel. Her room became as cold as the arctic as beams of light filled it. The energy looked and sounded like ice, a melodic wind-chime sound rising above it. Light flashed bright white and blinding her and a wind gusted through and knocked her off of her feet and onto her bed. It seemed to howl for an eternity before all fell silent. Honeymaren rubbed at her eyes, blinking them to restore her sight. The light had gone, and standing above her was a woman with golden hair in a French braid, staring at her with piercing azure eyes.
She wore a nearly translucent gown that shimmered like ice, backless and with exposed shoulders and a low neckline. Long sleeves ran from her finger-tips to her biceps and around her throat was a gold collar. As if noticing Honeymaren for the first time, she looked her up and down, expression shifting between interest and irritation.
The only thing Maren could do was blurt out, “What the hell?”
Tilting her head, the woman asked, “Did you not summon me on purpose?”
“What the hell?” Maren repeated, scrambling back to her feet, “Who are you? What just happened?”
Looking at her more closely, the woman tilted her head the other way, braid falling to the side to reveal slightly pointed ears. Then she laughed. It was a bittersweet symphony that made Honeymaren want to hear what a joyous laugh might sound like while also wondering what had hurt her so.
“Did you not once ever question the history of the lamp? Or the strange aura of that little shop and all the dark things that sat within?”
“I was eleven,” Maren replied, straightening her shoulders. “Everything is spooky and exaggerated when you’re eleven. It did feel like one of those liminal Denny’s spaces, a place between worlds. But I was eleven.”
The woman snorted, folding her arms, muttering something in a language Maren had never heard before. She had an edge to her, making Honeymaren think of ice; the icy beams, the way the lamp had always seemed cold, the ice that had filled the air moments ago. There was even ice in her eyes.
None of this could be comfortable.
“Are you cold?” Maren pulled a blanket off of her bed and wrapped it around the woman, “Because you look cold. Also mostly naked. Not really naked, you’re wearing something, but it’s kind of sheer and uhm… distracting.” She looked a little like both of Maren’s exes which was disconcerting since apparently she had a type.
Holding the blanket around herself, the woman stared at her in shock. “Do you not think me beautiful?”
A little vain then, which was oddly cute.
Maren smiled, “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, but I don’t know if that’s something you’d choose to wear or something that was chosen for you. If you wanted to show me yourself I’d rather it be because you want to.”
Her cheeks burned as she continued. “Uhm. So yeah. I could get you something else to wear?”
“This is fine,” she said, looking as disconcerted as Honeymaren felt, almost disappearing inside the blanket. Like a woman and not some otherworldly being.
“Are you a Djinn?” One of Honeymaren’s field of studies was mythology and she knew the whole genie in a bottle thing was a Westernized concept. Djinn were usually attached to other objects, such as rings. But the wishes thing was sometimes true. Or as true as any mythological being could be. Maren racked her brain trying to remember if she’d ever read about European beings like that, “Or a similar spirit?”
She looked at her, “In a manner of speaking, yes. A similar spirit.” Her face contorted into a sneer, “Let's get it over with then. What is your wish?”
Honeymaren didn’t get a feeling of maliciousness out of the Djinn, but she knew from some of her studies that she’d have to be very careful how she worded everything and anything around her, “How many do I get? Is there a limit?”
Looking away, she shrugged, “As many as you’d like, until you get bored or no longer have a use for me. How easily the lamp changes hands over time, though some men covet it their whole miserable lives.”
“What’s your name?”
“Is that a wish?”
Maren shook her head, “A request.”
“Elsa.” Elsa lifted her head, studying her suspiciously, “Do you have any questions?”
Still wishing to tread carefully, Honeymaren thought over what she should ask, “Uhm. Are there limitations? Things you can’t grant?”
“I can grant you anything you desire.” Elsa shrugged off the blanket, almost as if she were trying to assert some level of control over the situation. She approached Maren, then stroked her fingers along her jaw, her voice a low purr that sent Maren’s heart racing, “Even myself. But, I suppose there are caveats and warnings.”
Maren’s throat bobbed. Oh, she desired Elsa, but wishing for it was both skeevy and would make her forever wonder if she’d ever deserved it.
Mostly it was the skeevy and she needed to clarify that immediately, “Okay first of all, I’m not going to have sex with you or-or anything unless it’s something you want, so jot that down. Second of all--”
Elsa’s eyes flashed blue and silver, her smile toothy, “First wish granted.”
“Wait, what? I didn’t--”
“As for the caveats and warnings, I’m feeling generous and you seem to be an honorable person which is better than I can say for most of my masters.” She looked amused, “Perhaps because you’re my first mistress in a very long time.”
That word did not need to send a jolt through Maren, but it did. She tried to not feel guilty over it and whispered, “Okay, caveats and warnings?”
“Immortality never ends well. Even I don’t always know what form it would take.” Elsa’s smile was enough to send a chill down Honeymaren’s spine. “Somewhere there is a statue of a Prince who wanted power, wealth and immortality. He is now made of gold.”
Honeymaren decided to keep her mouth shut.
“Wishing for love leads to something fake and hollow and unfulfilling. Returning the dead only makes for walking corpses.” Elsa started to pace, her hips swaying as she did so and Honeymaren shook herself out of staring. “Creating life from nothing is … soulless.”
Maren couldn’t help but ask, “What if your wife was barren and you wished to conceive a baby with her. Would that child be soulless?”
Elsa stopped moving abruptly. “You are creating life together, the wish would only ensure the child takes. What you do with it after is up to you. If the child survives to be born, it is up to chance, as it would without a wish.”
“Then you wish for a healthy pregnancy as your next.” Maren smirked at her. Like maybe she’d caught onto the trick.
“Wishing for health is not the worst thing one could wish for,” Elsa mused, both eyebrows raised. “I don’t think anyone has ever phrased it that way before.”
“Then … I wish for myself, my brother, our mother and our grandmother to have healthy lives.” Both her Aunt and her Father had died from cancer, so avoiding that fate was something Maren definitely wished for. She hesitated on the idea of curing cancer as a whole, not knowing if the Djinn might do so in a way that meant something worse could afflict people, even unintentionally. Better to be cautious in scope until she had a better idea of how these wishes might manifest.
Silver and blue once more flashed in Elsa’s eyes. “Granted.” She walked towards Maren again. Behind the curiousness of her expression, there was an unfathomable tiredness, and some deep seated anger. Maren wondered if she should wish some therapy for the spirit. “You are an interesting one. That wish was not entirely selfish, I do not think you will ever catch an illness now, but this will not help you heal from injury.”
She was so close now, in that shimmering gown, and Maren swallowed. “That’s fair. So uhm. What happens now?”
“Summon me when you have a wish.” Elsa kissed the tip of her nose, then turned and walked back to the lamp. “Until then I shall rest, and watch, and listen.”
“Wait.” Maren grabbed her hand. It was ice cold and she absently rubbed at it, “Is there anything you wish for? What do you want?”
Taken aback, Elsa fingered her collar and quietly replied, “Nothing I can now have.”
“Do you want to talk about it? You must be so lonely.” Maren realized she didn’t want Elsa to go yet. Maybe Elsa wasn’t the only lonely one.
Eyes flicking from their hands to Maren’s face, Elsa replied warily, “A request?”
“Perhaps another day.” That light flared again, the room temperature dropping to freezing as Elsa melted away into mist and snow and ice. When the light dimmed, she was gone, leaving only the lamp where it sat and Honeymaren wondering just what she’d gotten herself into.
There were a lot of temptations like that; a real tub, a kitchen she could actually cook in, easy peasy grades. A new car.
But it all felt wrong, like she was taking advantage of someone who had no choice in the matter. And even if she thought about it, on most of those wishes she couldn’t think of a phrasing that couldn’t backfire, with the exception of the car. Never break down, never require gas or pollute, and always have a working AC.
Maren was pretty sure that car would run forever, now. That her car ended up blue with a kind of sparkling finish to it wasn’t something she was going to complain about if that was all the mischief Elsa wanted to get up to with that wish.
But most days she was able to resist the temptation of having her whims catered to. But that resistance didn’t erase other feelings; curiosity, loneliness, and a feeling of concern for the Djinn’s wellbeing.
She watched the flame that she now kept lit all the time as it cast blue light in her tiny bedroom, her mind filling the shadows into the shapes of dancers. Two of them spun together, women dancing in a passionate embrace.
Maren shook her head to clear it, the dancing shadows changing to eerie, formless shapes. It had been over a month since she’d first met Elsa. Three weeks since she’d last summoned her. Guilty, Maren wondered if Elsa wanted to come out.
Without thinking about it, she blew out the flame.
Elsa was there besides her in a flash of light and snow. Unlike the first time, she wore a red dress that was not translucent, though it still bared most of her shoulders, back, neck and chest. She startled Maren when she touched her shoulder, “You have a wish for me?”
There was something off about Elsa’s tone, a sharpness that Maren could easily cut herself on. In that moment, staring at her, she thought that maybe she understood. Elsa would always be at her beck and call, ready and able to do anything she requested but not entirely willing.
A servant. No.
Disquieted and a little disgusted with herself, Maren lowered her gaze, “I uhm. I wanted to talk?”
Elsa seemed to lower her guard somewhat. “I see.”
On impulse she took Elsa’s hand and guided her to sit. “What’s it like? In the lamp? Are you cramped? Is it some kind of pocket dimension? Or are you elsewhere, in some other realm when you’re summoned away?”
“There is no answer I can easily explain. I’m not cramped, if that is what you are worried about.” Elsa stared at the hand that Maren had not yet given back, “But I can peer into the room the lamp is in if I wish to.” Her eyes flicked back up to Maren’s face and her smile was almost teasing, “I’ve seen some interesting things these last few weeks.”
“What?” Maren blinked, then turned nearly the color of Elsa’s dress, “Wait, you haven’t… you didn’t see me … really?!”
Elsa laughed, her own cheeks slightly pink, “Only on accident, I seem to have bad timing.”
“I’m gonna have to move the lamp,” Maren muttered. Her eyes widened, “Wait. Just how long have you been perving on me?”
“I’m sorry?” Elsa turned towards her, eyebrows raised, “I have not … I have done no such thing! I ignored you until you first summoned me!”
“Okay, phew.” Maybe she wouldn’t move the lamp after all. Honestly the idea of Elsa catching her with her hand between her legs was a bit of a turn on and wow did she need to examine that but that was a problem for future her to worry about.
Elsa yanked her hand away, lifting her chin and folding her arms and pouting, ”I’m insulted.”
“I’m sorry, but that is a reasonable question to ask.” Maren dared to put a hand on her shoulder. Her skin was smooth, cool to the touch like the rest of her. She started to stroke her shoulder lightly, “You weren’t ever curious about the girl who took you home?”
Lowering her chin, Elsa shrugged, “A little, at first. But then I realized it would be some time before you learned how to summon me.”
Curiously, Maren asked, “So what did you do then?”
Elsa smiled tightly, “Slept, mostly. Reread the same three books. Studied the stars through your window. Basked in the glow of the sun.” She trailed off and for a time they sat there in silence. Maren watched her, studying her face for the first time, really. Uninterrupted, just taking the time to memorize her beautiful features.
“Thank you,” Elsa said. “For that. For the window and the sun and the stars. I suppose Fiora thought it simpler to mention the sun, but it’s really the stars I adore.”
“I love the stars too.” Maren chewed on her lip, “Fiora? Is that the lady who had you before?”
“Yes, and no.” This time, Elsa’s smile held a bitter twist to it, “She wished to be a purveyor of curiosities. A collector of the improbable and impossible.”
“If so … why sell your lamp?”
“Why don’t you go ask her?” Elsa suggested. She stood abruptly, leaving Maren feeling cold and alone.
“It’s like an hour drive from here. Maybe even two.” Not a super long drive but one she didn’t want to make if she could avoid it.
“I really think you should.”
“Elsa?” Maren was on her feet, grabbing the Djinn’s hand before she could think the better of it, “Please, talk to me?”
“Wish for it.”
Maren frowned, “Never.” She lifted her other hand, hooking it into Elsa’s collar and tugging, “I hate this. I want to free you, no wish is worth enslaving someone.”
Elsa slapped her hand away, then threw her head back and laughed. It was an ugly sound that broke Maren’s heart, “Please, Mistress. Wish me to be free. Then I can finally embrace oblivion.”
And while Maren stood there, stunned, Elsa vanished back into her lamp.
Well she didn’t know what came after that. Djinn in stories ranged from helpful to mischievous to downright malicious. If Elsa was freed, there was no telling what she’d do. Except … Elsa had implied that freeing her was a death sentence.
There just had to be some way to go about it without killing her.
Maren pulled into the parking lot where the old antique store was, and rushed inside. But nothing was where it was supposed to be. Instead of knicknacks and haunted dolls, there were hammers and power tools. Over in the corner where the mirror had been was a box of nails on top of a box of screws. Overhead hung a leaf blower. The only thing antique about the place was a shelf that ran across the wall, with tools that looked like they belonged in an old west mining town.
Confused, she looked around the hardware store, and then walked over to the counter, “Uh … I could have sworn this was an antique store. Did it move?”
The man behind the counter looked like he belonged in a stream panning for gold with his ancient tools for company. His dark skin was weathered with age and even his scraggly beard played the part, “Antique store? I’m the antique, miss. Been here fifty years!”
“Oh. I must have mixed up the address, I’m sorry.” Smiling apologetically, she quickly left the store before she could feel more embarrassed.
Maren paced outside for a moment, running her fingers through her hair; over on the corner was the package store with its faded Coors Lite sign. Across the street was a bookstore that Ryder had frequented all throughout high school and Maren had spent hours in, herself.
And here, right here where she stood, there’d always been that antique store. The way the windows looked, the items on display, the beaded curtains; the memory was so strong that she knew she hadn’t made it up.
Nothing about this made sense. It was like that shop had never existed. But she’d been in it, she’d seen it, she even had the proof of the lamp and her brother’s woodcarving. Her brother! He could maybe prove she wasn’t crazy!
Yanking her phone out of her pocket, she quickly texted Ryder.
-- Do you remember when you got your reindeer carving?
She hoped he was paying attention to his phone, and her hope paid off.
-- Which one?
Right. Maren groaned. Ryder’s boyfriend had nicknamed it Sven.
She could imagine the grin on Ryder’s face.
-- Yeah, we were like 12 or something right?
-- Dunno where we got it from
-- Probably that thrift store over on Johnston St.
-- From when you got your lamp right?
Maren was nowhere near Johnston St. She frowned.
-- Thnks. Was trying to find the place again
More confused than ever, Maren pocketed her phone as she returned to her car. Popping the trunk, she peered at where she’d carefully wrapped and stowed the lamp, wondering what to do. Maybe she could summon Elsa, try to get more answers out of her. Maybe just being out and around might do her some good.
Otherwise she was just going to stand here while her mind went in circles. So, she’d have to summon Elsa. But not here. She closed the trunk and got into her car.
“Cars are very interesting contraptions, Mistress.”
Maren nearly screamed. She twisted to see Elsa sitting in the passenger seat and her eyes automatically ran up and down her body, afraid she’d be wearing something liable to get them odd looks at best and arrested at worse. At least, that was the excuse she gave herself.
Elsa seemed to have mimicked something more modern, a deep v-neck blouse and tight jeans. If Maren was honest with herself it was an attractive look. Even the collar had changed now, more resembling a choker that accentuated her look. Maren felt like she was being personally attacked.
Elsa smirked, reaching over with a finger and closing Maren’s mouth, “I may be bound to the lamp, Honeymaren, but I am not trapped by it, not entirely.”
“Please don’t call me Mistress.” Maren’s eyes flicked to the pointed tips of Elsa’s ears and then she decided to just roll with it, “Well, is there anything you’d like to see? Or eat? Do you eat? What do you like to eat?”
“I don’t need to eat,” Elsa replied, her eyes locked onto Maren’s face. Her expression softened, “But I can eat. I have heard you talking about hamburger? I would like to try this hamburger.”
“Eavesdropping again?” Maren teased, mostly as a way of calming herself down from the surprise Djinn in her car.
Elsa looked away, color on her cheeks. “I can’t always help it. You’re very chatty when you’re alone.”
Maren stared at her a moment longer before she tore her eyes away and started the car. “I’m used to having my brother around, so I like to fill the silence. I could stop.”
“What? No, please don’t.” Elsa shook her head. “It’s charming.”
Oh, that wasn’t helping matters.
There was really only one place to take Elsa to try a burger, and it wasn’t exactly close. Not wanting to spend the whole drive in silence, Maren decided to try to get Elsa to talk; maybe it would be harder for her to escape questions this way.
“You know, you don’t have to stay in the lamp all the time. You could pretend to be my roommate, since … technically you are. And there’s a lot more you can do to entertain yourself these days. I have a device that can fit a library, there are movies and tv shows that are like … recorded plays. You can exercise, go for walks.”
“I must remain close to the lamp, so I cannot go for long walks,” Elsa chided. She looked down at one of her hands, flexing her fingers thoughtfully. “Are there … conditions?”
“I’m going to need to phrase this really carefully, no offense.” Maren flashed a smile, “In modern society there are certain rules you have to follow when you live with someone. Clean up after yourself, don’t intrude on someone’s privacy, like if my door is closed or something …That sort of thing. You’re free to come and go as you please, just make sure the front door is always locked and don’t let strangers in without me knowing.”
Elsa smiled, “I think that’s acceptable.”
“Do you sleep?” Maren asked, curiously, biting her tongue before she offered her own bed, “In the lamp, I mean.”
“It’s not like laying in a bed.” Elsa frowned, “I can’t remember what that is like.” She seemed to draw more inside herself, and Maren put a hand on her arm.
“You can use mine sometime, if you’d like.”
Elsa quirked her brow, “Would you be in it?”
“Uuh …Only if that’s okay with you.” Maren cleared her throat, desperate to change the subject, “So what else do you miss? Or want? Anything I can give you I’d like to. I want you to feel comfortable.”
“Anything?” Elsa’s gaze raked over Maren’s face, “If I told you what I wanted, you would wish it for me?”
Trying not to read too much into the way Elsa was looking at her, Maren nodded, “Assuming you can’t do it for yourself or I can’t do it without a wish, yes. I’d rather do things the old fashioned way.”
Looking out the window, Elsa was silent for a short moment, “A long time ago, I had a sister. But a wish would bring Anna back a monster in a rotting shell and I do not want to do that to her. Wishes ruined her life enough. I will not ruin her death … And freedom would mean oblivion. I’d welcome that.”
“I won’t wish for you to die,” Maren snapped. She pulled off onto a little side road and parked beneath a copse of trees about a mile down. “Elsa, please, tell me what I can do for you that’s actually possible.”
Instead of answering, Elsa opened the door and got out of the car. Sighing, Maren did the same, coming around to the other side and watching as Elsa took a few steps and stood between two trees.
Slowly, she stepped closer, until she was standing next to her. But she didn’t say anything, waiting for Elsa to act or do or speak. Leaving it in her hands.
“He wished me to kill her. The man who trapped me in that lamp.” Elsa said, voice brittle. Her lips rose into a humorless smile, her throat bobbing, “Elsa, he said. I wish for Anna to die.”
Honeymaren gaped at her, a slow, creeping horror gripping her heart and spreading through her limbs until they felt numb and the only thing she felt was a righteous anger on Elsa’s behalf, “Why would he do that? What possible reason beside just being cruel would anyone wish for that?”
“Because she would not accept his advances. Because she was stubborn and brave and the kindest person I’ve ever known. Because we loved each other and would not love him. Does it really matter? There have been crueler men in history, ones I dare say even you would wish death upon.”
“It matters because it was wrong,” Maren insisted. She took Elsa’s hands, gripping them tightly, “Because no one should have to lose their family, especially in such a way.”
“He wished for her to die, Honeymaren.” Elsa had a glint in her eyes, “He did not specify when or how.”
That was always a risk with a Djinn, when making a wish. The few she’d made had been carefully worded to avoid Elsa twisting them into something unintended. Elsa wasn’t cruel or malicious, but she did seem to have a vindictive streak. Well earned, in Maren’s opinion.
I wish for Anna to die. Her mind was already trying to piece together what Elsa had done, “...How?”
“I made her human,” Elsa said, tears brimming in her eyes. “A mortal, doomed to die. As far as your kind goes, she lived a very long and very happy life. For me, it was but the blink of an eye. She was here and then she was gone and all that remains is her memory.”
“I’m going to guess he’s the man made of gold.”
Elsa nodded, “He wished to live forever so that the world may always see his glory, golden like the sun.”
“That was a really stupid wish.” Honeymaren let go of Elsa’s hands and hugged her, wrapping her arms around her and pulling her close.
“Yes, Hans was --” Elsa went silent, growing perfectly still in Honeymaren’s arms. But she didn’t pull away, and after a heartbeat she leaned into it, and slowly slid her arms around Honeymaren.
Maren might have imagined it, but Elsa nuzzled her neck, inhaling deeply. “I’m sorry about your sister. But I don’t think that wish was a curse. Maybe it was even a blessing. Human life is so fragile, so precious, and she got to experience that. Immortality sounds … lonely.”
Elsa nuzzled her again, lips brushing very lightly against the line of Maren’s jaw, near her ear. “It is. I’m so tired, Honeymaren. Tired of serving at the whims of others, tired of the lamp, of this trapped existence.”
“Why would your freedom mean your death?”
“That’s part of my curse. When I was originally trapped in the bottle and made to serve,” Elsa pulled her head back, though their faces were very close. “He feared retribution. So I was bound, and should I become unbound, I die.”
Maren wet her lips, heart breaking for Elsa. “What if I told you there might be a way around that?”
Elsa looked at her skeptically, “You will not wish for my death. There is no other way.”
“But say there was a chance to be free and to live, would you take it?”
The skeptical expression remained, but she admitted, “I’m so tired.”
It was so clear to Maren that she smiled sadly at Elsa’s inability to see it. “You gave your sister an out from a bad wish, didn’t you? What if I did the same for you?”
Elsa kissed her, cupping her face with one hand, the other tangling in her hair. It was a desperate kiss, with a plaintive sound from deep within Elsa’s throat.
Maren was pushed back against a tree, her hands rubbing up and down Elsa’s back. Elsa broke the kiss after that, leaving Maren feeling dizzy and breathless. “I don’t want you to--”
“Your first wish,” Elsa reminded her, eyes sparkling with that mischief that Maren found so enticing.
“Oh,” Maren breathed. “I hadn’t really meant … I almost forgot … I guess that ... Really? This is genuine?”
It was so important that it be genuine, so much so that Maren felt like her chest was going to constrict into nothingness. Words meant everything, phrasing meant everything, for all she knew that wish had put the desire and attraction into Elsa against her will.
“This desire is natural. And I’ve been wanting to do that for weeks now,” Elsa said. She looked and sounded so confident that Honeymaren believed her. “I would be profoundly grateful if you really mean what you’re saying.”
Elsa looked and sounded like she didn’t want to believe, or to hope. Like part of her expected Honeymaren to turn on her, deny her her freedom. But there was still a hope kindled in her eyes and Maren could never destroy that.
Maren only smiled, and said, “I wish for you to have a long, happy and healthy human life, bound to nothing but your own free will, just like your sister.”
The collar around Elsa’s neck cracked. The cracks spread as it came apart like thawing ice, until it had fallen to the ground at their feet. Elsa’s eyes flashed once, that silver and blue, and then they glowed no more.
Otherwise, she looked the same she always had. Golden hair and pointed ears, and still as radiant as the first time Maren had seen her.
Elsa looked at her hands, then flexed her fingers, “Make a wish. Something ridiculous.”
“I wish for the Starship Enterprise,” Maren said.
Smiling, Elsa shook her head, then threaded her arms around Maren, “My power is spent.”
The years seemed to melt away from Elsa as her smile widened. Even her words sounded less formal, “I don’t know how to be human. But I hope you could teach me?”
“I’d love to.” Maren kissed her again, ecstatic when Elsa kissed her back, “But I have one more wish, and I think this one you can grant.”
Elsa eyed her warily, “Go on?”
“Part of being human is that we tend to enter and leave each other’s lives on occasion and sometimes even at random. I don’t want you to ever feel like you’re stuck with me,” Maren said, chewing on her lip. “I’d like to be your friend. If I’m honest I want more, but if you ever meet someone--”
Putting a finger over her lips, Elsa shushed her, “We can be friends. I’d like more too. So let's take it a day at a time.” That smile of hers returned, beaming and triumphant, “Can we … can we travel, Maren?”
“Yes,” Maren promised, without hesitation. “I’m almost done with this semester, and then I can take a year off. How does that sound?”
Elsa’s eyes gleamed, “It sounds like my first wish is granted.”
“Do you have a second one?” Maren teased, her heart thudding in her chest as everything started to make her feel dizzy.
In answer, Elsa pulled her in for another kiss.
Good wish Maren thought, hugging Elsa tightly. There was more they could talk about, and should, and plenty of time to do it. But here, right now beneath these trees with a breeze ruffling their hair, Maren wanted Elsa to feel just as happy as she did.
Not a wish.