Jean Marie Ward

fiction, nonfiction and all points in between

Excerpt: “Burning Down the House”

Eddie Woodhouse lurched between the tables of the Sixth Circle Club, apologizing every ponderous step of the way. Carrying a full-grown jinni inside his skin was hell. Its spine-crushing weight was only the start. Despite the swelter of July in New York, his thermal fleece sweatsuit, the heat of the crowd and the flames jetting in the six upright iron cages evenly spaced along the club’s circular wall, it was all he could do to keep from shivering as he approached the sorceress waiting at the shadowed table furthest from the door.

Gritting his teeth, he eased his tripled girth into the wide-armed leather chair across from her. The puffy cushions clenched around him like a boxing glove around a fist. If this didn’t work, they’d need to winch him out.

“Do you have the bottle?” he asked, miming the words in case she couldn’t hear him over the music.

Jade Rabbit and Sun Wukong

A flash from the dance floor lit her eyes like an evil smile. She placed an empty absinthe bottle on the table. A monkey wearing a gold hat and carrying a big stick leered at him from the top of the label. It looked like he was giving Eddie a giant-sized finger.

“May your next transfer run as smoothly as the one from your bank.” She trailed a dagger-pointed nail along the length of the monkey’s stick. It was probably just coincidence that the voice of the singer blaring through the club’s speakers jumped an octave. Probably. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather do this someplace more private?”

“No.” The jinni inside him lashed his face. He couldn’t hide the bulge of their shared skin or his flinch of pain.

The woman added teeth to her smile. “Your funeral. I trust you’ll be more careful where you stick your straw in the future.”

Her exit line raised a different kind of welt, but he didn’t care as long as she left. Nobody paid any attention to a fat man in a club full of beautiful people. More importantly, the security cams and warding spells focused on the tables would keep her from trying anything more than what he paid for. He’d never been a contender in the magical department, but he never thought he’d sink so low that he’d owe his life to the sorcerous paranoia of Ducky “Duc d’Or”.

Eddie’s teeth chattered against the glass as he closed his lips around the neck of the bottle and chanted the first of the thirty-one goetic evocations from the Secret Key of Solomon under his breath. The words didn’t always make sense, but he suspected the real spell lay in his mind’s desperate prayer: “Take this damned thing outta me and I’ll never do magic. I’ll never so much as make a wish. Never. Ever.”

The words burned his throat. Never. The jinni swelled inside his lungs until he thought his ribs would explode. Ever