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20,000 years before present in the Arabian Desert. The previous day, Oqmar and his dog, Kur, witnessed a shiny sphere emerge from their cave floor, float up to the ceiling and make a hole then ascend up to the sky.
Shouting instructions to avoid the hole, Oqmar sent the eager Kur back into the cave. No wildcat screeched out of the entrance this time. He’d felt uneasy since last night when Hanra’s mad crone of a mother muttered incantations over a simmering evil-smelling pot while throwing him malevolent glares.
Now he looked above the hill and could just make out the spot of light moving upwards. The shiny orb that should have been his, its power – transferred to him – making him leader. He wore a twisted smile while ruefully imagining wild nights with the girls he could’ve had. Like Emzeena, who had no sores.
Kur barked a come-in call, so Oqmar followed his spear inside. The uneasiness remained, but tinged with expectation. Ah, that was probably it: he was picking up tomorrow. It often happened in advance of a storm; the hairs stood up on his neck. Even the curled black hair on his head made an effort to point up at the sky. Flashes of weird images would enter his head – silver bulls charged around at a terrifying speed, their legs rushing so fast they were a blur.
Sometimes it wasn’t an impossible vision. He’d see the northern savages coming down into the village, so his people would be ready for them.
The cool of the cave welcomed him. But the inner sanctum was still wrong. The ceiling had a circular hole lined up with the bottomless pit beneath. Oqmar’s vision blurred for a second, making him stagger. He held out his arms for balance being acutely aware to keep away from the void.
Kur yelped, preferring to lie by the wall, watching the hole then up to the ceiling, for any further apparitions.
“There’ll be no more, Kur. That magic orb was our chance and it has flown away.”
Rubbing his face to calm himself he sat in his favourite corner, rummaged in his robe, and threw a chunk of cheese to Kur. It was particularly ripe, and with the sour wine, consciousness soon went for a walk for both man and beast.
Oqmar awoke in a cold sweat. Before he opened his eyes he detected a presence other than the ever-faithful Kur, whose snoring he could hear. As could the stranger no doubt. Oqmar’s heart doubled its drumming in spite of silent instructions to be still. Faking sleep he surreptitiously felt for his goat-crook and closed his hand around the comforting olivewood. He eased his eyelids open.
Slowly he stood.
“Kur, wake up you useless lump.” A worried canine eye opened, followed by a nose in the air, sniffing for demons, and finding one. With a whine, Kur slunk off.
“That’s it, no more treats for you today. Don’t you know anything about loyalty?”
As Oqmar watched the shamed dog’s tail dragging the floor a tremor blurred his vision. He abruptly sat in the cave’s gritty sand, and held his head while squeezing his eyes shut. His head hurt, but he heard Kur growl. Opening his eyes Oqmar knew why.
A stranger lay asleep on the floor on the other side of the sphere’s hole. He’d not seen a human with padded out flesh, and it was white. His face was pale, like the belly of the snake Oqmar cooked last night. The man’s robes were strangely coloured. An elaborate green garment covered his upper body, not too dissimilar to his own rough shirt. Oqmar’s eyes widened when he noticed the stranger’s legs were wrapped in blue cloth. His hands were white, and not just his palms. Maybe he’d been in a white clay bath like the hogs by the oasis. Oqmar was too afraid to get close in case this white monster awoke.
He should run. But by the Gods it was his cave. It was the stranger who should leave.
His hair seemed to be made out of fine straw.
Oqmar, with his stomach in a knot, walked around the hole while pointing his crook at the hair – perhaps it was a strange hat. By the Gods, the stranger had extraordinary coverings on his feet. Were they goatskin? They were whiter than his face.
Kur, behind Oqmar, growled again just as his master made the stick reach the hair on the stranger’s head. He gave it a flick with the intention of seeing if was really hair. The stranger awoke, screaming. Oqmar fell back, and tripped over Kur, who yelped before running off.
“Come back you coward.” Kur refused, but at least the stranger stopped screaming.
Struggling back onto his feet, Oqmar shouted in self-defence, “I was only checking your wrong hair!” A thought hit Oqmar like a bolt of lightning. The stranger must be a Jinn! Out of the orb’s hole had arisen an evil spirit. Suppose it was here to stop the orb escaping, but too late, and now he’d be angry. He tore his attention from the Jinn to the cave exit. Fear tightened all his running-away muscles, but Kur had returned and blocked the gap.
“Gods, Kur,” he said, then turned when he heard a very human gasp. The stranger clutched at his arm. Only then did Oqmar notice a dark patch in the green cloth. The Jinn was hurt, therefore he was no Jinn.