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The old man held the bottle up to the sun. Pale green shadows flickered through the thick coating of dust and grime to dance on the sand at his feet. Yes, he thought, The very last of Solomon's vintage. His hand hesitated over the cork. Perhaps this one would kill him. How fitting, that he be killed by the very last imprisoned djinn. His faint twist of a smile brought a splay of crow's feet to his deeply tanned temples. He said the words---they were rote after all these years but this last time he was conscious of an obligation and spoke them with emotion---and drew the cork with a grand flourish. Then he laid the bottle on the sand and bowed to the rising smoke.

"Thank you, Aladdin," said a sweet voice. "I'd heard rumors, but I had never dared to hope that you would find me."

Aladdin straightened and looked up, high up. He'd seen all sorts but to a djinn they'd been huge at first, terrifying in the sudden release of pent-up energy. The sky was empty.

A light tap on his shoulder made him start and turn. Beside him stood a rather ordinary woman, perhaps a head shorter than he. Quite unimpressive, really.

"Oh," she said. "I've startled you by appearing at human size. If you'd be more comfortable with a towering figure, I'd be glad to---" She began to enlarge.

"That's not necessary," said Aladdin. "You've no intention of killing me, then?"

"You freed me," she said, taken aback. Then, quite unexpectedly, she smiled. The smile brought a dimple to her cheek. "I do grant the traditional three wishes," she said. "So I won't disappoint you there!"

He smiled in return. "A cushion for my first wish then. I've walked a long time to find the last bottle, and I'd like to sit for a while."

True to her kind, the djinn overdid it. Aladdin found himself in a cool green garden, beneath a stand of palms. Flowers, all yellow and gold, softened the air with their scents. Beside the pillowed bench a fountain sang quietly. The shade and the whisper of water were welcome, he had to admit. Feeling refreshed, he bowed to the lady, took her hand and guided her to sit beside him.

She smiled again, pleased that she'd pleased him. He found that distressing in an odd sort of way.

"And for your next wish?" she said, her dark eyes bright with anticipation.

"My dear, my next wish would have been for a drink of water---which you have already kindly supplied." He took the dipper from its hook beside the fountain and plunged it into the water. He offered the first-dipped drink to her, thinking perhaps after all these years even a djinn might wish for a long cooling draught of water. When she waved it away, he drank deeply and sighed. "That's two," he said.

A frown rippled across her brow. "That's not," she said. "That's only one."

Aladdin took a second draught, then rinsed the dipper and hung it once again beside the fountain. "Please consider that my second wish fulfilled." He took the djinn's small hand in his and said, "You see, I haven't anything left to wish for."

To his surprise, she gave this careful consideration. "Oh, my," she said at last. "All those other djinn gave you all the usual: wealth and a beautiful princess and---"

He nodded, caught for a moment in the memory of his beautiful princess with her snow-white hair. He lingered over each cherished line of her face, like some treasure hunter over his map of hidden riches.

"Wait," said the djinn. "They didn't give you immortality. That much is clear from the lines in your face and the whiteness of your hair. I could certainly give you that."

He shook his head. "When my wife would not ask for immortality, I found I could not either. After all, what have I to do with my life now?"

The djinn leaned back; of its own accord the pillow behind her snuggled to prop her at an angle that left her peering down her nose at him, like a crane awaiting the proper time to spear its dinner. Like a djinn awaiting a wish.

"You couldn't give me back my princess," he said. He expected no contradiction and got none. "My children are all grown"---she sat forward and he added hastily---"and they should be left to live their own lives without the meddling interference of an old man and an older djinn."

"I see," she said. "Is that why you've spent the last fifty years of your life tracking down and releasing trapped djinn?"

Aladdin smiled and shrugged. "That was the only thing I was ever good at. I had a gift for it."

"Yes. To find my bottle on the edge of dead sea, that was a gift indeed." She raised one knee and wrapped her arms around it. "Was," she said in echo. "Had."

"You were the last. There are no more imprisoned djinn to release by a rubbing of the lamp or a pulling of the cork. All the lamps and bottles are empty now, and there are no more magic words that need to be said." He turned his hands up and laid them, empty, in the lap of his robe. "May I ask where we are, my dear?"

"In the Golden Garden of Al-Sabbagh."

He rose and bowed. "A short trip home then. Though there is no-one who awaits me, I shall nevertheless be on my way. My work is done." He straightened and looked carefully into her dark eyes. "You'll be all right---by yourself?"

That made her smile. "I have been for many hundreds of years."

He smiled in return. "Of course. Forgive me. It was a pleasure to have met you."

He had already turned to go, when she called out to him. "Wait, Aladdin! Your third wish!"

Such sticklers for tradition.... Aladdin turned back. "Anything you want, my dear. Anything but immortality. I leave the choice to you."

He took two steps and found himself inside a building. The air was astonishingly cool, like that of the high mountains. When he made to pull his robe closer, he found the clothing he wore odd and completely unfamiliar. He frowned slightly---for he also found he knew the words for every item he wore, from the BVDs to the three-piece suit to the brightly flowered tie.

He was in a small shop, surrounded by ancient but lovingly cared for lamps and bottles of various ages long past his own. Behind the counter, a young woman sat quietly reading. For all its strangeness, that sight made him feel at home, for he had taught his princess to read and she had delighted in it as much as this youngster did.

Quietly, he glanced around the shelves, knowing it had to be here somewhere---a green bottle that would flicker ever so slightly even without the sun to shine through it. There---shined and treasured. He raised the bottle from the shelf, cradling it in his hand. In his mind, he could see the djinn's dimpled cheek. In his mind, her voice said, Djinn aren't the only creatures trapped in bottles. I wonder---can you uncork that one?

Aladdin shifted slightly to look again at the youngster behind the counter. A floorboard creaked beneath his feet and the youngster's head snapped up. For an instant, he saw terror in her pale blue eyes---then she gathered herself and said, "Oh, you startled me! I didn't hear you come in!"

"My apologies, miss," he said. The words felt strange in his mouth, but he knew they were the right ones. "Could you tell me, please---where did this bottle come from? I saw one like it....many years ago."

The fear was subsiding, but Aladdin could see that it would never quite go away. Unless.... Unless, echoed the djinn, you can find the magic words.

"Jordan, I was told," said the youngster. "Found on the shore of the Dead Sea." She said the words as if she treasured the thought. Then, in another tone, she added, "It's not considered an antique, I mean, an antique dealer would sneer at it. But I thought it was lovely."

"Lovely---yes," he said. "It's just the sort of bottle that might once have held a djinn...."

"Oh!" said the youngster and something new lit her eyes. She did still have hope for herself, Aladdin saw. There was magic imprisoned there! Aladdin felt a rush of hope lift his own heart.

Thank you, he said silently to the djinn. For letting me out of my bottle. I thought there was nothing left for me to do in this world.

Again he could see the djinn smile in his mind. Honey, the sweet voice said, This is New York City in the twentieth century. When you're done uncorking this poor imprisoned creature, we'll find you another.

By my count, she added, you've one wish remaining to you. If you ever change you mind about the immortality, let me know. You've got your work cut out for you here!

The youngster was smiling at the bottle. Reflected in the swell of green glass, her face dimpled like the djinn's. Aladdin smiled; for the first time in many years, his smile felt genuine. A different vintage, but just as sweet as the old.

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