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The Blue Djinn of Babylon
by P.B. Kerr
Orchard Books, 2006

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Chapter 1-

“I want to be a witch,” said Philippa. “With lots of warts.”

“And I want to be a vampire,” said John. “With real blood on my teeth.”

“Both of you know that’s out of the question,” their mother said briskly.

“We have this argument every year,” sighed John. “I don’t see what you’ve got against it, Mom. Halloween’s just some harmless fun.”

John and Philippa Gaunt, who lived at number 7, East 77th Street, in New York, were twins who like the same things as any other kids. Things like trick or treat. But they also happen to be djinn, with extraordinary powers to do things, like granting three wishes. Or at least they did when the weather was warmer. Djinn, being made of fire, don’t much like the cold, and young, inexperienced djinn, like John and Philippa, are almost powerless in cooler climates. This is why, more often, djinn are found in hot desert countries. Now, while New York is very hot in summer, the winters are very cold and, even by the end of October, it was starting to get a little chilly. But this year Halloween was unreasonably warm and, partly as a way of making it up to her children after forbidding them from going out trick-or-treating with their friends, Mrs. Gaunt, who was also a djinn, had a suggestion for them.

“Look here,” she said. “Why don’t we take advantage of these temperatures and go into Central Park, where you can both take on the shape on an animal-just to keep yourselves in practice. After all, this might be the last occasion on which you will able to use your powers before winter sets in.”

“But I don’t want to be an animal,” said Philippa. “I want to be a witch. With lots of warts.”

“And I want to be Dracula,” persisted John. “With blood on my teeth.”

“And I said no,” insisted Mrs. Gaunt. Now, many years ago, not long after she met Mr. Gaunt, she herself had forsworn the use of her own djinn powers, although for reasons that were still a little unclear to the twins. John thought it might have something to do with the fact that their father, Edward, was a human being and nervous about having two children who had the power-at least during the summer months-to turn into an animal. Perhaps for this reason alone, Mrs. Gaunt had made an earlier agreement with John and Philippa, that they should only use their djinn powers after clearing it with her. Just in case they did something in haste that they later might regret, for the power of a djinn, even a young djinn, is very great. But she was also aware that young djinn need, occasionally, to exercise their powers, if only for the sake of their good health and general well-being.

But the twins were not yet persuaded that becoming an animal was at all preferable to trick-or-treating.

“I don’t get it,” persisted John. “Why don’t we celebrate Halloween?” You’ve never actually said what you’ve got against it.”

“Haven’t I?”

“No,” chorused the twins.

Mrs. Gaunt shook her head. “Perhaps you’re right, at that,” she admitted.

“So let’s hear it,” said John If he sounded skeptical it was because he though his mother was taking Halloween too seriously.

“Well, it’s really very simple dear,” she said. “Halloween makes light of a subject most humans know nothing about, and it’s a very difficult for tribes of good djinn, like ours. You see, may centuries ago, wicked tribes of djinn, such as the Ghul, the Shitans, and the Ifrit, persuaded gullible humans to use this particular time of year to worship them, in return for not being harmed. People dressed in costumes that were once supposed to represent those evil djinn they worshipped. And they laid out treats of food and wine in order that they would not be tricked. This is why our tribe, the Marid, have always refused to have anything to do with it. Now do you understand? Really, I’m quite surprised that you can take any of this so lightly after all you went through this summer with Nimrod.”

The twins were silent for a moment as they considered Mrs. Gaunt’s explanation. It had never occurred to them that their own djinnkind might be the true origin of all that was wicked about Halloween. And unlike most children, they knew only too well that an evil djinn would bind and enslave a human, or another djinn, to its will. In their first summer as djinn, they’d seen evil close up in the shape of Akhenaten’s ghost and in the person of Iblis the leader of the Ifrit, which was the wickedest tribe of djinn. At first hand they had witnessed what real evil was capable of doing. The Ifrit had actually murdered a man in Cairo called Hussein Hassaout. Mrs. Gaunt was quite correct. There was real evil abroad in the world, all right.

Philippa shrugged. “Now that you’ve explained it, it makes lots of sense, I guess.”

“I’m glad you think so, dear,” said Mrs. Gaunt.

“Sure,” said John. “You’re just looking out for us, right?

Mrs. Gaunt nodded. “I’m a mother,” she said. “That’s my job.”

Excerpted from The Blue Djinn of Babylon by P.B. Kerr. Copyright © 2006 by P.B. Kerr. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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