"A Djinn for General Houston" was originally published in Surprising Stories in 2006
The Kaiser may be crazy, but I tell you, son, Santa Anna was just plain damn mean!
Did I ever meet him? No, not really. But I was close enough to touch him. Yep, I was there at San Jacinto, and I saw the great Napoleon of the West run out of his tent with his pants around his ankles.
You've heard about the Yellow Rose, haven't you? Emily Morgan, the pretty girl who kept the Generalissimo in his tent until it was too late, and the battle lost? Talking about the Kaiser reminds me of a real bad man - that Santa Anna was.
Well, son, how about I tell you the real story? It ain't what you thought. But 80 years ago, no one would've even begun to hear me out.
But I've seen the bioscopes of this war going on now in Europe. Y'all have boats that sail underwater and machines that fly. You can send Morse code through the air with no wires.
Maybe you'll believe me. Maybe now. It's all true. I was there.
I was born in Philadelphia, and my parents were well educated. My father taught Greek and Latin at a local lyceum, and named me after a Greek poet, Menander.
But I squandered my time and money, gambling and chasing after women when I was supposed to be study in college, and by the time I was 21 I was being chased down Walnut Street and clear out of town by creditors.
I didn't stop until I got to the Texas frontier.
There was a new town just settled, just six miles south of Fort Parker, called Groesbeck. They needed a schoolmaster.
I showed up talking all proper and pulled a few old college textbooks out of my rucksack, and I was hired on the spot - before they even had the roof on the one-room schoolhouse.
When the War of Independence started, I thought General Santa Anna would make short work of the boors and troublemakers who led the revolt.
I was right.
We knew that the Generalissimo had invested the old mission at San Antonio de Bexar. Colonel Travis and his men held out as long as they could. It ended horribly.
Santa Anna took no prisoners. I told you he was a mean bastard. He massacreed them - every last man. Then he took his Army and marched north to clear out the province.
We called it the Runaway Scrape. Men left without their hats, women without their bonnets. Pots were left to burn on the fire, livestock roaming loose. Everyone fled north as fast as they could walk or ride, hoping to get to Louisiana before Santa Anna slit their throats.
I came to school that morning and found not a child there. I grabbed my coat and gun, and took off towards Fort Parker as fast as my scrawny legs could trot.
I spent the night at Fort Parker, and by the next day made it to the Mexia Plantation, another six miles north. I figgered there I could take the road east, to Nacogdoches, and then on to the Louisiana border.
The farmstead was deserted, so I slept in a hayloft. The next morning, when I awoke, I heard solders speaking Spanish coming down the road. The barn was close enough to the road that I could hear the Mexicanos chatting as they marched at a leisurely pace.
I remember, one said to the other, "No se preocupe del Alamo e Goliad, Felipe, gente tienen una memoria corta."
I knew a little Spanish myself. I thought, "Very well, Felipe, you should worry about people remembering the Alamo and Goliad."
I realized I would have to hide now and travel at night. I went out the back of the barn and into the nearby hills.
They were covered with unbroken thickets and I saw no paths. I'm sure no white man had ever been there. I doubt any redskins, either. I was sweating and scared and didn't want to get it like Col. Travis' men, or Col. Fannin and his men at Goliad, so I kept pushing deeper and deeper until I thought neither God nor man could find me.
After it was dark I took my scraper and tinder and made me a little fire in the front of a cave sunk in a cleft of a cliff. I didn't know if there were any rattlers in the back of the cave, so I wrapped some moss and mud around a branch to make a torch and went inside to look.
After a while I realized this was a very, very deep cave.
I must have walked half a league into the rock before I saw a brick wall.
Now, I say brick, because that's what it looked the most like. It was some kind of masonry, I knew that. There was a large plaster seal in the middle of the wall with a sign that looked like a pitchfork, and some scratchin's I couldn't figure out.
Now, I knew a little about the redskins, and this didn't seem like their work. Perhaps it was the work of the bloody Aztecs - though it was a little out of their way.
As I held up the torch I leaned on the wall with my free hand - and the wall gave. I almost fell through the opening, and I dropped the torch, which went out.
I cursed myself in the dark, but in a moment a light appeared in a room past the wall, just like someone just lit a lantern.
As I stuck my head through the large hole that opened, I could see what looked like a storeroom, piled high with metal barrels and crates.
By itself, on a podium, sat what looked like Aladdin's Lamp. And it was glowing like a lightning bug. That was the light I saw.
I clambered through the opening. I could tell the barrels and crates in there were very old and had been there a very long time. Some were trapped underneath stalactites that had dropped down from the ceiling.
I was sure they were all full of treasure - but something made me want to grab the lamp first. So I did.
It had a handle on top and a pointed end like a spout. I just placed my hand on it, when I felt a shock and drew back my hand. The lamp's glow began to flicker and I could see my handprint on the side. Then smoke began to pour out the pointed end.
The smoke swirled around, and then turned solid like clay on a potters wheel and took form. In a few moment he stood before me.
She wasn't a woman - she was Woman. I don't know how else to put it. Perfect in form, the sum of all the pleasing attributes of the women in the world.
Her skin was a warm nut brown. Her eyes ebony and large, the whites bright and shining. Her hair was long, wavy and raven. Her form was perfect, curved like a bull fiddle, with breasts full but strong.
She wore a dark green robe, but her chest was bare. She raised a hand and spoke to me.
The words sounded strangely familiar but I couldn't make them out. I saw she realized I didn't understand. She raised both hands in front of her face, fingers facing inward, and then flung her hands apart.
My mind opened like a cabinet.
I was paralyzed with fear, and I could feel it as if her fingers were inside my head - but she never approached me or made even another gesture. In a moment, the feeling passed. Then she spoke to me in English.
"I am sorry, Menander McCoy, but it was necessary for me to view your mind to see how I might speak with you."
"A mind reader," I thought - a real mind reader.
"Who are you, and what is this place?"
I tried to sound superior in an attempt hide my fear, but she took no heed.
"This is a trove of the crown prince of Aztlan," she said. "Who hid his wealth in a far corner of his kingdom, when came the Great War with Rama."
"What is Aztlan? I've never heard of the place."
I saw she seemed to be reading something in her mind.
"The name has come down to your people as Atlantis. I see from what you know, the war is lost and done long ago."
I let it sink in a moment.
"Who are you, then? Are you from Atlantis?"
"I am," she said, "but I am not real. I am an image generated by this, 'lamp' I think you would say. We called it a holographic projector."
"You look real to me."
"Aztlan science is - was - advanced enough they could project solid objects just as you now project only light and shadows."
She took a few steps forward and in one smooth move, placed the back of her hand against my cheek.
When I awoke, I was flat on my back in the treasure room. I had no way of knowing how long I had been out. The lamp still sat where I first touched it - glowing bluish white with no heat.
I raised myself up using my gun as a crutch, and went over to the lamp. I had a thought, and grabbed it by the handle.
"Only rub the lamp if you want the genie to appear," I thought to myself.
I hung my gun by its strap around my neck and carried the lamp carefully through the opening. I piled the rotted masonry up into a heap that almost rose to the ceiling, and then began my long way back towards the entrance of the cave.
Some minutes later, when I arrived, it was daylight and the ashes were cold, so I knew I had been out all night.
It was still chilly but the April sunlight shone bright. I placed the lamp on a ledge of rock at the entrance of the cave, and rubbed it again.
This time she held her hands clasped in front of her waist in a gesture of subservience.
"Please cover your bust," I said.
Her robes changed to assume a more demure attire.
"I know now what you are, after you touched me," I said. "You're some sort of clockwork concubine. You were a part of this Atlantean prince's mechanical harem."
"The trove you entered is a collection of his play things - nothing more, nothing less," she said.
Play thing, no less. These men were like the Gods of Olympus - to have a play pretty such as her.
How could they make an apparatus that could materialize objects out of thin air - and turn them back to air again? And what kind of 'woman' could make a man swoon at one touch?
I saw a glint of sun on steel from a great distance.
"The soldiers of your enemy are still on the march," she said.
That's right, she had read my mind. She knew about Santa Anna and the Alamo and the Scrape.
I confronted her.
"You're an engine, correct? Just a machine? Do you have a mind of your own?"
"Will you do however I command you?"
"In the absence of my Lord, yes."
"Are there any weapons in the trove?"
"Damn." I spat in the dust.
I looked at her. Thoughts of Delilah and Judith from the Old Testament went through my mind quickly.
If a cold-blooded Yankee such as myself was so excited by her form - how so much more so the notorious rake from south of the Rio Grande?
"We need to get to Buffalo Bayou," I thought. I had heard from fellow travelers on the road that General Houston planned to make a stand there.
Without thought, I said the first thing that sprang to mind.
"Can you find a magic carpet?"
Again, she got a look like she was reading a scroll in her mind's eye.
"I can extract a vimana from another trove hidden nearby. It would fulfill the function you desire."
"Get it, and return to me."
Whatever a 'vimana' is, I thought.
When I turned around, she was gone.
A few minutes later, I heard a sound like a whistle on the tail of a kite, and a flat-bottomed craft that looked like a shallow bowl came over the top of the next ridge.
It wasn't a balloon - it moved against the wind - and she sat in its hollow, squatting Indian-style.
It quickly floated down to the ledge and she indicated that I was to step in and sit down.
"In what direction are we to travel?"
I pulled my compass from my kit and let it settle. I pointed south by southeast.
I knew once we reached the coast we could just follow it north and we'd reach Buffalo Bayou, where the San Jacinto River spread out into swampland before it entered the Gulf. In a few hours I saw it and indicated to her we should follow it inland.
A few minutes later I could plainly see the orderly ranks of the Generalissimo's army on the left bank of a bayou, and on the right bank, the rag tag camp of General Houston and his vols.
Because the vessel flew so quietly, I believe no one ever saw us as we approached. I asked her to alight in a mott half a mile from the Texian's camp, and after we disembarked, I asked her to conceal the craft.
Rather than hide it, she somehow made it disappear. It made little impression on me - in one day the miraculous had become commonplace.
I grabbed the 'projector' by its handle and pointed it at her.
"Now, my precious plaything, I desire you return from whence you came."
Her form quickly turned to light and shadow and swirled back into the nozzle of the lamp.
Back outside the cave, as I had awaited her return with the craft, I had partially emptied my kit. Now I stashed the lamp inside, so none could discern what I carried as I advanced to the camp. I struck out across the scrub for General Houston's camp.
A pair of sentries accosted me, but they could see I was a white man and greeted me genially as they asked my business. I spoke truthfully and said I had come from Groesbeck to offer my service to the General, adding that I would need to speak further and in confidence with him.
They replied the General was busy with plans for the engagement to be expected in a few days, but I could wait by a camp fire with some of the other men.
I spent from noon until half past dark getting caught up with the vols. After all the talk faded of the Alamo and Goliad, the banter turned more frivolous - and I learned what I needed to know.
Just one day earlier, as his Army crossed the river upstream at Morgan's Ferry, the Napoleon of the West spied a comely slave girl - a well-bred high-yellow mulatta named Emily - who was with the party helping to load the plantation's possessions into a wagon.
The general - politely but firmly - demanded her as a spoil of war from Colonel Morgan, who intelligently agreed.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was a notorious rake and feeling the absence of his spouse. This was a man who, as a means to bed a maiden while on a campaign, would have an adjutant pose as a 'priest' and go through a mock wedding ceremony to fool the girl.
Santa Anna had hardly left his Marquee - the presidential tent - since the Army had set up camp at San Jacinto that morning.
After sunset, one of the sentries who had greeted me when I first arrived came to where I squatted with the vols and told me General Houston would see me briefly.
It was a rude canvas affair, stinking of mildew and lit from a whale oil lantern, and the General sat inside with a few men who were obviously his staff.
Of course, I recognized the him the moment I stepped inside. It was easy to see, with his shock of jet hair and aquiline nose, why his moniker was "The Raven".
I spoke with some urgency, saying I had a matter of intelligence I could only divulge to him, but it would be worth his while. He nodded and the men stepped outside and loosely lashed the entrance as they stood nearby.
Houston seemed unimpressed when the lamp came into view.
"We have no need for booty," he said sharply. "We need fighting men - and the element of surprise."
I held the lamp by its handle and caressed its side.
"I assure you, General Houston, this is all the surprise you will need."
As she congealed, he made a cry of surprise, but controlled himself - I suppose, to avoid bringing the men back into the tent.
She assumed a posture of subservience - eyes batted, hands folded, one foot square to the other.
"This is the Devil's work," he muttered as he clutched at his saber.
"General, I supposed you would deal with the Devil to save your Republic."
He regained his composure. "This seems to be the veritable lamp of Aladdin from the Arabian Nights, then. This is something we have heard of before - except I would not have thought the djinn was a female."
That was the first time I heard that word, "djinn".
"Yes, general. She is obviously the genie of the lamp such as Aladdin knew."
I told him briefly the circumstances of my discovery. The General now stroked the stubble on his chin. "Does she have a name?"
"Not that I know of," I said, as inspiration seized me. "I would call her Judith"
I saw the general's eyebrows raise as he understood the reference.
"Would that we could get her into Santa Anna's quarters," I said, "I am assured she would bewitch him to no end. I will show you."
I spoke directly to her. "Lay your hand on his cheek as you did mine in the cave."
She did. Although the General's knees buckled, he did not swoon, but in a moment regained his composure and looked at her with some intensity.
I could tell from the look on his face she had caused the same effect on him as she had on me.
"I have been to Colonel Morgan's plantation in the past," he said somewhat heavily, "and seen his servant girl Emily. The djinn here you have conjured, Mr. McCoy, bears somewhat of a resemblance to Emily Morgan."
He leaned forward a bit and peered at her in the lamplight.
"Except for that she is far more comely."
She looked up at him. Her eyes seemed almost to glow. He shuddered.
"She surely is a demon."
I gave a little laugh. "All the better to treat with the Mexican Devil."
The general turned to me. "Come with me, and I will show you where the light of Santa Anna's tent shines."
I gestured to her and she discandied back into the lamp. The general and I walked towards the bayou.
The Mexican camp was directly across the swamp only three-quarters of a mile distant. Houston pointed out a tent with two large lamps, which was ensconced directly in the heart of the camp.
I rubbed the lamp and she appeared. I pointed out our target.
"In that tent, there are two people. There is a young lady named Emily. She is not to be harmed, but you are to see she is gotten to safety. The man inside is named Antonio. You are for him."
She nodded in understanding.
"You are to seduce him and then while he is incapacitated, kill him."
She laid one hand atop the other in a gesture that I instinctively knew meant denial.
"I am forbidden to harm a human. It is the law."
"What law are we talking about?" Houston snarled in my ear.
"A slave law of Atlantis, I would suppose," I said. "Recall, general, I only found the lamp."
A sly look crossed his face and he whispered in my ear. It was a most excellent suggestion.
"As I said, you are for Antonio," I said, clearing my throat. "You are to seduce him and ply him with all the wiles that you know. Do not harm him, but do anything and everything he commands, until I come for you."
She nodded in agreement. "I will retrieve you at some point tomorrow," I said.
Muttering under my breath, I added, "with luck".
Unlike when she had returned to the lamp, she now disappeared like a candle that had been snuffed.
Some of Houston's men came up as we walked back to camp.
One spoke up. "Do we attack, general, or do we wait for them to attack us?"
The Raven gave me a sidelong glance. "I anticipate we might catch them unawares tomorrow.
It was clear from the reports from our scouts the next morning that our stratagem was successful. We were already cooking a hearty lunch of stew - General Houston allowed me to stay by his camp that night - when we realized Santa Anna had issued no orders for the day, much less left his Marquee.
Houston had his hands in his vest pockets. "As I suspected, your m'latta houri looked enough like the girl Emily that none of his attendants noticed the difference, even if they spied her."
"I would say, general," I remarked in a rather self-satisfied way, "there are standards of feminine pulchritude that have remained catholic through the ages."
It was 2 p.m. and the sun was in the west and at its hottest.
General Houston gave orders for his men to take up positions behind a tree line, and up against a natural rise in the terrain.
Had the Generalissimo given any orders that day, there might have been sentries out to spy us, but the listless Mexican soldiers had been given no commands and displayed no initiative. None saw our advance.
I stood behind a tree by the General as he brought his fine bay, Saracen, around and mounted. I was on foot, of course.
He looked down at me.
"Now here's to hoping your genie has done her job well," he said. "The longer it takes for him to rouse himself, the greater will be our advantage."
He raised his saber, and then lowered it as a great shout went up.
Well, you know how it went. The battle lasted 18 minutes, they say. Some of the foemen died where they had lain down for their siesta. The report to General Houston later listed 630 dead for the enemy, while only nine Texians were killed. We also took almost 800 prisoners.
I made for Santa Anna's tent during the melee to retrieve my "Judith" and saw from perhaps 50 feet away as Santa Anna staggered out beneath the canopy, his trousers drooping about his ankles as he tried to run and pull them up at the same time.
I reckon that's when the expression "caught with your pants down" began.
He managed to escape in the dust and commotion, and a minute later I came to his tent.
I entered and saw her supine on some pillows, without a stitch on. I had to shield my eyes with my fingers.
"Return to the lamp."
I tucked the lamp under my arm inside a small gunny sack I had stuffed in my coat pocket, and began to gingerly make my way back to the Texians' camp.
Santa Anna later threw off his splendid uniform and took the clothes of a common foot soldier from a dead man, hoping to blend in with the fleeing stragglers. But they were all taken prisoner.
He tried to blend in but when he was went past a group of other soldiers they recognized him and began to salute.
"El Presidente! Mi Generale!"
The Texians grabbed him and took him roughly to Houston, who was under an oak recuperating. His right ankle had been smashed by a musket ball, and he was also in a foul mood because Saracen had been shot out from under him.
After two hours of fierce negotiation, Santa Anna was spared his life and Texas had its freedom.
Before we all decamped three days later, General Houston gave me a sack with a thousand dollars' worth of silver Mexican pesos.
"We found a dozen times this in their camp. I felt you deserved a small share of the booty, although," he said as he pointed to the sack I carried with the lamp inside, "I suspect that is your greatest reward of all."
"You may rest assured, general, this will help pay for my sojourn in Galveston," I said with a very large smile. "I intend to reward myself."
He grabbed me about the shoulders and leaned close in a very conspiratorial manner. "Do you think anyone will believe our story?"
"None, I dare say. They would say it was the product of strong drink."
"That was what I thought" he said, wagging his head and smiling.
He stepped back and nodded, laying his finger aside his nose. I smiled and nodded back as I turned and began the trek to the coast.
On my way I heard that Emily Morgan had fled the new republic and returned to New Orleans - because of her shame, so they thought. I knew instead she was probably in shock, and I speculated to myself what means the inhabitant of the lamp had used to spirit away the winsome quadroon.
In Galveston, I used the silver to buy the finest room in the best hotel, and I had a full meal for two sent up that night, along with a bottle of the best champagne the house had, and two tall glasses.
I rubbed the lamp.
I rubbed it again, and then more vigorously. Finally, I raised it above my head and shook it violently.
"The damn Mexicaner broke the lamp," I thought.
I was startled to hear a voice emanate from the lamp, and I dropped it. It was neither a man nor woman's, but instead sounded like someone speaking through a pipe organ.
I didn't understand most of what it said, but some of the words - "power", "deplete", "regenerate" - led me to realize the apparatus had run out of fuel.
I spoke to the lamp, but the message only repeated itself a few times, like a music box tune. It finally stopped.
I sat down on the bed I had prepared with so much anticipation, and laughed like a madman.
I drank half the bottle of champagne, and then called the major domo and put some of Santa Anna's silver to practical use, ultimately spending the evening in the manner I had originally intended.
With lamp depleted, I could think of no practical use for it, and it was with some effort I retraced my journey back to the scrub-covered hills overlooking the Mexia place and returned it to the cave from whence it came.
I of course had tried to open some of the crates in the ancient storeroom, but they were impenetrable. I resolved I would return later with heavy tools and gunpowder, when the opportunity best presented itself.
I returned to Groesbeck where my youthful charges awaited me. I was much more comfortable in my position afterwards. I had become more frugal in my personal habits, in contrast to my days in Philadelphia, and I saved much of the silver General Houston had given me.
That nest egg also allowed me to set myself up in such a manner that I became a good prospect as a husband, and I was married in 1838. We quickly settled into domestic bliss.
As a result of my contentment and preoccupation, I delayed trying to return to the cave for over two decades. Then, on a pretext, I left my wife and sons and traveled to the hills above what was then the town of Mexia, with crowbars and chisels and dynamite - and realized as I surveyed the landscape I could not retrace my path.
By the time I returned home, war had broken out and Texas had seceded, but this time, from the United States - to join the Confederacy.
I was already over 50 years old and not much use for service, but I kept watch on the coast for the Confederates.
That's pretty much the story. I stayed on as headmaster at the school until I was 70 years old. My wife and I were married a good 60 years - she died right before the turn of the century.
My oldest boy still lives in the main house yonder. My other sons scattered to the four winds - one even lives in Italy.
I've sat on the side of the road, by and by, and heard the darkies sing about the "Yellow Rose of Texas" many times over the years.
I never raised a peep. I didn't want to hurt their feelings, and elsewise - who would believe me?
And I see you don't either. And you know, when you're as old as I am, you get past people thinking you're a fool.
I'm 102 now. I have just have enough money to keep me comfortable, and I still have a few of the pesos given to me by General Houston.
But I knew from that eager look on your face you'd listen to me forever to sell your War Bonds. I knew I had you hooked. So say what, I'll take a hundred dollars worth. Would you like that?"
Let me scribble this bank draft out here while you get my bonds ready.
You know, I wish there was some way I could find that lamp today. Who knows, maybe one of those wonder boys - Edison, Tesla or Pupin - could figger out how to recharge its battery. I'd sure like to see her again - although I'm sure now it'd be the death of me.
Then again, maybe we could run the same razzle-dazzle a second time, eh? Put her on a slow boat to Berlin and sic her on Old Willie! I bet that would make the ends of his mustache spin!
Hang the Kaiser, indeed!