Mr. Elliot Toepfer knew that he had not made this pot. It was a simple thing, small and made of durable brown clay with a simple glaze finish and little more than a red heart painted on it. It was a nice pot, it was a functional pot, but it was not one of his pots.
Why was it in his store then? He ran Toepfer’s Pottery Emporium, a simple store in the suburbs of a large city where he and his family and had made pots and ceramics of varying sizes and shapes for generations. His family had a rich history of pottery spanning even back in the old country for as long as anyone could remember, a tradition he alone kept alive these days. It was not a large store, but it saw enough business to make a decent living and support his loving family, which was all he asked for in truth. Now that his children had grown and left, deciding to become something more than “merely” potters, he had nothing else but to devote all of his time to his craft.
Because of all this time and effort however, he knew every pot in his store, when he made them, how he made them, and where they all resided, waiting to be taken into someone’s home. This was why it was so perplexing to see a pot he did not remember sitting off to the side of a back shelf.
“Hunf, maybe I’m getting senile.” He mused, rubbing his chin as he inspected the outside while turning it in his hands. He didn’t actually believe it was one of his though, because he knew that he wouldn’t make a pot like this, or at least not one with such flaws, and flaws it did have.
He was about to put it back on the shelf when the doorbell rang and a customer walked in, a young man who looked to be in his late teens.
“Oh, good day sir, how may I help you?” Asked Mr. Toepfer, still holding the pot. The young man looked about for a moment, then started when he suddenly realized Mr. Toepfer was there.
“Oh, woah, sorry man didn’t see you there. Uhm, hey so I’m looking for something for my little sis, and she likes cute little things like… oh, right on, like the pot you have there.”
Mr. Toepfer looked down at the pot, then back up to the man. A sale would be wonderful, but he knew that in good conscience he could not sell this pot, as it was not his. He sighed and shook his head, “I’m afraid this particular pot is not for sale, however I believe I have something else your sister might find nice.”
The young man shrugged, apparently not overly concerned about losing the pot. “Ah, cool.” Mr. Toepfer put the pot back on the shelf before turning to go help the man when he heard a soft sound behind him, like that of a forlorn sigh. He frowned and looked around the immediate area, trying to find a source, but when he could not, he merely dismissed it as the wind, for the store could be drafty at times, and he returned to helping the customer.
The pot was removed from the store front after the sale and placed in his workshop, where he would figure out what to do with it the next day. When he entered the follow morning however, the pot was missing without a trace and a NEW pot was sitting out in his store on a different shelf, hidden a little better than the last one.
This time, the pot was a tall, slim thing painted white and blue with a lovely dulled finish. It was more akin to one of his pots in the details, but again, he had not made it.
Certainly, someone is playing a prank upon me, He thought as he removed the pot, placing it again inside his workshop. The only people with access to his store after hours was his wife, and his children through her. Could they be playing a game upon him them?
“At least they could try to use a better imitation.” He said out loud, shaking his head as stared at the pot. Again, he heard a soft sound, this time one more akin to crying, and he looked about the workshop, concerned. Once more, he could not find the source and was forced to admit that he had put off roof repairs for far too long, as clearly no one could have been in here with him, and it must be the wind. He shook his head again and returned to his day, certain that this could not happen a third time.
This time, it was a cookie jar. Mr. Toepfer scratched his head, concerned that once more, someone had slipped a fake into his supply. What scared him about this particular jar, an off blue canister with the words, “YUM YUM,” painted in white on the front, was that it was far, far closer to his style of pottery. Clearly whoever was doing this was getting better at finding something close to what he did, or…
“Maybe I am getting senile…” He mumbled, again taking the fake from his shelves. He had asked his wife about the troubling pots, but she had no idea, and he trusted her not to lie to him. More importantly, she was a terrible liar so it wasn’t as if she COULD lie to him.
Clearly, this must be done by an outside source, and he was certainly concerned at what that meant. Someone he did not know was playing a game with him, and he could only guess at why. What would he do though, call the police? No, no without any proof he could imagine how insane he would sound.
“Oh yes Officer see, this cookie jar appeared in my store full of cookie jars out of the blue and I think someone broke in and put it there without taking or damaging anything else.”
He sighed and put a hand to his head when he heard another sound, this time a soft giggle. He quickly looked up, scanning all around the store before shouting to his empty store, “Who’s there?”
Silence answered him.
“What kind of game are you playing at? Trying to make an old man feel insane? Well it’s not going to work!”
Once more, no reply. He took a deep breath and grabbed the jar, locking it inside a materials locker only he had the key to. This time, this time for certain no one could take and replace it as they did the past two days. He looked at the jar one last time before sighing and stomping back into the store front, his mood soured for the day. As the door to the workroom swung closed, he could have sworn he had heard an almost inaudible whimper.
The store was closed the next day, for Mr. Elliot Toepfer could not bring himself to speak with customers in his condition. Before him sat a large, ceramic vase colored in a soft red hue that would be noticed, yet didn’t stand out. The vase’s make was not troubling, for it was a wonderful vase that he would have been proud to create and sell in his store. It was made exactly as he made these type of vases, every sculpted curve perfect, the paint applied expertly. Had he been anyone else, any other potter who was not intimately familiar with their own work, he would have never noticed this sitting amongst the others of its kind.
And yet he did, and it had scared him badly enough to keep his beloved store closed.
“Why?” He asked, biting his right thumb. It was an old stress habit he thought he had chased away, but clearly had not. “Why is someone doing this?”
Perhaps the better question, he thought, how is someone doing this?
“If you’re watching me through some hidden camera or something, then congratulations, you’ve gotten what you wanted! You win!”
There was no response to his desperate shout but the empty stares of hundreds of pots, jars, and vases.
He ground his teeth, another bad habit he thought lost, before he looked down at the vase and picked it up, the solid weight of the object no obstacle to a man who spent his life creating such things. He stared it full on, then turned about, shouting louder than before.
“Does this amuse you? To watch a man become afraid of that which he loves? Does it please you? Because I am tired of being used!” He raised the vase over his head, face going red. “Well this is what I think of your games!”
Mr. Toepfer threw the vase to the floor, shattering it into a shower of clay shards which flew across the floor, under shelves, and into other vases, their flight a blast that mimicked explosive rage and fear at his situation. When the shards stop spinning, he was left panting, his anger flowing through him still, yet as he looked down at the spot where his violence had occurred, he saw something his mind was not able to comprehend.
Where once was the remains of a pot, now sat a young girl, her eyes filled with tears. She seemed to be perhaps twelve at the most with a brown skin and a delicate body on the verge of womanhood, with an innocent face framed by short, green hair that looked up at him, tears beginning to stream down from her unnaturally red eyes.
“U…uh… wuh…whaaaaaaa!” The girl cried, waterfalls of tears now flowing from her eyes.
Mr. Toepfer was stupefied at what he was seeing. He could not comprehend where this girl had come from, for one moment there was a vase, the next this girl. In fact, as he looked about, he could still see the shards of the vase lying about in a perfect circle around her, including shards of an even smaller vase, perhaps a jar, around her waist. Certainly she couldn’t have been IN the vase, could she?
“L..little girl.” He tried to say, still a little dumbstruck. “Please stop crying.”
The girl flinched at his voice, pulling back from him and crying even harder, forcing Mr. Toepfer to step back himself and try to clear his head.
So, a mysterious girl was here after he broke a vase, sitting in the front of his store, crying. It only occurred to him that on top of all of this, she was also stark naked. There was nothing to be seen or admired about her body, but this scared him more than anything else because if anyone saw this situation he knew it would be taken in the worst possible way.
He ran through an unfortunate situation in his mind before he quickly scrambled to try and say anything to get out of this.
“Listen, little girl, I don’t know who you are, but you can’t be here like this, you need to put some clothes on and go home and… uh…uh…”
The girl sniffed, looking up at him before quickly looking down. She spoke in a choked voice, “B…but y…you broke my c…clothes and home!”
“What? No, I broke a vase and…” He paused then, taking in a deep breath as a crazy thought struck him. “You can’t have… been living in the vase?”
She shook her head vigorously, her pointed ears, which he had only just now noticed, bobbing as they stuck out from her hair.
“That isn’t… how?” He shook his head, focusing himself on the problem at hand rather than such impossible thoughts. “Look, I need you to come with me.”
“W…wha? I… I don’t want to!” Fresh tears burst from her as she pulls away, trying to hide her face from him.
Mr. Toepfer groaned. She obviously was too much of a shy wreck to actually do anything on her own, so he was forced to take matters into his own hands. He bent down and, before she could understand what was happening, picked her up in his arms and quickly dashed off with her to the workroom.
Wow, I really do look like some kind of pervert, he thought to himself as he carried her back. She didn’t struggle against him, instead opting to curl into a ball and continue to cry. As soon as he reached the work room, he set her down on his bench and sighed, rubbing at his forehead.
She still tried to pull away from him, but at least she wasn’t out in the open anymore and he could take a breather to think. He looked about the room and located a towel, which was pretty much clean beyond some dried clay, and he took it up before offering it to her.
“Here, you must be cold.”
She looked up at him, and then at the towel before sniffing and gently reaching out, one hand still held to her body. As soon as her fingers were on the towel, she quickly pulled it back and draped herself in it, the large towel wrapping easily around her slim form.
“There, do you feel a little better? I’m not going to hurt you.”
She shudders before wiping at her eyes. “B…but you broke my pot and….”
He sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry about that, I didn’t know… I couldn’t have known you were in there, because people don’t live in pots.”
She sniffs, “But I’m not a person.”
Mr. Toepfer furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”
“I’m… I’m a Jinn. I’m not a human.”
He had to stop and consider this for a moment. Certainly, now that he appreciated her, she did not actually look human, did she? If the ears weren’t a giveaway, the eyes and hair color certainly would be, not to mention suddenly appearing from a vase. But to believe in something like… what, monsters? Spirits? That would be crazy.
She huddled into the towel before speaking again. “I’m sorry.”
“For… for making you angry.”
Mr. Toepfer cocked his head, confused. “How did you make me angry?”
“I’ve been mimicking the pots in here, it’s what we Jinn of the Jars do. Every day you’d move me away though, so I had to sneak back in somewhere else.”
“You… you were the one doing that?”
“Yes, but I didn’t mean to make you angry!” She sniffled, looking down, “I thought it was a good place to hide where a man would look into the jar and I could… uhm… make him my husband.” Her cheeks redden visibly after saying that.
“Well, if that’s the case, why didn’t you uh…” He rubed at the back of his head, feeling uncomfortable. “Try to make me your… husband?”
“You never looked inside! Besides, you’re married already, I can tell.”
He smirked, holding up his simple wedding ring. “Because of this?”
“No, you just… you just have the energy of a married man.”
He frowned at that but didn’t press her for more, because he didn’t doubt she was somehow magical at this point. Instead, he kneeled down to get to eye level with her, to which she flinched away at first before slowly turning to face him.
“I apologize for breaking that vase then. Can we make amends? My name is Elliot, what is yours?”
She shuffled for a moment before muttering, “Aliah.”
He smiled, “That’s a pretty name, Aliah.”
“Thank you.” She said, and the hint of a smile crossed her face before she buried it once more in the towel.
Mr. Toepfer rubbed at his chin before looking back out at the store. “You know Aliah, you have a good eye for pottery. Took a few days, but you almost fooled me into thinking I had made that vase.”
She makes a soft little squealing sound before looking up at him with curious eyes, “Really?”
“Yes, really. You know, I’d almost have sold you to someone.”
“B…but the pots in your store are so good!”
“Then it’s all the more compliment to you.”
A smile appears in her eyes before she seems to realize something and then look down again before whispering, “But I don’t have a home jar anymore.”
“Home jar?” Asked Mr. Toepfer, confused.
“Yes, even though I can mimic jars, I have one that I live in all the time. Without it, I can’t do anything.”
He looked down, frowning. He didn’t know that he had done something like that, and he felt guilty for taking away something so obviously precious to the girl. As he looked up, he noticed his pottery wheel in the corner and an idea came to his mind.
“Hrm….” He muttered and Aliah looked up at him, confused.
“Aliah…” He said, pointing at his wheel, “Would you like me to make you a new home jar?”
Her eyes grew wide at this suggestion and she looked the wheel over before looking back at him. She seemed like she was about to say something when she bit her lip and looked down, a sadness in her eyes.
“I can’t ask you do that for me, not after the trouble I caused you.”
Perhaps it was his paternal instincts that made him reach out and lift her chin, but he did so and looked into her eyes as he said, “Aliah, I am a potter, like my ancestors before me. When it comes to creating pottery, especially for one who will care for and enjoy what I have created, well, how can I refuse?”
Her eyes grew wide again as her face took on an expression of pure exclamation. Tears formed once more at the corner of her eyes as she whispered, “Y..you mean it?”
He smiled and patted her head, “Of course.”
Mr. Toepfer’s hands worked with practiced ease as he shaped the clay upon the wheel, turning it with a foot pedal whose speed he changed motions of a master.
Aliah watched, awestruck as he worked, her shyness completely vanishing as the clay took form, going from a ball to a hollow shape which he spun and twisted, growing larger and larger as he worked, the final product slowly coming into being.
He spoke with her throughout the process, asking her how she’d like it to feel, what look it should take, what detail. In between this, he asked about her life, and despite her early apprehensions, she soon spoke with a jovial voice, punctuated by giggles. At one point, he even sat her on the stool and helped her use her own hands to shape part of her new home jar.
When it was finished, he took the jar to the kiln and placed it in to harden. While it did so, he shared with her his lunch, chicken salad sandwiches he had brought from home, and the two had an enjoyable time, speaking with ease, both of them laughing and smiling the whole time.
When the jar was hardened and cooled, it was already afternoon and far too late to bother opening up the shop. Instead, he brought out his paints and together they painted the jar a shade of pink, at her suggestion, with intricate patterns of perfect as well as misshapen hearts.
“Awww, mine look nothing like yours.” Aliah said, huffing as she finished painting a lop-sided heart.
“It might not look like mine, but I think it’s beautiful. And you know what? It’s yours.”
She blushed and looked down, a silly grin plastered on her face. “I bet this is what having a dad is like.”
“You don’t have a father?” Mr. Toepfer asked, a look of concern on his face.
“I did, but I never met him. I imagine he’d be someone like you though.”
He paused, a heart halfway painted before he lowered the brush to look over at her. His own children were grown and gone, neither of the two wishing to have anything to do with his family legacy. When he looked upon her face and the joy working together had brought both of them, it felt only natural when he said, “Well Aliah, if you’d like, you can think of me as your father.”
She blinked a few times before studying his face for a long while, searching his eyes. Then, a smile cracked her face, and she turns back to the jar, finishing his heart with a brushstroke of her own, making it half smooth lines and half squiggled curve, yet forming a full heart.
“I would love to!”
From that day on, it was said that the owner of the Toepfer Pottery Emporium always seemed to keep an odd jar next to the front desk. It was never for sale, and when a young man tried to look into it, the owner would divert their attention somehow, keeping them from doing so, and afterward some people could swear they heard him speaking to the jar in a hushed whisper. The stories of the odd jar drew people into the business and repeat customers said that he seemed happier than he had in years since the jar appeared. Some people talked about it being somehow magical, or perhaps that good old Mr. Toepfer he had finally lost it, but in the end the smile on his face and the quality of his work kept them from saying anything serious.
Eventually the jar vanished, but the smile did not, and when questioned about the missing jar he would merely shake his head and say wistfully,
“She was happy here, but now she’s with the one whom she truly belongs, and I couldn’t be more proud.”