THE GENIE PUFFS himself out in a grand display of wish-fulfilment. He’s not one I’ve seen before, but he looks just as smug as all the rest. He takes off his sunglasses and brushes a hand through his smoky grey hair.
‘Where to?’ His voice is a gum-laden southern drawl. ‘Your destination is my command.’
The Secret can hardly contain his amusement. ‘They’re heading to Darkwood,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t bother arranging a return trip for them.’
The genie lights a cigar with a click of his fingers. Smoke puffs in rings out of his ears. ‘You guys got insurance?’
‘They’ve had a glamour put on them,’ says the Secret. I feel the godmother’s magic flaking off my head like bright green dandruff. ‘That should get them far enough.’
‘Sweet.’ The genie makes another click. A carpet materialises from nowhere and rolls itself out at our feet. ‘Hop aboard then.’
I’m last to get on. The thing’s so threadbare you could use it to strain prunes. Jack sits down cross-legged at the front, Goldie behind him. She’s shaking a bit.
‘First time flying?’ I say, sitting beside her.
She nods, her golden curls bouncing like a shampoo advert. ‘Is it safe?’
‘As houses,’ I say, then give her a wink. ‘Apart from ones owned by three bears, of course.’
She rolls her eyes, like she’s heard every “bear in the woods” joke ever. It’s hard to imagine her with Baby all those years ago. I don’t believe his version of events though. From what I’ve heard, the only thing likely to have been mounted that night was his head above her fireplace.
‘Fasten your seatbelts.’ The genie stands at the front of the carpet and makes a high-pitched buzzing sound, like a kid pretending to be an airplane. Our magical transport lurches a couple of feet off the ground, sagging in the middle. One of Jack’s legs pokes through the material but he’s too dazed to notice.
The carpet continues to rise. The Land shrinks, turning into a toy town version of itself. SB’s castle at the centre like a pastel pink wedding cake designed for a psychotic bride with a fetish for big thrusting turrets. We’re up in the clouds now. There’s a sign floating on one, a big arrow twinkling with fairy lights.
‘Second star on the right then straight on til morning,’ reads the genie, then promptly veers us off in the opposite direction. ‘Shame we’re not going that way though.’
It’s like being inside a jogging giant’s jockstrap. We’re tossed about, slamming into each other as the genie tries to keep us level through the stormclouds. Lightning splits the darkness, the clouds swirl and transform into monstrous faces, cackling at us as we’re blown and buffeted about. I sit tight, glad for once I’m made of wood.
Jack’s not so lucky though. The big shiny safety pin holding the bandage on his noggin works like a lightning conductor. His eyes bulge like pickled onions, his face contorted in agony. His whole body jerks like he’s been pulled on strings. That almost makes me feel sorry for him.
There’s a silver lining though. Goldie’s so frightened she slides close to me, our legs touching. I’m glad I shaved mine this morning. Splinters can kinda spoil the mood.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say, trying to sound like I mean it myself. ‘It’ll be over soon.’
‘That’s what I’m worried about,’ she says, pointing ahead of us with a trembling finger.
At the three hundred foot high ogre standing waiting for us with a baseball bat.