When the malediction really began, no human could really say. But for its most recent victim, it began one cold morning at the bank of a river.

Manuel Alejandro Gedo was a 20 year-old boxer from Marikina City, Philippines who just got his professional boxing license. Even so, he knew he couldn’t slack off. His coach was already looking for an opponent for him in his first professional fight, and he had better keep himself in shape. That was why he was doing roadwork along the bank of the Marikina river that morning.

He was going to do only a ten kilometer run that morning before breakfast. He brought only his facemask and his covid vaxcard. He didn’t bring his wallet since he didn’t want to risk losing his boxing license and didn’t want to be tempted spending what little money he had. He didn’t expect to take anything back home, either, until he saw the thing by the riverbank.

It was a ruby; bright red in spite of being in the mud and about the size of an eyeball. As soon as he saw it, he stopped, picked it up, and examined it.

Can’t tell if this is real or fake, but either way, I can’t just leave it here, he thought to himself. He then warily looked around, and quickly pocketed the ruby. Finders keepers.

That was how Manuel brought the ruby to his home at the informal settlers’ area, and how he brought the malediction on himself.

After eating breakfast and taking a shower, Manuel went to his other job: a delivery motorcycle driver for an online shopping app. He had been doing this job part-time ever since the start of the lockdown two years ago. He didn’t enjoy it as much as boxing, but it did pay the bills, and it did allow him to visit subdivisions and high-end residences. Those were the only things he enjoyed about the job, until he made his first delivery that morning.

It was to a customer named Madeline Nicole Regal. At first he thought he was being pranked; the name belonged to a very rich, famous, and beautiful actress / model / singer / dancer / tv host that he had often fantasized about. But when got to the customer’s address – a unit in a condominium facing a shopping mall – he began to believe it. He was even more convinced that it wasn’t a prank when messaged her via the app to tell her that he was near with her delivery and she replied that she would be waiting. When he finally knocked on the door and she opened it, he was stunned.

She looked exactly like she did in the movies and shows she starred in: beautiful and glowing, with fair skin, dark, voluptuous hair in a ponytail reaching to her elbows, pouting red lips, and deep, ebony eyes. There was, however, one thing he didn’t expect that became immediately evident as soon as she spoke.

“Yes?” she asked impatiently.

“M-Madenline Nicole Regal?” he asked in stutter.

“Yes. Do you have my delivery?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, regaining his composure. “Please check first, then sign.”

She nodded, and did as he requested. Afterward, she opened the package and let him take a photo of it, to prove that it hadn’t been tampered with, then gave him the cash payment. She was about to close the door when he blurted out: “Excuse me, ma’am.”

“What is it?” she asked.

“I-uh…” he stammered, unsure of how to ask what he was planning to.

“What?” she asked, her tone annoyed.

“Can I take a selfie with you?” he asked, feeling himself blush.

She stared at him for a few seconds, then said: “Sorry, kuya, but not today. Thanks for the delivery.” She then slammed the door to his face and locked it.

Manuel put the incident with Madeline aside for the rest of the day. It was easy enough to do, considering he had a lot of deliveries to make until lunch, and he had to go to to the boxing gym once his shift was over. Once he was on his way back home from the boxing gym, however, he passed by a billboard with Madeline’s picture on it. It reminded him of the morning incident and aroused a strange combination of lust and resentment in him.

He was still ruminating on what happened when he got home and found the ruby where he’d left it in his home. The mud around it had dried up into dust, so he rubbed it off. As soon as he did, the ruby shook in his hand, and a strange, bearded man with gray skin appeared before him.

“Finally,” the stranger said with a sigh of relief. “I was wondering when I would be let out. Thank you, Manuel.”

“Who…or what are you?” Manuel demanded. “And how do you know my name?”

“I am the Djinn of the ruby, at your service.” the stranger said. “As for your second question, I read your mind as soon as you touched my ruby.”

The Djinn’s answers only raised up more questions in Manuel’s mind. “Wait. A Djinn? Don’t you mean genie, like in that cartoon movie?”

“Not quite. That’s a cleaned up version of what a Djinn is. I don’t sing and I don’t dance. I can kill, I can make anyone fall in love with anyone else, and I can bring people back from the dead. But they did get something right. I can and do grant wishes within my power.”

Manuel was intrigued. “What kind of wishes?”

“Anything you can imagine. Just hold my ruby and say what your wish is.”

“Right,” Manuel said sarcastically.

“I can tell you don’t believe me. I understand. But I can make it happen. Just think of something that you want to happen that doesn’t usually happen, and I’ll make it happen.”

At that moment, Manuel recalled the incident that morning, and an idea popped in his mind. Without doing any more thinking, he grabbed the ruby and said: “All right. I wish that Madeline Nicole Regal is desperately in love with me.”

“Done. Summon me again when you want to make your second wish.” In the blink of an eye, the Djinn was gone, and as soon as he was gone, the smartphone that Manuel used in his delivery job began to ring. When he checked it, he saw that it was a message from Madeline Regal; she was messaging him via the number he used to contact her earlier when he made his delivery.

Can you please come over?

He had no idea how to respond, so he just messaged back with a question: Why?

I have something very important to tell you.

He didn’t know for sure yet if the wish had come true or not, but her messages were enough to make him get back on his motorcycle and ride back to her address. He did bring with him the ruby, just in case.

When he got to the condominium where Madeline’s unit was located, she was waiting for him at the lobby. It was a good thing; the security guards would have been very suspicious to find him there the same day without a delivery. Once she cleared it up with the guards, she took his hand and led him back to her unit.

The two didn’t say anything while they took the elevator to the floor of her unit; neither did the other three people who were in the elevator with them. But Manuel could practically hear what the others were thinking based on the looks on their faces. Who is that man? Why is she holding his hand? Why is she with him? It embarrassed him in a way he didn’t think possible.

Once they were alone in the hallway outside her unit, he finally spoke. “Ma’am, you said you had something very important to tell me?” he asked, the uncertainty and embarrassment still in his voice.

“I’ll tell you inside,” she said as they reached her unit. She took out her keys and unlocked the door.

“But ma’am…I really want to know why I’m here.”

She stopped and faced him. “I wanted to apologize for my behavior earlier. And I wanted to say…” She looked at him straight in the eye and said: “I love you.”

“But…you don’t even know me! Why would you love me?”

“I don’t know why,” she admitted. “I just suddenly felt that way this morning. I have to act on it.”


“Just be quiet and come here,” she said, practically dragging him inside. Once they were both in, she closed and locked the door behind her. This time, he didn’t object…

It was one heavenly night of passion followed by several tumultuous weeks of controversy. It was bad enough having to endure the gazes and the gossip of Madeline’s neighbors when he visited her for their trysts, it got even worse when the media got wind that they were a couple. They found out because she became so obsessed with him that she wouldn’t go to any of her projects anymore; reporters just had to do a little snooping and they got the dirt. When they publicized it, it became a storm.

On Manuel’s side, his coach and friends at the boxing gym kicked him out because he had been neglecting his training just so he could spend time with her. His neighbors, far from casting him out, kept pestering him about what kind of magic he used to get someone like her to like him. His silence only urged them to make up rumors that were closer to truth than any of them ever imagined. He wisely decided to keep the ruby’s existence from anyone.

Meanwhile, on Madeline’s side, her family practically disowned her for being with someone of his low stature. It was exactly the sentiment of her neighbors, her family was just more vocal about it. He felt so belittled and guilty at the same time because there was a lot of truth to what they said; the only reason he loved her was because of his wish.

And as far as the people who kept up-to-date with celebrity gossip were concerned, the their relationship was fake: a publicity stunt perpetrated by one or both of them, or someone working behind the scenes. It was something that did not happen in real life, only in those silly telenovelas that Madeline used to star in. When other celebrities started making speculations on their personal vlogs that the couple’s relationship was simply Madeline’s research for a new role in a new telenovela project, Manuel finally had enough.

One night, while Madeline was sleeping, Manuel went to the bathroom for some privacy and took out the ruby he had kept all this time. He rubbed it and out came the Djinn.

“Good evening, Manuel. I take it you’re not too happy with your first wish?”

“No, I’m not,” he admitted.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nobody takes us seriously. We’re either just an inconvenience, an aberration, or a joke to everyone.”

“But you’re in love with each other. Isn’t that enough?”

It’s not love, she’s only with me because I wished her to be. And I loved her when she was more artistic and creative. The way she is now…I can’t love her.

Manuel couldn’t make himself say out loud what he just thought…not that he needed to. Instead, he gave a more short, direct, and incomplete answer.

“No, it’s not,” he said with a sigh.

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

This time, Manuel was ready…or thought that he was. Holding the ruby tight, he said: “I wish the lottery ticket I buy tomorrow will be the only winning lottery ticket.”

“Done. Summon me again when you want to make your third and final wish.” In the blink of an eye, the Djinn was gone. Satisfied yet tired, Manuel returned to the bedroom to rejoin Madeline in bed.

Manuel’s wish did come true, and he got more than he wished for. True, the jackpot prize he won all by himself amounted to 900 million pesos. It was more money than he could have ever earned with just boxing pro fighters and delivering stuff for several lifetimes. He bought a mansion for himself and Madeline, two cars, fancy clothes, and hired live-in helpers. But the problems far outweighed the money, as he came to learn over the next few months.

First, the money didn’t stop the gossip he and Madeline were already enduring before he made the second wish. If anything, the money made the gossip even worse. There were remarks made that he was just lucky, and indeed, anyone who didn’t know about the Djinn or the ruby would think that his wealth just came from luck.

Second, the money attracted to him an unprecedented number of people who felt entitled to a hand-out from him. All of a sudden, there were people he had never met before visiting him and claiming to be a distant relative who “needed” some money from him to pay for an operation, or a tuition payment, or something. They would praise him, say that they always knew he would be somebody, and then ask for money. Then there were representatives from charitable institutions who were working for some marginalized group asking for a donation from him for their cause. If it wasn’t for some indigenous people, it was for some orphans, or some people left homeless by a disaster, or one of a dozen other groups with a sad story. Then there were the fund managers who promised to give him a high return if he invested his money with them. He didn’t understand the technical details they said, but he knew a swindler when he saw one.

Third, the money made him a target for unscrupulous people who would resort to outright robbery and thievery to take his money. The first one was a guy who tried to mug him and Madeline while they were eating outside. Thanks to his boxing skills, Manuel was able to stop the mugger. Still, he knew the guy wouldn’t be the last, and if they kept on coming, eventually they would succeed. After the third mugger’s attempt, Manuel finally summoned the Djinn.

One night, while he and Madeline were alone in their new mansion, Manuel went to the balcony for some privacy and took out the ruby again. He rubbed it and out came the Djinn.

“Good evening, Manuel. I’m guessing you’re not happy with your second wish either?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Why not?”

“People don’t respect me,” Manuel confided to the Djinn. “They respect my money. They think of me as some kind of ATM or piggybank. And they still don’t accept me and Madeline as a couple.”

“But you have the woman of your dreams and more wealth than you could spend. Aren’t those enough?”

“No, they aren’t.” Manuel admitted. “Because I want to be respected for what I do, not what I got by luck. And I want everyone to think that I got rich because of what I do, not because of some lottery ticket. And Madeline…sometimes I need to get away from her too.”

“I can make it happen, but you have to wish it.”

Manuel paused for a few seconds, then came to a decision. “I wish that I am undefeatable in boxing.”

“Done. This is the last time I’ll see you as my master and you’ll see me as your servant. Farewell.” In the blink of an eye, the Djinn was gone. Tired, Manuel returned to bed, desperately hoping that his life will get better with his third wish.

Manuel got exactly what he wished for, and for a while, it seemed as if life finally got better. In just five years, he amassed a very impressive 11-0-0 professional record. With this, he got the respect he wanted from Madeline’s family, their neighbors, and even just regular folk who stayed up to date on celebrity and sports news. He also made a lot of money with each subsequent fight, and in five years, he no longer had to worry about the money running out.

As for the Djinn of the ruby, he never saw it again, and thought would never need it again either. Thus, after his twelfth victory he threw the ruby back into the Marikina river. He did not think of it until the last moment of his life, a moment that came shortly after his thirteenth win.

The fight and its outcome were like all the others except for one big difference. Severino Martin Firmalan, a gangster who wanted to make more money off the fight than anyone else, paid Manuel to take a dive. Not wanting to break his streak, Manuel rejected the bribe and let his wish secure him the victory. Unfortunately, Severino didn’t take the rejection well. He had his men plant a bomb in Manuel and Madeline’s mansion while they were out celebrating. Within minutes of them stepping inside, it went off, and killed them both. Manuel’s troubles, though didn’t end there.

“What happened? Where am I?” Manuel asked, waking up in a chamber made of dark-red crystal. “I thought I was in our mansion?”

“You’re in the ruby, Manuel. Or should I say…Djinn.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Simon Lameco. I am…or rather, was the Djinn of the ruby. However, the curse is finally broken for me. Unfortunately for you, it is only beginning.”

“Curse? What curse?”

“The curse of the Djinn of the ruby,” Simon answered. “Anyone who dies because of any wish they made shall be cursed to become the new Djinn of the ruby. That’s you, from now on until someone makes another wish for the Djinn to grant and dies because of it.”

Manuel became angry. “You mean…all this time you were planning to pass your curse to me?!”

“I did not tempt you. I did not deceive you. You made your wishes voluntarily and did not think of the consequences. This is on you.” Simon replied calmly.

“What about you?”

“What about me, Manuel?”

“You’re saying I brought on myself this with the wishes I made. Did you bring it on yourself too? Or didn’t the Djinn at the time manipulate you?”

“Essentially, I made the same mistake as you. My circumstances were different. I was a fisherman in Manila during the late 1800s. I got the ruby from a dying thief being pursued by the guardia civil. The thief stole it from friars who were keeping it in a monastery in the hopes of indefinitely locking away the evil inside. The friars themselves “confiscated” it from some pirates. To make a long story short, I took something I never should have taken, and made three wishes I never should have made.”

“The first was the death of a greedy merchant named Gestas Masilungan who was ripping my family off. The second was to be the wealthiest man in our barrio. And the third was to be married to the most beautiful girl in the barrio, a girl named Laura Regina Delos Santos. I thought we could live happily ever after, but then we were killed by the man who was engaged to her, a man named Tadeo Marco Barcial. As with you and your wife, after our deaths, she went to a better place while I was made a prisoner in the ruby. Until I met you, that is. And so it shall be with you and the next one to find the ruby.”

“Isn’t there any other way for this curse to be lifted?” Manuel asked desperately.

“Don’t worry. You have two chances to escape the curse. The first is for someone to wish you free. The other is for someone to die because of their wish. Don’t count on the former happening. But the latter…as long as people are lustful, greedy, and selfish, someone will always die because of their wish, and there will always be another Djinn.”

Manuel wanted to ask more questions, but Simon suddenly vanished, leaving him alone in the ruby with only the knowledge of the previous Djinns to ponder. As he reached back, he learned that there were indeed people who made wishes that never caused their death, meaning there were people who did not get the curse transferred to them. And he learned that there were other Djinn who did everything they could to get people to make wishes and thereby break their curses. Of all the those encountered by the Djinn, only one did not make even one wish. This one met a Djinn in the desert, and was offered food, invulnerability, even all the kingdoms of the Earth. Not one wish was made nor granted that day, and the Djinn remained bound to his worldly prison even today.


Photography Credit: DH

John Paul Lama is a yondan (4th degree) blackbelt in Shotokan karate in ISKF Philippines. He is currently finishing his Master’s Degree in Basic Education Teaching. He enjoys reading philosophy and watching horror movies.