Prelude (Six Word Story 899)

Cigar smoke rose from the basement.

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Lifting a Curse Part 4

Truth be told, the whipping set me back a lot worse than I thought. It always kicks in afterwards. People love to say, “You’ll feel THAT in the morning!” But it was more like a car wreck, the stiffness set in and lasted a week.

Anyhow, my instructions were clear. Go to Confession, make amends with two of my enemies, and avoid the third. As for the Confession…ah, well, if I recall right, the Priest always ends that with “Go and sin no more.” Let’s face it, that’s problematic, for any number of reasons that aren’t hard to figure out. That box remains unchecked.

As for the first two enemies? Well, this is where it gets interesting.

The first hates me because I bought something at an estate sale that should not have been for sale, and I ended up selling it for two grand. She’s been making my life hell ever since with nuisance lawsuits. The second one I must have rubbed wrong, which is really only a problem because she’s an assistant county prosecutor with some ambitions.

The first thing I did was go out on eBay and noodle around. I pulled up some old records, and was able to track down the gentleman who had bought the item in question. For the sake of the story, we’ll just call it a moss-covered three-handled family gradunza. The buyer is apparently undergoing a change in life, and is now selling off his gradunza collection. And out there for sale is the specific gradunza that has been the point of contention with the librarian, with like three days four hours and 23 minutes left on it. And apparently interest in gradunzas is falling, because it’s out there with zero bids on a starting price of $474.99, with only 2 people watching. So I was beside myself; couldn’t believe my luck. I had long since lost the two grand and then some on legal fees, but I was going to be able to get out of this for a lot less than the next visit to civil court.

I can’t tell you the mental agony, weighing the “Buy it Now” price of $699.99. I finally decided to put in a low bid and see what happened. One thing, I try to never panic. The other thing, the pain and anxiety of watching this thing was kind of an extension of the whipping the Hex’nmeisterin administered. It ended up coming to me for the minimum bid.

It arrived in good shape, and now came the question of how to deliver it. Take it to her house? No knowing whether she would be there, answer, or call the cops. And the latter might bring me into the clutches of enemy number two. Mail it to her? No, that would be too impersonal, and possibly show cowardice. Without context, what would she think?

Arrange a meeting at her lawyer’s? Not bad, but I really wanted to put her at ease, and that wasn’t going to happen at her lawyer’s. Plus no knowing if that prick was going to charge some billable hours to me. Call her and ask to meet her in public? It just seemed dodgy. So I decided to go that night to the library, and if she was working, give it to her right before the library closed. And if she wasn’t there, keep coming back until she was. That was her home turf, and everyone knew she was a librarian. It wasn’t really stalker-like.

So I found myself in the parking lot, out of sight under a tree, watching moths and bats flitting around a light. At 8:45, people were starting to leave. I gave one last look at the gradunza in its box, carefully picked it up off the car seat, and went in. She wasn’t at the checkout desk, so I circled around. No one gave me a second look. I found her in the children’s section, tiredly shelving returned books.

I looked at her for a little while, and she just looked defeated, like she was having a terrible day. And very possibly, this was her every day. A life of regrets or longing or empty dreams. Bad pay at a county job, a minor functionary in a dying institution. I couldn’t believe I had such animosity for someone who looked like life had kicked the sh1t out of them and sent them a dry-cleaning bill for the blood stains.

“Excuse me, Ms. XXXX?”

She looked up, smiling expectantly, and then frowned and stepped back when she saw me. “You!”, she spat.

I held up the box to show her, then set it on top of the low kids’ book shelf and took a step back, “This belongs to you.”

She looked back and forth between me and the box, uncomprehending.

“The box,” I said slowly, “Look in the box. It’s your gradunza.”

With a look of a woman in a dream, she stepped towards it and looked in. She started, obviously stunned, then gently lifted the gradunza out. She held it up, and slowly turned it around, inspecting it. Then she turned to me, and stammered, “Thank you!”

I smiled back, and said, “You’re welcome.” I took a deep breath, wanting to just walk away, but needing to say more. “I also want to apologize. I knew how much that meant to you, yet sold it anyway. It wasn’t the right thing to have done, and it’s put you through a lot. Now that I’ve tried to make amends, I was hoping we could just bury the hatchet. We don’t have to be friends, but at least let’s not be enemies any more.”

A tear slipped out, and she brushed it away, “Mr. Daley, I’d like nothing more than stop fighting!” She took another look at the gradunza and smiled, “This means more to me than you know. It’s…it’s…never mind. It’s just something that means a lot to me.”

She straightened up, “Now how much do I owe you?”

“Nothing! It’s yours!”

“No, no, I have to pay you back. It must have cost a fortune!”

“Not really. Prices have gone down, and I still made money on it.”

This went back and forth for a bit, and she finally insisted on paying me what I had bought it for years ago at the estate sale. There did seem to be some rough justice there, and she didn’t want charity, so I agreed. She went to get her purse, and somebody announced over the loudspeaker that the library was now closed. I made my way out front, and she came out, leaving someone else to lock up.

“Mr. Daley, can we at least go to Starbucks or something? I’d love a cup of coffee, and frankly it will be easier to write out a check on a table in a well-lighted place.”

“Sure! But you have to call me Finnegan.”

So we went around the corner to Starbucks, and had an amiable chat over venti mochas. She had left the gradunza in the car, and her gaze kept going out the window. She was distracted by the thought of her gradunza, and before long we were running out of words. We finally parted ways with a handshake, exchange of business cards, and a friendly wave. She really looked much better than she had at 8:45.

I drove home the back way, window down and the air ruffling my hair, the screeching of the katydids in the trees louder than the road noise. There was a huge weight lifted, as if the curse were breaking down around the edges, getting ready to crack and fall away.

And soon my thoughts turned to the time I had spent out on {DATING APP FOR CASUAL HOOKUPS}, setting up a profile, scoping out a certain prosecutor. As I drove, I worked through some details of my plan to fix things with her. Tonight was a great success, and I felt the promise of better things to come.

Sincerely,

Finnegan

Lifting a Curse (Part 3)

Yesterday I woke up early, thinking about the upcoming appointment with my Hex’nmeisterin. I reviewed the last few days’ events to make sure I was ready. I packed everything up in a duffle bag, filled my day with purposeless motion and a late nap, and then finally took off after dinner for the WalMart agreed upon with the Messenger.

I was strangely loathe to speed, and ended up pulling into the parking lot later than expected, though still on time. I parked way out in a row with little cars, lined up with the entry to Outdoor Living. Several rows over, under some trees, there were a number of pickup trucks and old sedans with a bunch of teenagers milling about. The smell of tobacco and the sound of carefree laughter drifted over on the wind. It took me back thirty plus years, to happier days, which was a small but welcome blessing.

This part about going to the bathroom to await the call was weird, but after the long drive, worked out pretty well. I took a leak, washed my hands, and then went into a stall to wait. Since this wasn’t travel on the low-low, I had my smart phone with me, and spent some time catching up on emails. Finally, my phone rang, and the Messenger told me to exit by the grocery area and stand there.

A brown Dodge pickup rolled up as I stepped outside, the passenger window rolled down. “Finnegan?”

I nodded, “Messenger?”

He smiled, “You can call me Isaac. Hop in. Let’s get the supplies from your car.”

Once we transferred the bag, we drove on a bit in companionable silence. “So you’re not going to blindfold me?”

Isaac laughed, “No! Why would you ask that?”

“Well, because you’re driving me to see the Hex’nmeisterin. I assumed it was some kind of secret. Like you couldn’t give me the address or something.”

“No, it’s not like that. The Hex’nmeisterin doesn’t want visitors chust dropping by. It’s invitation only. And she finds people respect her wishes if they have not been invited directly to her place.”

I nodded. That made sense in an old-fashioned way.

In less than 15 minutes we were there, the clouds up high glowing pink while twilight gathered down below. Gravel crunched under the tires as we slowly made our way up the driveway.

The Messenger smiled at me, and patted me on the shoulder. He said, “Go on inside. No need to knock. Now, have heart. Your troubles will soon be over. I’ll wait here.”

I did as he said, and walked into a simple kitchen illuminated by candles. The Hex’nmeisterin was at the table, facing the door, her lips moving as she read to herself. I stood respectfully a moment, waiting with my fedora in my hand.

She finally looked up, “You are Finnegan?”

I nodded, finding it hard to say anything, feeling for all the world like a naughty school kid sent to the principal’s office.

“Have a seat, and tell me your troubles.”

The words came out haltingly at first, but then picked up steam. The Hex’nmeisterin mostly listened, uncannily intent, but would ask follow up questions about timing, location, and dates. She was clearly paying attention, but not just to the surface, but to something below. As I mentioned different specific days, she would consult a battered leather-bound manual full of tables and charts, and make small notes in a newer leather-bound book.

After perhaps half an hour of talking, she had heard enough. She abruptly interrupted, and asked to see the items I had gathered for the breaking of the curse. She inspected each Mason jar carefully and grunted, “I like that you put everything in a jar. It shows the proper respect for the power. And it seems somehow more fitting.”

I blushed at the compliment and mumbled my thanks.

“Now for the mementoes.”

Those were in an age-mellowed wooden cigar box. She opened the lid and carefully inspected the contents without touching them. She smiled and nodded in satisfaction, and pushed the box back over to me.

“Follow me,” she said as she stood up, turned away, grabbed a lantern, and walked out the back door. I quickly grabbed everything and put it all back in the duffle bag, striding double-time to catch up with the Hex’nmeisterin. The sun was completely down now, although the glow of the moon was starting to show against the clouds and in snatches between the trees. Cicadas and katydids were buzzing and chirping, the occasional sound of a bullfrog breaking through the cacophany. We headed out to an old barn. As she opened the door, a wave of heat hit me, along with the smell of smoke. We went to a wooden picnic table nearby, and I set down the duffle bag.

“Pick up some stones, and put them in a pile right here,” pointing to a spot on the table. Bemused, I complied.

“Now pick up another handful, and put them here, however many feel right,” pointing to another spot. I complied. “Now another one, here,” and this went on for some time, until there were sixteen groups of stones.

“Your knife has tasted blood?”

I thought about it a bit, “It was my Dad’s. I’m not sure.”

“The you need to cut yourself. Not a lot, just a little slice.”

I shook my head, not sure whether to be impressed or annoyed, and knicked my left arm against the bone. In a few seconds, blood welled up.

“Now use the tip of the knife to pull stones away from this first group in twos.”

“Pardon?”

“So take the knife, and push two stones from the group. Like this,” taking my hand and sweeping away two stones, “Now you do that until there is either one, or two, stones left.”

“Am I supposed to be counting the stones?”

“No,” she said, smiling, “Chust push ’em away by two until there is either one, or two, left.”

In a moment, I was done, and said, “Two left.”

She took a note, and said, “Now the next pile,” and this went on until all sixteen piles were down to either one, or two stones.

She drew up a chart that looked like dominoes of some sort, and then went on to draw some rows below those, and fill out a complicated chart that was a diamond inscribed inside of a square, with a bunch of lines breaking it up into twelve parts; eight of which were triangles and four of which were diamonds. She filled each one with the domino symbols, which were basically four lines with either one or two dots. She would periodically sigh, or laugh, or shake her head, or cluck her tongue. It was a very impressive series of calculations, but I had no idea where the dots and triangles and diamonds were coming from.

Finally, she said, “This confirms what I thought when you showed me what you brought.”

I waited in expectant silence.

“The objects you brought from the lady adversaries were ephemeral, and passing. A hair and dead flowers. Yet the object you brought from the male adversary was metal. And even though it was old and rusty, it was still strong and did what it had been set to do thirty years ago.”

“So he’s the culprit?!?”

“Indeed he is,” she replied, nodding her head gravely, “And a powerful curse it is that he has placed upon you.”

“What do we do to break it?”

“Let’s go into the barn, and I’ll show you.” The Hex’nmeisterin grabbed her lantern, and we went in. The heat had died down a bit, but it was still stuffy, and soon sweat started on my brown and under my clothes. I looked around, and there were curtains hanging up from the rafters to the right and the left. The heat seemed to be coming from the left. The Hex’nmeisterin walked over to the right, and pulled the sheet to the side, revealing a small altar with a simple cross above it. She did the same to the left, and I jumped in surprise as she revealed a small cast iron Franklin stove that was wrought in the shape of a monstrous Baphomet. Red light glowed from the eyes and thin lines of smoke streamed from the nostrils as well as up the chimney pipe.

She led me to the simple altar, although I couldn’t help but keep looking back at the Baphomet. That motherfuc7er looked ready to attack. She had me open the Gideon’s Bible up to Psalm 109, and then copy it out line by line onto a piece of vellum. When I was done, she said, “Kneel before the altar and read the Psalm, like you mean it.” And I did so, with all my heart poured into it, asking the Good Lord to take away this persecution and turn it upon its author.

“Now we go to Baphomet,” she said, and picked up the vellum that I had so carefully written. She rolled it up, opened up the door to the Baphomet stove, and threw the paper in, intoning, “Oh mighty Baphomet, nothing pleases you more than mischief. Wreak mischief upon Finnegan’s tormentor in the same measure as he is trying to wreak it upon Finnegan!”

She led me back to the altar, and pulled my shotglass out of the cigar box. A bottle of homemade hooch appeared out of nowhere, and she filled the shotglass, “Drink to your health, and to freedom from torment.”

I raised the glass, and complied, “To my health, and to freedom from torment!” It was some kind of homemade distilled liquor, strong with a hint of fruit, and it burned on the way down.

She filled the glass again, and said, “Pour a libation on the floor before Baphomet, to the malady and torment of your enemy.” And I did as I was told.

The Hex’nmeisterin pointed at the rosary and asked, “So you’re Catholic?”

“I am.”

“Do you go to Church?”

“For weddings and funerals. Baptisms. Sometimes at Christmas, or Easter. And now and again when the mood strikes me,” I said, a bit embarrassed, “Oh, and also, if I’m in the slammer, I’ll go to the chapel there on Sunday. Doesn’t matter if it’s Catholic or not.”

The Hex’nmeisterin smiled, “So, you are not completely blameless in the matter of this curse, or in the matter of your enmities. You are motivated by greed, lust, anger, gluttony in liquor. And you’re slothful. If I catalogued the seven deadly sins, you’d have eight or nine of them.”

I hung my head in shame, unable to argue, and she continued, “So I suggest you go find a priest and offer your confession. Especially confess the sins that have generated this enmity with these three. Oh, and don’t forget apostasy, since you don’t go to Church regularly. Now take off your shirt.”

“Beg your pardon?!?” I asked, sure I had misheard.

“Your shirt,” she said with slow and careful enunciation, “Take it off.”
.
I unbuttoned it, and following her gesture, hung it up on a peg.

“Your priest can free your soul of the weight of your sins, performing a spiritual service. But you also need temporal relief from your sins. And it would be just like a priest to let you wallow in the misery you have caused. I intend to expunge the guilt and punishment you have earned here on earth.”

She reached into the cigar box and pulled out my belt. It was black leather, supple and faded after all these years, and it made a sharp cracking sound as she doubled it up and pulled the ends, “I see you are covered in scars on your body. I trust you can hold still as I administer thirteen lashes?”

“I can, if it will end this torment!”

“Then kneel before Baphomet, and put your hands behind your head. It will probably be easier if you link your fingers together.”

She administered the lashes, shouting my crimes at me between blows, “And THIS ONE is for your greed!”, “And THAT ONE is for tearing apart your family!” “That’s for abandoning your children!” On and on it went, the truth of her indictments hurting worse than the cuts and welts that were forming on my back. As a matter of pride, I never cried out, never flinched, never tried to protect my back. Just let her rain the blows upon me.

When she was done, my back was wet from a mixture of sweat and blood. As I put on my shirt, I knew it was ruined. That made me sad, because it was a cowboy shirt embroidered with a steer skull that my sister Mary had bought for me when we were on a trip out to Wyoming a few years back.

I winced a little at the pain, and joked, “So what now? Do I go and sin no more?”

She shook her head, and said, “Maybe your priest will tell you that. But I tell you to go and be no more the fool. You have made enemies unnecessarily, accumulating ill will throughout the decades, across several continents. And now that you’ve settled down in one place, you’ve nowhere else to go unless you run from your troubles again. But something tells me you can’t do that no more?”

“True,” I agreed, “I have fourteen children that I’ve been a horrible father to. I’m trying to make it up to them, by being here for them until they are grown.”

“Then think long and hard on how you live, and how you have made enemies. As for the man, I would recommend avoiding him, and leaving him to the power of the Psalm and the malice of Baphomet. As for the women, you would do well to try to make things right again with them. Barring that, at least turn away their hate. Both have it in their power to harm you.”

We went back to her kitchen, and I gladly gave the Hex’nmeisterin gold and silver ingots in payment for her work breaking the curse and setting me back on the right path. That woman had a spiritual gift, and it was something else to watch her confidently use the objects I had brought to bring me to see the truth. She was almost like a jazz musician, just riffing along with whatever the spirit world brought her.

It wasn’t even ten o’clock when Isaac collected me and drove me back to the WalMart parking lot. I considered going in for some Red Bull and beef jerky, but figured the bloody shirt would attract attention. There was a McDonald’s in the parking lot, so I went to the drive-through instead. Got two double cheeseburgers, pickles only, an unsweet ice tea, and then on the spur of the moment, an Oreo McFlurry. Figured I deserved it after all the pain of being cured of the curse.

And home I drove, the full moon now fairly high in the sky, guiding me home to scotch straight up, a hot shower, a warm bed, and facing a tomorrow with my curse broken and a better life before me.

*****************************************************

Sincerely,

Finnegan