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A Fresh Start

Jay Pallas

A woman in front of a mirror, with a pink man in front of her.

     Ki’s Curses and Malignant Maladies: Thirty-Day Notice to Vacate the Property

 

     The crumpled-up eviction notice smashed into the edge of the wastepaper basket, almost knocking it over. Ki saw red, balling her hands into her acrylic nails digging into the soft flesh of her palms. She lit a third incense and breathed in deeply. Layers of frankincense, rosemary, Palo Santo, and traces of other aromas worked their way into her system. She looked out the window, the streetlight made the rain shimmer and the tarmac gleam.

     Curses did not discriminate. Quick, just, fair. Transparency in transaction above all else. Ki had relished these truths throughout her curse-giving training, falling for the misplaced belief that they actually applied to her.

 

     Things had derailed quickly. Right from the start she’d been pigeonholed into an inconsequential sector: Jilted young women seeking vengeance on ex-lovers, her work only cheapened as her clientele continued to bottleneck. Meanwhile her male peers whispered into the ears of political leaders seeking swift rises and business moguls out for glory. They got to see empires rise and fall, but Ki had been laughed out of enough board rooms to know she just ‘wasn’t what they were looking for’. Now her business was located next door to a newsagent and a local chippy – or rather, it soon wouldn’t be.

 

     She stared down at her reflection in the glass countertop. It was almost opaque in the dim candlelight, giving her a clear view of the many bangles adorning her wrists, her black lips, and choppy hair. Underneath her sweeping eyeliner her eyes were tired and dull, and her piercings on her ears and face no longer shined like they used to. Curses might not discriminate. They didn’t have to. Because there were plenty of others who already did.

 

     The bell chimed when a customer entered the store. A draught rushed through, disturbing the incense.

 

     “Good god. How are you supposed to breathe in here,” he muttered.

 

     Through the heady fog, Ki raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t the kind of customer she was used to receiving. He looked as if he’d come straight from work. His grey suit was speckled with rain and his face was flushed from the cold.

 

     He hadn’t noticed her yet, his attention taken by the shelves of tomes and bottles. He navigated the narrow spaces, edging his way to the talismans and charms that were dashed across the centre table. He stopped at a box of wooden rings and grabbed one with a grumble. “This doesn’t look so special.”

 

     “Read the sign.”

 

     He jumped, finally noticing her sitting behind the counter.

 

     “What?”

 

     “Sign.” She pointed her long acrylic nail at the sticky note just above his head.

HANDLE AT YOUR OWN RISK. “Feel free to ignore my advice. But as the shop keeper, I am obliged to tell you. You don’t want to play with that.”

 

     He went on twisting the ring between his fingers as if he hadn’t heard her.

 

     “It’s made from oak instilled with the magic of the Dryads. If you hold onto it for too long, you’ll turn into wood.”

 

     He dropped the ring with a clatter.

 

     “If you are interested in objects that can change a wearer’s physical appearance, I also have the gorgon’s eye talisman, which will turn anyone who looks upon it to stone, or the shepherd’s cloak, which will transform the wearer into a goat.”

 

     The man’s nostrils flared in disgust. “No. I’m looking for a spell.”

 

     “What are you after and who are you cursing?”

 

     “Well, me.”

 

     Ki’s brow furrowed. “You want to curse yourself?”

 

     He made a disgruntled noise. “I know it sounds odd. But I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t desperate.”

 

     Ki bit back her reply and swallowed. With her impending homelessness hanging over her head, she couldn’t afford to be picky about customers.

 

     “Okay. Why don’t you just tell me what kind of curse you’re after.”

 

     “I want something to make me forget.”

 

     “Forget what? A moment, a person, a phone number? Different curses are needed for different circumstances.”

 

     “Blast—Everything! The last twelve years of my life. My work, my marriage, the kids, all of it.” The man went purple in the face.

 

     “You’re looking to disappear?”

 

     “If that’s what you’d like to call it, then yes. I need to disappear completely. I’ve made a few mistakes in my life. I’ll admit that.”

 

     “What kind of mistakes?”

 

     His eyes narrowed. “Are you supposed to ask this many questions?”

 

     “I’m just trying to work out how to approach this. I’ll need a bit more information to create the right curse for you.”

 

     The man sat down on the step ladder in the corner, shelves of spells towering over him. He removed his wedding ring, soothing the worn metal with his thumb. “Things just haven’t gone as planned. I’ve hurt people, and now I don’t know how to fix it. I’d really like to just begin again. You know, a do-over. A fresh start. Don’t we all deserve one of those? It’d be great if I could get a new name too, and a new job. Maybe even a new town. I don’t care if they’re not fancy. I’ll pay you good money for it all. Can you manage that?”

 

     Ki wet her lips and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

 

     The man stood up. His hopeful look morphed before her eyes. “What do you mean you can’t help me? You’re supposed to sell curses, right? Well, I’m asking for a curse. Sell me a curse dammit!”

 

     “You don’t understand what you’re asking fo—"

 

     “Maybe if you spent less time on your makeup and more time on your job, you’d be better at this.”

 

     She bit her lip.

 

     “Prettier too. I don’t understand why women want to wear so much makeup these days.”

 

     She hung her head, her career fragmented across the countertop in the candlelight. The store, the trinkets, the overflowing wastepaper basket. The opportunities snatched away from her, the degrading pats on the head. The incremental pushes and pulls that steered her limping course here.

 

     A culmination of turbulent emotions tore through her. A thousand vengeful curses ready to inflict upon the world. She was fed up with vengeance. She couldn’t get enough of it. She was boiling in scorn and bubbling with contempt, sitting behind a counter in a dead-end corner of town, watching the rain fall on the piss and vomit covered streets outside her window. Her practice was drowning in it all.

 

     She came up for air. “I have just the thing for you. Give me your ring.”

 

     Her sharp acrylics clipped against his fingers as he placed his ring in her open palm. He gasped and drew back, seeing the small incision she made on his index finger.

 

     “What do you think you’re doing?”

 

     “Do you want this to work or not?”

 

     She pricked her own finger and gathered their blood together. She dragged the edge of her nail over the ring, ensuring the silver band was well coated, then uttered the spell under her breath. Slowly, the blood sunk into the silver, the two elements combining to become one. “Here, put it back on.”

 

     He grunted. “That didn’t look like much.”

 

     “Sometimes the most potent curses are also the most unassuming. Trust me, it’ll work.”

     He slipped the ring back on his finger. “Nothing’s happening.”

 

     “Give it a minute.”

 

     “I still remember everything. I should have known this was a dud. Just another cheap vendor selling hopes and dreams. You better not be charging for this—" His eyes became unfocused. Beads of sweat formed on his temples. His breath left his body as he fell to his knees, clutching his hand. The ring squeezed his finger until it turned blue. A deep purple sunk into his veins, shooting up his arm in pulses. His body jolted on the ground and contorted. He clutched his head as pulse after pulse swept through his system and enveloped his skull.

 

     Slowly, she rose to her feet and saw the man slumped upon the counter.

 

     “What have you done to me?” He moaned between gasps.

 

     “What you asked for.”

 

     “No. This isn’t…”

 

     “I cursed you. But what you asked for, that’s not what I do here. There are no curses that help you disappear. Curses don’t really help anyone. If they did, well, we wouldn’t exactly call them curses anymore.”

 

     He wheezed, his smaller body taking longer to recover. Ki barely managed to get out of the way before he threw himself over the counter and wretched on the floor.

 

     "‘A fresh start,’ you said. A pretty way of putting it. Nice and palatable. But it’s all the same. A quick out. A way to escape, to avoid life when it comes hurtling at you. That’s what you wanted. That’s what I gave you.” She grabbed some zip ties from behind the counter. She mostly used them as tags and for securing items so they wouldn’t get stolen, but they would work just as well for this. Locking the man’s wrists behind his back, she dragged him into the storeroom and grabbed her keys and scarf.

 

     “No one gets a fresh start. No one’s life turns out how they wanted. Not really. Not for me. Especially not for you. It’s time to face the music.”

 

     “Bitch!” He managed to fling in her direction, before she shoved her scarf in his mouth, black lipstick smearing across the material.

 

     She glanced out the shop window. The rain pelted on her reflection, her grey suit and silk tie, the slight stubble on her chin, her receding hairline. “Thank you,” she said. “For reminding me exactly why I got into this job in the first place.” She turned the sign from open to closed. The bell chimed as she locked the door behind her.

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