Bad: A Memoir of Good & Evil
Couldn't Call It Unexpected
Cyn & Tangents
Lead Paint Double Date Set Diaries
Moving to Mars
New Roman Times
Saint Red
Suspension of Disbelief
What Fools


New Roman Times
Part 5 - Broken Luck

By Jordan D. White

So the night was a bust. Actually, worse than a bust, really. The only reliable information I could pick up about Cheryl was her number and address, useful, of course, but not really what I was looking for. I had been checking around for anyone who'd been collecting good luck. It's a useful feat before attempting any huge magical undertaking. Not really a nice thing to do though- basically, you steal all the good luck someone will have for however long, leaving them with terrible things happening to them. Typically, you would do this to a number of people, one not having enough good luck to guarantee success. No word of that going on, though.

Unfortunately, the word that was buzzing through the community was that there was a new medium over on the jut. Great. Here I though something in my life would go easily. No one seemed to know the details, just that some kid was just awakened. I played it off like I didn't believe them. Don't want to tip my hand too early. I tried to find the source of the info, but that didn't really happen either.

So I did the next best thing- I went to see Gino. Wanted to put the fear in him a little, just in case he was planning on bragging about his new abilities to anyone. The kid is a little perv, which, looking the way I do, could be useful later. I told him to keep his mouth shut, and after he catches up on Torath-Gol, I'm sure he will. There was just one thing left to deal with- his parents.

I'd told them I was from the school, and thanks to a simple air of authority spell, they'd bought it. Works on anyone who doesn't know who you are already, which is nice. On the way out, I pulled Mr. and Mrs. DeFeo aside.

"The truth is," I told them, "Even if the nurse did send him home… there is another issue I wanted to discuss with you here today. Has he spoken to you about… auras?"

"Yes!" his mother called out. "He said he's been seeing things in mirrors and the doctor told us they were called auras!"

"I was afraid of this…"

"What?" said Mr. Defeo. "Is something wrong with the boy?"

"He's been in to speak with me about them. I'll be perfectly honest with you- delusions like this could signal the start of serious mental problems."

"No!" said the mother, swooning. "My baby!"

"See, Polly, see? " said the father. "Your genes, just like your Aunt Rita."

"It's still in the early warning stages," I said, moving to a more reassuring tone, "And I have every reason to believe that with the proper help, Gino will be fine. I will do my best to set up sessions with him to help him through this time of mental crisis. I will, however, need your help."

"Anything, anything for my baby!" Mrs. DeFeo said.

"Don't talk about this with him. Or with anyone. Discussing these 'auras' with him only lends them credence, fuels his delusions. To be honest, I'd appreciate it if you not tell him I told you these things- it will only make him defensive and work against the trust I've been building with him."

"Of course, ah… what did you say your name was?"

"Lowry. Doctor Lowry."

"Of course, Dr. Lowry, we don't want to interfere with helping Gino get better… I can't believe it, our little baby is going crazy!"

"Your genes, Polly," Mr. DeFeo repeated.

"This doctor you took him to, can I have his name?" I asked. "I'd like to speak to him about putting these deluded ideas into impressionable children's minds."

"Oh, yeah, sure," Mr. DeFeo said. "Polly, get a piece of paper, take out his card."

Once equipped with that knowledge, I left the DeFeos, confident that they wouldn't be spilling the information on their poor crazy son anytime soon.

I headed back to Ancient Spirits. There were a few regulars who tended to show up later who might have something. Hell, you never know, and it was pretty much on my way, anyway. When I breezed down the stairs, Kelly's eyes went wide behind the bar. He tried to signal me something, but I wasn't sure what. A moment later, when Rowena's hand grabbed my by the neck, slammed me to the wall, and pinned me in place, choking me, I think I got his signal. It was sort of a 'watch out' signal. Thanks.

Rowena was a massive lady. At least six feet tall, two hundred pounds. At least. Probably more, since I'd never realized until she was holding me off my feet by the head how much of her bulk was muscle. She must have been about 40, of mostly Gypsy blood, from what I knew of her, but she'd traded in the old ways for staying local to new Rome. She was wearing a brown leather coat that went down about to her butt, and a woman's suit that looked almost like a parody of a man's, especially on her man-ish body. Her frizzy black hair was pulled back tightly. She wasn't wearing any make-up- she never did.

I was pretty sure I knew what I did to piss her off, but just in case I was unsure, the first thing she said to me was "You killed Charlie, bitch." She still had an accent, even after twenty years in this city.

How long was I going to be catching shit for this one? I tried to gurgle out that Charlie wasn't dead, but my windpipe wasn't open enough. I settled for clawing helplessly at her hand around my throat, attempting to keep myself aloft enough not to actually die.

"Rowena," said Kelly, "Let her down. You know there's no fighting here, unless you want to be banned."

"No trouble," she said. "We'll take this outside." Before I could stop her, she lowered her arm, thumping my ass onto the floor, and began to drag me outside by the head. The stairs were particularly painful. Once outside, she rounded the corner to the nearest alleyway between buildings and tossed me into a brick wall. Which, I might mention, also hurt.

"Charlie trusted you," said Rowena, "a mistake I never made a long with him. I always warned him against you, but he said you'd never dick him over." She pronounced dick like 'deek', which almost made me laugh, except that I was lying on my face in a pile of trash.

I peeled myself off the ground. "Charlie is… Charlie's problem," I said.

"You filth." Rowena kicked my legs out from under me. My face hit brick again, and I spat blood onto the pavement where I landed.

"You want an explanation? You want me to explain?" I coughed. Rowena glared down at me. I feel my fingers in my own warm blood. "Well, in anticipation, you, frozen, shall remain."

Rowena continued to glare down at me.

It worked. Frankly, I was surprised. Not only did I not think I'd get the blood symbol done correctly without looking, I just didn't count on Rowena being dumb enough to let me talk long enough to formulate something. I suppose I should stop underestimating the stupidity of those around me. It rarely ceases to amaze me.

I grabbed onto Rowena and swayed her from side to side, walking her over to the garbage pile she'd thrown me into, the way one would walk a bureau. I toppled her into the pile. I assume eventually it would rain or a rat would disturb my symbols, or else some bum would pee them away. The real question was if they would notice the frozen lady and take advantage first. Couldn't happen to a nicer lady.

At this point, I basically decided that my night was crappy enough by half already, so I made my way home and folded out my bed immediately. I sleep on the sleeper sofa, the actual 'bedrooms' of my two-bedroom apartment being taken up by things magical. The sofa is crappy, but not the worst thing I've slept on over the years. I did a minor comfort spell on it one night, so it's actually ok.

I slept well. No dreams, which means that spell is still holding strong as well. God, I don't know how people used to live in the old days when spells were for special occasions like revenging a death. Give me modern convenience any day of the week, thank you very much.

Got up the next day and headed down to the shop. Considering I'd taken pretty much the entire day off yesterday I figured I should out in a few hours. I mean, it's not that big of a deal- business is always good when it all comes down. Everyone who matters knows that we're the best place in town to get serious books and will wait for us to open. In fact, usually when I show up there's a charm or two waiting to be set off by my arrival, letting someone somewhere know that we're open.

The bum was gone when I arrived. At first I didn't notice, but when I passed the place where he'd been I could still smell the strong urine-y smell he'd left behind as a reminder. I wondered how long it would take for his taint to drift away from the area.

There were two charms on the door when I arrived. Neither was visible- they were basically magical versions of the old 'stick a hair across the door' trick, letting someone know if it had been opened. As I unlocked and opened, I saw the charms break and whisk away to their masters. One of them was Mr. Bellock's, I was pretty sure. We had a copy of Right to the Ways and the Rules of the World that he'd been waiting for. The other I was not sure about.

The previous day's acquisitions had apparently been through the boss's sorting, as they were waiting for me on the counter again. I filed Rituals of the Black Continent in our African section and Divining the Gods in the Occult section. Kidding, kidding, a little occult shop humor there. That's what I always tell customers when they ask what section a certain book is in. Occult section. Well, it's funny for me. It really went in the Deity Studies section.

I lit a few candles around the counter. It adds to the ambiance of the place, which is nice, but I also usually choose some scented candles, which helps with the old book mustiness. The scent I chose was called 'Dragon Blood', but it smelled much less like dragon blood than you'd expect. I typically read at work to kill time - one of the benefits of working in a bookstore. I checked out what type of books on luck we had. After browsing a bit, I settled with Luck and All Its Uses, which had a nice balance of age and comprehensibility.

I lay the book down on the counter and it flopped open to a random page. It was the start of a chapter called "Reading Bad Luck". Pretty much exactly what I needed. On a hunch, I kept my hand in that page and flipped to the front of the book. As I'd suspected, the book came with a free amount of good luck included. I smiled. Maybe things were looking up for me.

I began to read. It starts off with a basic outline of how you know you really have a bad luck problem and aren't just having a bad run. I felt pretty confident that I was reading the situation right in that respect. Cheryl was practically a luck black hole. Some of the things she'd gotten wrong at that guessing game were pretty ridiculous. I skipped forward a little to the subheading of 'Most Common Causes of Bad Luck', and began reading there.

That was when the door opened. I figured it was Mr. Bellock, of course, and called out "Hey, there, I've got something for you." I'd taken Right to the Ways… down and put it up by the register.

A very non-Bellock like woman voice said, "You?"

It was Cheryl.

"Cheryl!" I said, "What are you doing here?" I came around from behind the counter.

"How did you know my name?" she said, a little scared. "I just… I thought this was a bookstore… I wanted to find a book…"

"Hey, sure we got a lot of those here!" I said, trying to sound reassuring. "What can I help you with? Let me guess, some sort of charm? Protection spell, am I right? I've been thinking about your problem myself."

Cheryl wasn't getting reassured. "I was… I was hoping for some… Grisham?"

I blinked. "You thought this was a regular bookstore?"

"I'm sorry, I should go," she said turning. "I've been having terrible with things…"

"No, stay!" I said, "I think I can help! We can figure out what's happened to you."

"What do you mean?" said Cheryl, paused right in front of the door.

"Luck like yours doesn’t just happen. There's a good chance someone did this to you."

"Someone is making these bad things happen to me, you mean?"

"Sort of," I said. "Maybe. We can find out."

She looked at me skeptically. I extended a hand.

"My name is Desiree," I said.

She took a moment to look at everything around her, the books, the candles, the talismans. "You really believe in all this stuff?" she asked.

"Most of it," I said. I tried to do a genuinely friendly smile.

She hesitated another moment, but then said, "What the hell? It's not like anything else has been helping me. Nice to meet you, Desiree." She extended her hand towards mine and walked a few steps closer to grasp it.

Which bumped her elbow into the register.

Which knocked over Right to the Ways….

Which smacked into my Dragon's Blood candle.

Which landed on the open copy of Luck and All Its Uses.

Which began to burn.

I would have grabbed the book and slammed it shut, putting out the flames as best I could with whatever was around, but when Cheryl hit her elbow, she instinctively jerked it back, throwing herself off balance just enough to make her left foot twist an inch, sending her toppling towards me head first, knocking me to the floor along with her. We struggled to get to our feet as the book caught like kindling. When I finally got up and grabbed the small fire extinguisher from behind the counter and sprayed the fire out, the book was ruined.

So much for it's good luck, I thought. Actually, that was probably the only thing that kept it from spreading to the entire ship full of books. I guessed whatever Cheryl had was stronger than the book was.

I quickly went around and blew out the remaining candles in the store while Cheryl got up and apologized profusely a hundred times over. I told her not to worry.

"I don't think this is you, Cheryl," I said. "That book… that just got destroyed… well, I'd hoped it would help me figure out what was going on with you."

"Oh, god, I'm so sorry!"

"Don't worry about it. We'll figure something out. This is what I do."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It's going to be all right."

She stood awkwardly for a moment. "Thanks," she said. "I'm lucky I met you."

Which was when it hit me. No, she wasn't. She wasn't lucky to have met me. She's got terrible luck. If fate had 'accidentally' lead her into this shop and into my life, then that wasn't something that would be good for her. I suppose like the cards had said the day before- things would come together in the end, but won't necessarily end well. Great.

I looked at Cheryl. Would she better off if I just threw her out right now?

Maybe there was a way to change things?

Wasn't I supposed to get help?

"Come on," I said to Cheryl, and took her by the hand. "We're going out. I turned the shop lights off and Cheryl opened the door, tripping on her way out over something on the ground.

It was a crumpled piece of newspaper with a brick on top of it. I helped Cheryl to her feet and picked up the paper. It was a page from a paper from a few days ago. Someone had written on it in what looked like ketchup. It said, "Might want to check on your new boy. Hospital dangerous."

To Be Continued...