Short Story: "The Curse"
My brothers and sisters, we are not bad people. We are not monsters, we are not evildoers – we are not even wrong. We know what has led us here and who is responsible, and now our fates are intertwined. Our world has been cursed by a witch who seeks nothing but destruction for its own sake, by a murderous woman who delights in the smoldering ashes of our lives. But on this glorious night, in this theatre, we unite! We unite bonded by the idea that this curse can be lifted, and by the knowledge that we are the ones who can finally end it! We all know what must happen.
Eloise must die.
. . .
“Hi, I’m Eloise, and I’m an alcoholic.”
I looked around the room full of coffee fueled addicts and thought about how I got here. Obviously, I wasn’t born with an affinity for Tennessee whisky, but the past six years changed me from the plucky, optimistic, mint tea-loving librarian that I was into something much darker.
Originally, I’d thought I was dreaming when I heard a voice coming from inside my own head that wasn’t mine. Then, I quickly thought I was going completely insane when the voice introduced itself as an Angel of the One, True God, and told me that I was to be the last prophet on this Earth. I immediately screamed and ran through my house like the mental patient I assumed I surely now was, but it’s really hard to run from your own head.
“Be still!” the voice said, sounding flustered and confused, which only served to fluster and confuse me further. I kept screaming and running around, trying to find a room where it might be quiet, to no avail.
After I calmed down and drank a fifth, I listened again. The voice was patronizing, but pleasant, and told me to start writing.
I loved writing, and that statement is purposefully past tense, because when you start writing about the fiery end of the world, and what you write starts coming true, you tend to make some enemies, a lot of enemies, actually. People who know what I write think I’ve put a curse on them. Like, a curse on the entire world. Insert eye roll here.
Now, I don’t even know how my pages got published, but I suddenly had a booming business. My series, “Revelations II,” was the best selling series in the US and was translated into more than 1,200 languages and counting. I’d only started writing them a year ago, so this was huge for me. As a public librarian in Aurora, Oregon, being a famous writer is everything I’d ever dreamed of being. Unfortunately for me, writing books that explain the unexplainable things that have happened in the recent past, and that foretell terrible things that will happen in the near future, had landed me in the “she must be a witch!” category.
All these centuries later, and people still don’t very much like witches. I’ve told people that I’m not a witch, but apparently, “that’s something a only witch would say!”
I tried to say that I was a prophet and was just writing down the divine Word, like Moses or Paul, but apparently that’s only something only blasphemous heretics claim.
Now, people thought that I’d cursed the entire world, doomed and damned it. I’d been blamed for everything from global warming to poverty to pandemics to the sun rapidly being on its way to becoming a red giant. I must have looked pretty powerful, huh?
So, I was an unemployed drunk who lived off the winning lottery tickets I kept accurately guessing while I literally watched the world around me crumble and, wait for it, got blamed for it all.
I’d tried to stop writing what The Voice told me, but I couldn’t. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d be at my Mac cranking out pages like a woman possessed. The words just flowed. I wrote an entire book in one night once.
As a devout Catholic, I’d prayed to the Lord and asked why He’s cursed me with this, why he even wanted it written down, why not just smite us all and be done with it? Why give warnings and signs? His answers were vague and mostly came to me early in the morning, when I sat outside after yet another restless night and greeted the dawn with whisky neat.
“What kind of Father would I be to punish My children without first warning them that they are in trouble?”
I thought about the words He spoke for a long moment. I sat on my porch, wrapped in the thick, grey, wool blanket that my grandmother knit for me so many Christmases ago, drinking Tennessee out of an oversized coffee mug in a feeble attempt to fool my neighbors, and thought about Him as a concerned parent.
“If I have to be a prophet, if it’s my job to write Your Will down, why are you making everyone hate me for it?”
I’d called out my question, tears in my eyes, and was rewarded with silence and rising tension. Neighbors were up and starting to walk their dogs. They couldn’t help but to glance in my direction as they passed, terrified of what the witch might have in store for them and their loved ones.
“Can I help you with something?” I slur-yelled from my porch to a passing geriatric citizen who had stopped to stare at me with horrified anguish. Perhaps it was the “evil witch bitch” sign spray painted on the side of my house courtesy of teenage rebels that stopped her from walking her Pomeranian. Or maybe it was the fear of what I’d come up with next. Or worse, maybe she was part of the mounting resistance rising against me that was watching my every move.
. . .
I’d learned about People for the Elimination of Eloise, or PEE as I call them to make myself laugh at something very unfunny, months ago. But what began as just whispers of “kill the witch!” had turned into something much more sinister. The Voice told me that they were trying to figure out a way to kill me.
Fortunately, they really did think I was a witch and as such, were stuck on the whole “burn her at the stake” idea. However, I wasn’t jaded to the point of recklessness, and realized that I might be in real trouble if they ever got a smarter leader.
It was hard to sell that I was just a scribe and not a mastermind when half the world’s children were overdosing on designer drugs and the other half of humanity was dying by fires, floods, starvation, disease and gun violence. People needed someone to blame, and I guess blaming themselves or God was too hard. It was easy to blame the drunken writer.
So back to today, my 418th day of AA, not a single day sober, on my porch looking like The Grinch, hating all Oregonians and everyone else who thinks I’ve placed a terrible curse on the world.
As I stood up to go inside and start a pot of mulled wine, I heard the Voice, but it was different this time. “Get down!”
An obedient prophet, I dove to the ground, shattering my favorite porcelain mug in the process. “Aw,” I said to myself softly as I watched it break. I lay where I fell, flat on my stomach on the cold, wooden porch, and lightly fingered a hunter green mug sherd.
“Move!” the Voice urged, sounding exasperated.
I rolled over onto my back, too drunk to stand up just yet, when I saw a second Molotov cocktail soar over me and through the glass of my front door. That sobered me up.
“Hey!” I screamed out, rising to my feet abruptly and looking out towards the street. I didn’t see anyone and it was silent, so I quickly turned to look at my house, which was, almost appropriately for how I felt in my life, burning down before my eyes. “Shit!”
I ran inside to the kitchen to find the fire extinguisher my mother had gotten me for my birthday this year. Apparently people in AA are likely to start house fires and she was worried. Very practical, mom, but at least she didn’t buy into the witch rumors.
As I acted as my own, personal firefighter, I realized I was crying again. I cry a lot nowadays. As I worked diligently to put out the roaring, albeit contained fires in my living room and foyer, I cried, moving my arms back and forth, left to right, working to extinguish the base of the flames, crying nonstop.
I know people feel like this a lot, but why me?
This was also concerning because it meant that PEE was getting bolder.
. . .
“This could have been a lot worse, miss,” said the handsome firefighter standing in my living room. “You should have called us as sooner, maybe we could have saved more. It’s a blessing you weren’t hurt.”
He continued to ramble on about how “property is replaceable, but people aren’t” as he made notes in a small book and appraised the damage, but I was freshly aboard the tequila train and could only focus on the fullness of his lips, the rich brown of his concerned eyes, how he seemed to move around effortlessly despite the 50 pounds of gear he was wearing, and how he didn’t appear to realize or care that he was trying to salvage the house of a witch.
“Miss? Are you alright?” he asked.
“Oh, yes!” I’d been rudely staring at him, mouth slightly agape, daydreaming about his muscles carrying me out of Oregon and into a mountainside mansion for us and our six children, while he spoke about safety and prices. “I know a good carpenter, so I should be able to fix most of this easily.
“You know all the right people, huh?” he said with a chuckle as he moved closer to me.
“I wouldn’t get too close,” I said with a nervous smile. “Didn’t you know? I’m a witch.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that,” he replied easily, taking off his helmet after a casual glance up at the untouched vaulted ceiling. “And of course, your house is tagged pretty good.”
“Well, there’s a rebellion mounting against my existence who like to spread rumors, and teenagers are dicks!”
He burst out laughing at my last proclamation and I’d never heard a more beautiful sound. He let the laugh build from his belly and roll up his chest until it poured out of him in deep waves. His dark hair gently moved with the effort and his eyes crinkled at the corners.
He stopped laughing after a minute to find me staring at him again.
“I don’t scare that easily, Eloise,” he said, his face serious, but his eyes bemused.
“You know my name?”
“Everyone knows the witch’s name,” he said with a broad smile.
“Hey, Charlie!” exclaimed another firefighter who had been checking the exterior of my house. “We’re all clear here, let’s go!”
He popped his head in, looked around, saw me, and promptly reversed direction.
“So, your name is Charlie and your friend does scare that easily. Good information to have,” I said with what I’d hoped was a noncommittal shrug, but I was already saying my wedding vows to my newfound love Charlie in my head.
“Matt is just…skittish,” my firefighter replied apologetically. “Listen, I know things are strange right now in the world and especially here, but don’t let all this get you down. And if anything like this happens again, if you even think someone is going to hurt you, just give me a call, ok?”
With that, he grabbed my notebook off the solid maple end table, flipped past my prophetic notes, and scribbled 10 digits. “That doesn’t have to be just for emergencies by the way.”
He said the last words as he softly plopped the notebook back down and turned to leave. His smile was large and I melted, already planning to invite him back over later for two of my favorite activities: drinking and redecorating.
. . .
“You know who did it?” Charlie asked me two hours after the sun had set for the day. “You know who threw not one, but two, Molotov cocktails your way and you’re not reporting them?”
“Michael Bailey is a sad misogynist who believes that any woman with above a 3rd grade reading level is dangerous, and what's worse, a woman who knows something he doesn’t. I happen to be both, so he formed “People for the Elimination of Eloise,” convinced enough people that witchcraft was to blame, and is trying to kill me,” I stated with a raise of my wine glass and slight shrug.
“Wait, Michael Bailey?” he repeated.
“The chief of police, yep, that Michael Bailey,” I said with a sigh.
I downed the rest of my red and walked the three steps to the garden tray to re-up when Charlie interrupted my depression with, “it’s just not right.”
In my surprise, I poured way too large a serving for a person trying to pretend she only drinks after traumatic experiences. I set the glass back down on the tray and looked around at the garden I’d been curating for six years.
“I’m trying for a “Vatican Gardens” theme here. What do you think? Am I close?” I asked, trying not to show how much his small words had meant to me and trying desperately not to reach for the wine and drink it in two swallows.
“Well,” he started while rising to his feet and closing the gap between us. “I’ve never been to the Vatican, but there’s no spray paint anywhere; you can’t tell that your front room was set on fire mere hours ago from way back here; and between the towering trees and flowering plants, there’s no nosy neighbors to cast dirty looks at you, so yeah, damn near Vatican-esque, I’d say.”
He took my hands in his and held them there for several minutes, both of us just looking at the other.
“You know, I’m not really a witch,” I said after a while.
I dropped his hands and returned to my wine glass, taking what I hoped was a delicate sip. When I swallowed and put the glass back on the table, I realized more than half of it was gone. Damn, guess I should try harder in AA.
“I know you’re not a witch, Ellie,” he said with a smile, moving toward me again.
I heard my childhood nickname cross his lips and cocked my head to the right, looking at him again in the twinkling string lights I’d meticulously strung years ago, wondering how he knew that. I chose to ignore it.
“How? Haven’t you been wondering how I’m always right about what’s going to happen next?”
“Of course, but I know it can’t be devil worship or evil, dark magic.”
“How do you know that? No one else seems to – not my boss who fired me from the library because she didn’t want to ‘taint the good image of the library’ by having a known witch working there; not my best friend who told me I was going to burn in Hell for saying it was God’s will; not my ex-boyfriend who broke up with me when my first book got published; no one but my parents even pretends to know me anymore.”
Before I could stop myself, I had fallen to the cobblestone ground and was crying hot tears of pain and isolation. Before he could stop himself, he was wrapping his strong arms around me and cradling my head against his chest.
He rocked me gently back and forth, stroking my hair and making quiet shushing noises.
We stayed like that for a while, for long after I’d stopped crying. It felt good to be held and comforted, to cry with someone else for a change.
“How do you know me?” I finally asked, pulling slightly away from him and wiping my face with the hem of my navy blue t-shirt dress in a most unbecoming way.
“You really don’t remember me, do you?” he said with a hurt smile, moving away slightly to lean back on his palms and look at me more fully.
“I’m sorry, I-” I trailed off.
“I’m not surprised that you don’t quite remember me, actually,” he said graciously. “We were never friends, but we were in quite a few of the same classes.”
“High school or college?”
“All four years?”
“Yep,” he replied quickly, enjoying the new guessing game.
“Core classes?” I asked, trying to place a handsome, outdoorsy, kindhearted, future firefighter named Charlie at Aurora High School.
“Biology and AP US History,” he said, now barely containing his wide smile at my dumbfounded face. “Oh, and art, but that was an elective and you rarely came.”
“I hate art,” I replied with a mini shrug and smile, thinking back on how I almost failed an elective where showing up was the only requirement because I refused to, you know, show up.
“Wait, Cicero Charles?” I asked, looking at him in the dim light and becoming more certain by the second.
“Winner, winner,” he said laughing.
“You go by Charlie now?” I asked, matching his laugh.
“If you had my first name, wouldn’t you?” he said.
“I happen to love your first name!”
“Yeah, everyone who has a normal first name loves my first name,” he retorted.
“Well, my first name isn’t exactly fantastic,” I chuckled. “‘Eloise’ sounds like she was born in 1932 and enjoys a smart cocktail in the evenings with her white Persian cat Muffy.”
“I guess that’s why you used to go by Ellie?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I’m taking Eloise back!” I shouted into the night as I reached behind me for my wine glass.
“Now that I know it’s you, I’m surprised I didn’t recognize you this afternoon,” I said earnestly. “I should have known that if anyone in this town would still be kind to me, it would be the boy who used to bring me a slice as I sat in the library during lunch on Pizza Fridays.”
“I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to see you again,” he said, inching closer to me and then pulling me towards him. “I should have known that the woman who proclaims that she’s a prophet of the Lord and has half the world out to get her might need a friend. And might give me a shot.”
“What?” I asked, fuzzy from yet another long day of drinking and befuddled by the thought of having a friend again. A friend besides the Voice. A friend that smelled like expensive cologne and sweat. A friend that I had a massive crush on throughout my adolescence.
“Come on, Ellie,” he said as he brought his thumb up to brush my bottom lip. “You must have known how I felt about you back then.”
I let the wine take over, closed my eyes to his touch, and let me real thoughts slip out, “no I don’t, why don’t you show me.”
And with that, he kissed me.
“They are coming,” I heard the Voice say.
I pulled away from our tangled embrace and my back stiffened.
“What’s wrong?” asked Charlie, his voice thick and his hair disheveled from where my hands had just been.
“The Voice,” I said, trying to compose myself. “It just told me that ‘they’re coming.’”
I shakily climbed to my feet, knocking over and subsequently breaking my wine glass in the process. I looked around my secluded, backyard garden and tried to make out any shapes in the darkness.
“Who’s coming? And be careful of the glass,” he said, gingerly pulling me away from the mess I’d made and starting to look around himself.
“I don’t know, but I’m guessing PEE – that’s what I call Michael’s rage group that hates me. You know? The one that tried to burn my house down earlier today? The one that blames me for their children dying and every other omen I’ve prophesied in my books.”
He looked at me cautiously and then pulled me toward him and hugged me tightly. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
I hugged him back as hard as I could and prayed that he was right, that he could protect me. But I knew that he couldn’t, and in that moment, the only thing I wished was that we’d had more time, real time.
“Charlie, this might be our first, last, and only night together, so here’s some advice from a prophet: don’t be afraid. Don’t let the destruction turn you bitter, and don’t mourn for the dead. This is the end of this world, but it’s just the beginning of our eternal one.”
“Ellie, I-” but his confusion was cut off by the sudden appearance of PEE members in my garden. Lots of them.
He moved me behind him in one swift motion and started looking around, counting. I knew he was thinking the same thing I was: these assholes are quiet.
“Well, hello there,” said a familiar voice.
I looked around until I could find he source of the sound and grimaced.
“Hey, Chief Bailey,” I said in as cheery a voice as I could muster. “What brings you to my garden at this time of night, dressed all in black?”
He snorted once and then looked around at the posse he’d assembled against me. That’s when I looked around as well and realized that my house was full of people, as was the side yard, and more people were filling the garden as I watched, terrified and clinging to Charlie as if he were a life preserver in the ocean.
“Charlie,” Michael acknowledged the barrier between him and myself. “Didn’t think I’d find you here with a known witch.”
Suddenly, shouts of approval rang out in the night as the intruders cheered at his words.
Charlie opened his mouth to reply, but I cut him off, not wanting the crowd to turn their anger and indignation on him.
“I’m not a witch,” I began as boos started to rise from the mob. “But I do know that this is the end of what we have all known! I’m not causing this, I’m just recording it!”
I screamed to try to be heard above the chants of “KILL THE WITCH!” but to no avail. And then it all happened at once.
Michael moved towards me.
Charlie tried to intervene.
Someone grabbed my hair.
Hands. Hands everywhere.
Someone grabbed my neck.
Charlie screamed my name.
Someone choked me.
The crowd stopped when I hit the ground, blood gushing out of my chest and spilling upwards onto my neck. I couldn’t speak, but I thought to myself, so this is what it feels like to be shot. Huh. Really sucks.
Charlie was by my side, trying to put pressure on the entry wound and stick to his training as he watched what he knew was inevitable.
I looked at his beautiful face, creased with worry and stained with tears, and realized that he’d been hit over the head and was also bleeding. “You’re hurt,” I gurgled.
I tasted the last remnants of wine on my lips and suddenly wanted more. I lay there, clearly dying, and thought about the last few years of my life. Furiously writing new books of the Bible as a divinely inspired prophet, making enemies, fearing for my life, drowning myself in liquor, not accomplishing my dream of owning my own bookstore, and finally making a friend again only to be separated the very same day.
“Shh, stay with me ok? The ambulance is on the way,” he replied, putting my hand back down from where I’d reached up to touch his face.
But I couldn’t stay with him, I already heard the Voice, and then I heard the thunder.
I knew this was the end, not just for my Earthly life, but for everyone’s. This was The End. Tribulation was over and the reaping was at hand. “Soon,” I said to Charlie as I let myself finally give in to the Voice. I closed my eyes and let Him take me.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” said the Voice, but now it was warm, welcoming, and sounded like it could be one of my parents if I didn’t know any better. On Earth, I couldn’t recognize Him, but Here; I didn’t understand how I could mistake Him for anyone or anything else. “Come and see.”