An overheard conversation
“He was giving me a bad time, so I put a curse on him. Later that same day he was terminated. Fired. Tell me that was a coincidence.”
A man's voice was coming from right behind me. I was minding my own business—or had been, until then—forking up pasta in a restaurant for a late lunch. Only when my mind registered the word “curse” did my ears prick up and my attention wander away from the novel I was reading (Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds).
“Yeah, and that wasn't the first time, either. It's happened so often that I've lost track. There was this one guy who tried to gyp me on a deal. I put a hex on him and within the year he was dead from cancer.”
The man sounded completely sincere. From the murmurs and brief comments in response to the man's narration, I could tell there were two other people with him in the booth behind me: a man and a woman. The story teller's companions gave every indication that they were taking his tale at face value.
“One time this girl I know was having a big fight with her boyfriend and she asked me to put a curse on him. She heard I could do it. I told her, ‘Sure, no problem. Can you give me something that belongs to him?’ She gave me his business card. I didn't take it too seriously at first, but later I found the business card in my pocket and remembered, so I put a hex on the boyfriend. Not even an hour later this same girl called me up and tried to call it off. ‘You didn't do it yet, did you?’ I told her I had and she tried to make a joke of it, that it was only in fun, but I told her it was too late to go back on it. The next day he was called in for an IRS audit that ended up costing him tens of thousands of dollars.”
Now I was diligently taking mental notes and paying no attention to the novel in my hand. The man behind me was blithely telling his companions that he casually kills or impoverishes people whenever it suits him. I was having a bit of difficulty figuring a couple of things out. First, did he really believe he had these powers? And, second, how could he be so casual about the apparent consequences if he believed himself responsible for them? I was eavesdropping on a psychic sociopath.
“My sister says she thinks that Mom was a witch and that I inherited that from her.” For the first time, the man's story elicited more than a mutter or one-word sentence from his companions. The woman said, “Well, I remember that she had that Ouija board.”
“Yeah, that's right. Mom had that Ouija board and some books, too. Books that I read. And I learned stuff. It must be true because things just keep happening. A friend of mine told me that she was planning to go to Reno but usually didn't do very well. She asked me if I could do good things to people, not just bad, and I said I didn't know but I could try. She said she wanted to do better in Reno, so I asked her to give me a hundred dollar bill. She looked in her purse, but only pulled out a dollar. Okay, I figured I could double that pretty easily, so I took the dollar with me and put a hex on it for good luck. Later I drove over to a restaurant and right in the middle of that big parking lot I found a dollar, right on the ground. I said to myself, ‘Well, this must be her dollar,’ so I put it with the one I already had. When she came back from Reno she told me she hadn't done very well and won only a few dollars, so I said, ‘Well, here are two more dollars for you,’ and told her how I got the other dollar.”
I had been wondering if the man was a con artist working some marks, but at least one of his companions already knew him or his family, so I continued to be perplexed. The request for a hundred dollar bill had seemed suspicious, but now seemed just part of the story. I had finished my meal, but I still had some papers on the table that I had been grading before my pasta arrived. I shuffled them a bit and kept myself occupied. The man was telling a story of working sales and support at his place of employment, and the times he needed to put curses on people who wanted free service for out-of-warranty goods and discounts on goods that they themselves had damaged in the store. He couldn't be sure, though, how many of them had died or been audited. Apparently his magical powers were limited in that way.
I gathered my papers and my book and prepared to leave. Since the exit was behind me, it was necessary for me to turn in the direction of the people I had overheard. The hex man was older than I had expected from the sound of his voice, probably in his mid to late thirties, with short hair that seemed prematurely gray. Perhaps that's a side-effect of his psychic powers. He glanced at me briefly as I moved past the table and out of the restaurant.
Jeepers. I hope he didn't put a hex on me.