Friday, March 13, 2009

Curse/Or: Epic

"Did you fall in?" asked The Nose as she arrived at their table. "We were about to send in a search party and – holy crap, what happened in there?" His tone rose from condescending to alarmed as he noticed her flushed face and trembling gait.

"Took an epic shit," she said dismissively, dropping into her seat at the table opposite Esther and Yarrow. Her freshly magicked lighter was in her left front pocket, heavy as a loaded gun and warm as a newborn where it rode against her leg. And in a way, it was a gun; she’d expended a hell of a lot of energy to create it, but it was a lighter that would never run out of fuel, never fail to start a fire, never blow out in the wind or the rain. She knew this as surely as a mother knew her own child, and Teresa had birthed it though no less pain and blood. It would need to be named, she realized, but for now she was content to let it nestle in the crook of her groin. It was her sleeping baby, her magical shank, her literal smoking gun. She felt empowered, arrogant, unbeatable, like a bully that had cornered a new victim in the shower.

"So here's how it is," she declared with predatory glee. "I appreciate the lift out of the rain, so I'll just forget about how you've basically abducted me." She fixed Esther with her hardest, coldest glare before turning to regard Yarrow. "But you have until I finish eating to convince me to buy whatever shit you're selling, because after that I am gone."

Pulling the straw from her glass of orange juice, she placed it between her back teeth and chewed. It felt a bit like one of those old-style cigarette holders, like FDR and the Penguin used. If Esther smoked, she'd use a holder, she idly mused. Old fashioned and classy. Nose would probably use an electronic bong or something.

"Selling something?" The man looked offended, his blinking almost audible. He was still frantically shaking with the coins in his right hand. It still looked masturbatory. "I assure you, I'm not trying to sell you anything. It's more of a… proposition of sorts."

Teresa's straw made a spitting sound as she blew air at him through its mangled tip.

"Not that kind of proposition," he quickly amended, shifting awkwardly at her sudden toothy grin. "A professional arrangement. A business deal. A… way for you to use your… unique talents… in exchange for items of inherent and informational value."

She turned her attention to Esther. "Does he ever make any fucking sense?"

"Eventually," said the old woman as she methodically added cream and sugar to her coffee. "You just have to let him talk around it enough and eventually you'll find the shape of it. This boy, you ask him what time it is, he'll build you a clock."

"Fulcrum, I'm sitting right here," he whined.

"Yes, you are," she said, patting his hand. Gone was the unflinching Iron Lady; now she was a doting Grandmother, tending to a young and difficult child. "Now remember what we talked about? You don't do so well with other people. Go to your numbers, Yarrow."

He nodded, tossing onto the tablecloth the coins that had been rattling in his right hand. They didn't look like any money Teresa had ever seen before, bronzed and with a square hole through the center. He pulled a rectangle of chrome and glossy black plastic from the pocket of his hoodie, fingers flying across its flat surface.

Teresa quirked an eyebrow suspiciously. She’d seen cell phones on television, but never in real life, and worried that it might be his version of her lighter. Coldness rose from the pit of her stomach at the thought of having lost her advantage.

"One of those newfangled computer iPhone things," Esther explained. "He uses it to calculate his numbers."

Again with the numbers. Teresa didn’t like where this was headed. "What do you mean?" she asked, her left hand drifting into her lap. She was ready to grab the lighter, use it if necessary. She wondered if she could turn it into a flamethrower if she pumped enough magical power through it.

"You'll see." She gave Teresa a knowing wink and sipped her coffee.

Yarrow picked up the coins, shook, threw them again. There was almost something elegant about the process, archaic and analog, his long dexterous fingers handling the coins with all the ease of a practiced craps shooter, and then tapping – no, sliding his fingertips along the smooth surface of the computer phone, each movement accompanied by a discrete click from the phone's speaker. It wasn't so much a calculator as it was an electronic abacus, simultaneously cutting edge and antiquated.

He repeated the process in silence four more times, only noticing that the waitress had brought his food when he was unable to cast his coins because of the plate in front of him. Esther obligingly moved it out of his way, holding it until he had picked up and pocketed the coins.

The phone gonged softly. "Youthful Folly," he intoned, reading from the screen, "has success. It is not I who seek the young fool; the young fool seeks me. At the first oracle I inform him." He blinked twice, staring at the screen. "Well, then. That certainly helped." His tone suggested otherwise.


  1. I've seen coins like that before somewhere.

    Also, I like the bit about Teresa charging an intimate, everyday object for use as a weapon. Rings very true.

    ps - Yarrow uses an iphone, doesn't he? Pretentious bastard..

  2. They're I-ching coins (based on traditional chinese coins. The hole in the middle is so that you can thread them up on a string).

  3. Oh dear, I-Ching with an iPhone. It's almost too perfect :-D


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