“You have to give it to someone you hate,” she’d told me.
Her face held the hint of a smile on her ancient face. I had no idea how old she was. Surely she was one of the oldest women I had ever met. Her skin was pale and looked as thin as rice paper. She had not given me her name and I did not ask for it.
Her eyes were a clear dark brown, penetrating, and it was hard to meet her gaze. Her accent, obviously foreign, I couldn’t identify. I thought about asking her where she was from but didn’t want to seem like I was prying.
“It’s got to be someone that you really hate. I’m not talking about any run of the mill hatred but someone who, when they die; you’ll feel absolute joy with their passing. If the hate is not strong enough the magic won’t take.”
She coughed then. Her hands clutching the charm in her hands tight as her body shook.
“Are you okay?” I asked timidly. As a nervous habit I went to touch my hair, but was met with a smooth bald head.
Even after the chemo had claimed my hair I still tried to run my fingers through it. A learned muscle memory that I was unable to break. I let my hand fall to my side and fought back tears.
I used to have beautiful hair. I used to have a beautiful life. Married to my high school sweetheart for several years, I would frequently think of my life as picturesque. That was until the diagnosis, until the cancer. Stage four already and less than a year to live. I had opted for the chemo. There was no chance of a cure of course, but I was praying for a miracle.
All it had done was make me sicker than I had been in my life. And my hair was gone. I used to have beautiful auburn hair that fell to my waist. Alex would run his fingers through my hair and call me a princess.
After I got sick Alex changed. I thought it was my diagnosis. He was watching the love of his life die after all. I did my best to support him as much as I could, and let him know I loved him with all my heart.
But a month ago he had told me, with cold resolution in his eyes that he was leaving me. He had already found someone else. Her name was Melissa. I had even met Melissa a couple of times at my husband’s work functions. She was a pretty blonde a few years older than him.
“She’s pregnant,” he told me without any inflection.
That hurt me most of all. I might have been able to forgive his cheating but having a child was another thing. I had always wanted to have children with Alex. We both had dreamed of the day we would be parents. We were even going to start trying before I had gotten so sick.
It shook me to realize that I would be dead for several months before the baby was even born. Would Alex even come to my funeral? Or would he be too busy painting his new nursery blue or pink.
“No one comes to me when they’re having a good day my dear,” the old woman had told me when I entered her tiny but well-kept house.
My mom waited outside at my request and I sat in a slightly uncomfortable upholstered chair while I told my story to the woman.
It was probably a scam, was most likely a scam, but desperate people will grasp at whatever straws they can find.
She had been recommended to me by my old friend, Beth. We hadn’t talked in years, but I had gotten a call from her yesterday morning and she had sounded so sincere.
“If you’re really that desperate Cassie I know someone who might be able to help you,” Beths’ voice had sounded hesitant as she spoke to me over the phone. Like she was nervous talking to me.
“It’s going to sound crazy. But do as she tells you and bring all the cash you can easily get your hands on. She’s not cheap.” And with that she had hung up on me, texting me the address rather than saying it over the phone.
So here I was, sitting in a strangers’ house an hour away from my own home, and clutching an envelope with two thousand dollars. It was the absolute last of my savings. But if this didn’t work I wouldn’t be needing it where I was going.
“Hate is probably the most powerful thing in this world my dear. Some people might say its love. But really it’s hate. Hate shapes the world we live in, and affects our lives more than love ever could.” Her voice rasped as she spoke.
I wondered if her esophagus was turning to dust right in front of me.
She dangled the charm in front of me like someone might tease a bone in front of a begging dog.
“When you go to sleep tonight you will wear this little charm that I made for you. All you got to do is think of someone you truly hate, and the magic will do its work for you. If you do that by tomorrow morning you’ll find you’ve been healed.”
She smiled, and her dentures were so unnaturally white that it was distracting.
I held out my hand and she dropped the thing into my hand. I took a moment to examine it. It was a leather pouch held together with rough leather string. I wondered if I should open it and see what was inside it.
“Don’t open it either,” she said almost as if she was reading my mind.
“So when you said give it to someone I hate. You didn’t mean just give them this necklace?” I asked trying to clarify.
“No dear,” she grinned at me again with her perfect teeth.
“The magic will give your death to someone you hate. That’s its power. It passes on the pain and suffering to someone a little more deserving.” She cackled then and it started her coughing all over again.
“Thank you,” I choked, my voice sounding so weak and unnatural to my own ears.
“And I’ll take that two thousand dollars you have in that envelope if you please,” she grinned.
I didn’t stop to think about how she knew the exact amount that I had brought with me, but handed it over with only minimal reluctance.
Slipping the necklace over my head I was surprised at how heavy it felt. Almost like it was filled with rocks. But when I squeezed the pouch all I felt was a crunching inside it, like it was stuffed with dry herbs.
My mom scowled at me as I walked out of the house.
“That was a really dumb thing to do Cassie,” she reprimanded me and I just glanced at her.
“Maybe it was mom, but can you blame me for trying?” I answered her weakly.
Her gaze softened as she looked at me. “No sweetie, I don’t blame you at all.”
The drive back home was uneventful. I think I even fell asleep a few times before we reached my house.
My energy was gone by then and mom helped me into bed. It was a struggle even changing into my nightgown but we managed. I suppose I should be thankful that I could spend my last few months at home before the end.
When you’re coming to terms with your own mortality, and counting your life in months instead of years, it’s enough to send even the strongest person into an existential dread. But at least for now I was too tired to care. No matter what happened tonight I wouldn’t have long to lament losing that two thousand dollars.
As I lay in bed that night I turned my thoughts to hate.
Hatred was easy. And I’m sure that many people would think that it was Alex that I hated with all my being. But even now I couldn’t hate him. When I thought of my husband all I felt was numb sadness and heartache. No, I did not hate Alex. I still loved him. And I feared that part of me always would love him.
I hated Melissa. I hated that women so intensely it made my heart race and my mouth turn sour with the bitterness of my feelings. That whore who took a dying woman’s husband without a second thought. She must have a heart of ice to not care about what she had done. She didn’t even have the common courtesy to wait until I was in my grave first before sniffing around my Alex.
I hated that little bastard growing in her womb too. In my rational mind I knew that it wasn’t that unborn childs fault. He had no control over who his parents were. But I hated him just the same. It should have been my child growing safely inside of me instead of metastasized cancer.
So I lay there hating them both. Melissa and her unborn child. I could imagine her running her manicured hands over her pregnant stomach and smiling slyly at my husband. I had to choke back my sobs of hate and pain so I wouldn’t wake my mother in the other room.
I’m not sure when I fell asleep. But when I opened my eyes next it was morning. The sunlight streaming in my window and the birds chirping gave a hint to a beautiful day.
When I sat up in bed I felt stronger. Perhaps it was a placebo effect, or maybe that magic charm had been worth the money.
It was still around my neck. It hung between my breasts and it no longer felt heavy. I gave it a squeeze and found it was empty. I still didn’t dare open it. Maybe the contents had simply fallen out in the night? I checked my bed but I found nothing. Whatever was in that pouch had vanished completely.
My mother came in to help me get dressed and it went quicker than normal.
“You are looking better today Cassie,” my mom chirped optimistically. She always tried to find the silver lining in bad situations.
“Or maybe my little charm worked and I’m cured?” I teased her.
Her eyes narrowed at me and I knew that she wanted to say something snide, but she let it go and helped me into the kitchen.
Even my appetite was uncharacteristically hearty. And I ate more than I had in a few weeks. My mom smiled at me as I finished my meal
“Having an appetite is a good sign,” she said as she busied herself with making her own breakfast.
The day went on and I spent most of the time resting. Though I did feel better than I had in weeks. There was more color in my cheeks too.
That afternoon I was resting in the living room with mom after lunch. She was flipping through the channels as I was about to drift off into a nap.
“Cassie!” My mom hissed at me and I was instantly awake.
“Mom, what? Are you okay?” I sat up and saw that she wasn’t even looking at me. She was pointing to the TV and I looked to see what was making her so upset.
It was the local news channel. Apparently there had been a fire and a house went up in flames. I furrowed by brow at her not really understanding what had gotten her so upset. It was sad, yes, but fires were not uncommon.
“Look at the address!” She hissed again, her eyes wide and darting from me to the television.
When I saw the address I swooned and had to lay back down. I knew that address even though I wish I didn’t. It was Melissa’s house. I had memorized the address against my better judgement.
As the fire danced in the background of the newscast a somber news reporter told the viewers at home that one body had been removed from the home. It was the body of a woman who had been four months pregnant.
Whatever magic that old woman had gifted me worked like a charm. Pardon the pun.
Over the next few weeks it became evident that I had gone into spontaneous remission. Remission wasn’t even the right word for it really. The cancer had simply vanished. The doctors were baffled and begged to study me. My mom and her church friends were convinced their prayers had created a miracle.
I couldn’t argue with them. It was a miracle, though probably not the one that they had been praying for.
Alex came to the door a month later. I only knew what happened to him through second hand accounts. He had lost everything in that fire. He was couch hopping among the friends and he had lost his job. When I saw my husband on that doorstep looking thin and disheveled I felt a measure of hateful satisfaction.
He asked to come back to me. He had made a terrible mistake he said. With my sudden remission we could start over like nothing had happened he said. I had been hoping and dreading for this to moment ever since I saw Melissa had burnt to death in that fire.
Telling Alex to go to hell and slamming the door in his face was more satisfying than I had imagined it would be. I did still love him, even now. But I would never trust him in my life again.
It’s been several years now and I’m in perfect health. I’m even remarried to a wonderful man and we are expecting our first child. People still call me a miracle and I just smile and nod but I don’t bring it up in conversation if I can help it.
My moms’ health has been declining though. The doctors say she’s showing signs of early onset Alzheimer’s.
But I think I might know a way I can help my mom. You see, there’s an old lady in the town over who can work miracles for a price. And my mom has an abusive ex who liked to beat her before he ended up in jail. Someone that no one would miss.
I think I’ll give my mom the address to that old woman. Then she can give it to someone she hates.