Short Story

Was macht man mit je­man­dem, der einem im­mer wieder das Leben schwer macht? Man ver­flucht ihn! Aber kann Hex­erei in der Neuzeit über­haupt funk­tion­ieren? Von JAMES SCHOFIELD

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Estelle took the curse she’d just placed on Xan Dukas, edi­tor-in-chief of Cougar fash­ion mag­a­zine, and climbed the nar­row stairs that led to the roof of her house. Out­side was a small open space, with a wash­ing line and the old-fash­ioned wa­ter stor­age tank for her flat. Lift­ing up the lid of the tank, she re­peated the words she’d just writ­ten, and then dropped the small roll of metal in­side to join the many oth­ers that she had dropped in­side over the past five years.

Pleased with her­self, she leaned on the small wall at the edge of the roof and looked out over a cold, dark Lon­don. That would teach Dukas to mess with Estelle Banf.

“We’ve had a com­plaint from one of the trainees, Estelle,” Dukas had told her at the of­fice that morn­ing. “Your be­hav­iour is un­ac­cept­able!”

Estelle knew who’d com­plained. It was that red­head ev­ery­body seemed to think was so spe­cial. It wasn’t just the fact that the girl was pretty that an­noyed Estelle; it was also that she was clever. Ear­lier that week, she’d asked some awk­ward ques­tions at a team meet­ing about an ar­ti­cle Estelle had writ­ten, caus­ing Estelle to ex­plode. She’d shouted at the girl that she was a tal­ent­less no­body who had no fu­ture at the mag­a­zine — at which point, the stupid girl burst into tears and ran out of the room.

This, as Estelle told ev­ery­body else, proved her point. If the girl got so up­set about a lit­tle feed­back, she didn’t be­long in the world of pub­lish­ing.

And now, she’d made an of­fi­cial com­plaint, so that Dukas — prob­a­bly per­suaded by ad­di­tional tears from that lit­tle red­headed witch — had in­sisted Estelle should re­ceive a writ­ten fi­nal warn­ing from the hu­man re­sources man­ager. If any­thing like that hap­pened again, she would be fired.

Of course, Dukas would do any­thing to get rid of her. Estelle knew that. She’d been on track to become edi­tor-in-chief of the mag­a­zine un­til Dukas was parachuted in by the board, to deal with a dip in cir­cu­la­tion. Worse still, he’d stolen her ideas to turn the sit­u­a­tion round. She was pretty sure they were her ideas — though, re­cently, she some­times found she couldn’t quite re­mem­ber things clearly — but that wasn’t the point. She could do his job — eas­ily — and he knew it. She should have cursed him much ear­lier.

Curse writ­ing was some­thing that Estelle had started do­ing af­ter writ­ing an ar­ti­cle about mod­ern witch­craft five years ago. Most of what she had learned was esoteric non­sense, but some­thing about curse writ­ing ap­pealed to her. It gave her a feel­ing of


power and was so sim­ple. Write down the name of your en­emy, their crime, what you’d like to hap­pen to them and wait... And the tra­di­tion was so old: in the Ro­man town of Bath, ar­chae­ol­o­gists had found some writ­ten in Latin on lit­tle rolled-up lead sheets just like Estelle’s. Curses on thieves, curses on ri­vals, curses on for­mer lovers — and al­ways placed some­where cold, dark and wet so as to in­crease the strength of the magic.

Then one drunken, de­pressed evening at the time of her di­vorce, she used what she’d learned and wrote a curse for her ex-hus­band and his new girl­friend. She dropped it into the wa­ter tank on her roof, the near­est cold, dark, wet place she could think of. The next morn­ing, she heard (to her great sur­prise and de­light) that he had driven his new Porsche into a wall and killed them both.

Af­ter this suc­cess, Estelle was hooked. She put curses on celebri­ties who were rude when she in­ter­viewed them, writ­ers who didn’t send in their ar­ti­cles for the mag­a­zine on time and even her doc­tor, who couldn’t find any­thing wrong with her when she com­plained about the tired­ness she’d started to feel.

Nat­u­rally, she var­ied the curses. She didn’t want ev­ery­body to die in a car crash. And af­ter­wards, she liked to check on the re­sults. A rude celebrity’s film flopped at the box of­fice? Her curse had worked. One of her writ­ers got bad re­views for his novel? Her curse had worked. The doc­tor’s re­cep­tion­ist handed in her no­tice? Her curse had worked. Sooner or later, she be­lieved, they all got what they de­served. Dukas would find out some day.

Over the next few weeks, Estelle had to hope that this was the case, because she her­self was strug­gling at work. She re­peat­edly had bad headaches and didn’t have any­thing like her nor­mal en­ergy.

“Why don’t you go to the doc­tor?” asked Dukas af­ter a meet­ing where she was clearly not well. Oh, yes, thought Estelle, you’d like me to be off sick. Give you a chance to plot some­thing be­hind my back. So she car­ried on, even though just get­ting out of bed and show­er­ing was in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult. Un­til one morn­ing...

“Lis­ten up, ev­ery­body,” said Dukas to the edi­to­rial team in the of­fice. “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Estelle has been taken to hospi­tal and is in a coma. The doc­tors won’t say very much, but it doesn’t look good.”

Ev­ery­body wanted to know more and, being jour­nal­ists, they found a leak at the hospi­tal be­fore the end of the morn­ing. It seemed that over a pe­riod of time, Estelle had some­how de­vel­oped lead poi­son­ing. Health in­spec­tors had been sent to in­ves­ti­gate her house to see if they could find the source. It was all very mys­te­ri­ous.

Later that evening, af­ter ev­ery­body else had left work, the red-haired trainee could be seen go­ing to the ladies’ loo in the of­fice. She went into one of the stalls, opened the wa­ter cis­tern of the toi­let, put her hand in­side and pulled out a small piece of rolled-up metal, about the size of a cig­a­rette. She looked at it for a while, feel­ing the weight of the lead in her hand and re­mem­ber­ing the ar­ti­cle about magic that Estelle had writ­ten all that time ago. It had been a good ar­ti­cle; she’d learned a lot. She washed her hands care­fully and left the of­fice, throw­ing the curse that she’d made for Estelle into a rubbish bin on the way home. It had done its job.


JAMES SCHOFIELD is the co-au­thor of the Dou­bleDeal­ing series. You can find more of his sto­ries and his blog at http://jrtschofield.

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