Witches. Warlocks. Hocus Pocus.
I didn’t believe in any of those things. To be honest, the only thing I really believed in….really had faith in its existence, was bad luck. There was too much proof of it in my life to deny it.
As it turns out, the bad luck that accompanies me wherever I go escalated to a heightened level following a visit form a long-lost relative I didn’t even know existed. She starts spouting nonsense about my parents really loving me (even though they committed suicide a few days after my birth), how my mother tried using witchcraft to save their lives…and how there is a curse hanging over my head that requires my death on my twenty-fifth birthday. Supposedly all the Bailey men commit suicide on their twenty-fifth birthdays due to this curse.
Total craziness, right?
A small dash of intrigue and a heaping-helping of fear cause me to pack up and head to Salem, Massachusetts – where it all started. Here’s my biggest problem: my twenty-fifth birthday is only a couple of weeks away and I’m having these very sensual dreams about a man I don’t know.
I might not know him, but I sure want him.
There weren’t many times in the past year that I felt any semblance of peace, but when I was stretched out on my back on the roof of my dorm, looking up at the stars, peace was so damned close that I felt like I should be able to reach out my hand and grab it. Even so, there was something missing. Like some really vital thing I should know, but couldn’t quite grasp. It had all started on my last birthday and the closer I got to this year’s , the more it tormented me, this thing I should be remembering, but couldn’t.
My dorm was the tallest on campus, fourteen stories high, with a slightly slanted roof, making it perfect for stargazing while I was up there smoking a joint. Okay, so maybe smoking a joint on a slanted roof, fourteen stories off the ground, couldn’t technically be considered a good idea, at least not a safe one, but I defended myself by arguing that we all had different opinions of what was considered good and peaceful. Mine just happened to be a bit dangerous, especially since I was fucking terrified of heights. It was one of those stupid, unexplained, irrational fears, since I’d never fallen or been caught in a situation where I was afraid of falling, but the fear was real. As in, fucking terrified.
Why do this, then? Because, obviously, I couldn’t smoke a joint in my room, and once I found a way to access the roof, I knew it was the perfect place. No, I didn’t have any kind of death wish, but I loved lying there and communing with the moon and stars. This may sound crazy, but sometimes I could have sworn the moon was leaning out of the sky to whisper a name to me. Even the stars chimed in one by one to softly chant the word, but the harder I tried to grab onto it, to let it slide into my conscious mind, the more it slipped away. There were some who said it was just the weed, but I knew better.
It’s well-known, among those who smoke a lot of marijuana, anyway, that to stop smoking is to invite a sudden torrent of crazy, vivid dreams. Just Google “weed and dreams” and there are tons of stories. So it was easy enough to chalk up all the weird dreams I’d been having this past year to my use of illegal substances. But I knew better. I knew that whatever it was, it was coming for me, for good or ill, and I had to be ready. And I knew that when it came, it was going to change my life. All I had to do was remember what the hell it was.
My college was a small, no glam, no prestige university called Kempler College, nestled in the mountains of Tennessee. It was a state funded school where many kids like me who grew up in the foster system, were given grants and scholarships so we could attend college for free. Tennessee was where I’d spent the last five years of my life and had, up until my birthday a year ago, been where I’d planned on spending the rest of it. Then all the dreams and yearnings started, and I began to feel like my destiny was someplace else, someplace far away from the beautiful Tennessee hills. All I had to do was figure out where that place was.
I’d gotten a late start in college, because, while I had received a small scholarship, it didn’t pay all the bills and I had to work and save for a couple of years after high school to be able to afford tuition. I majored in History, maybe because there were so many gaps in my own, and I had graduated at the end of the first semester that year. For lack of anything better to do, I applied for a Master’s program and had been accepted. I was taking a little break until summer session started up in June. I had some vague idea about eventually teaching, but mostly I guess I was just drifting, waiting for my future to happen.
All my plans and dreams changed abruptly one day, though, with one brief visit from a lady I’d never met or even heard of before.
I’d made plans to meet a friend of mine after class, but first I’d decided to stop by my room and change clothes. As I walked through the front door, I noticed a silver BMW parked in front of my building. An elegant, white-haired lady was sitting in it as I passed by. My first thought was that she must be some parent picking up their kid and then I wondered if she was lost because of the way she was looking around at all the students passing by. As I sauntered past the car, the window glided down and she leaned out. “Excuse me, boy. Are you Nicholas Bailey?” she asked, looking me up and down. “You are, aren’t you?”
“Uh, yes ma’am that’s me. But I have to tell you if you’re selling magazine subscriptions or Avon or something, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m as broke as a convict.”
She looked at me like I’d suggested she might come up on the roof and light up a joint with me. “No, young man, I am not selling magazines, and I don’t think people go door to door selling Avon anymore, do they?” she asked with a little sniff. “No, I don’t have anything to sell you, but I have been looking for you for the past year.”
“You have? Why?” I blushed a little because she was still staring at me so intently, and I was puzzled as to what this could possibly be about, but I didn’t want to be rude or anything. I mean, she was kinda old. And rich. I could see that as she got out of the car, wearing expensive clothes and flashing a lot of diamonds on her fingers and wrists.
I smiled politely and began to back away from the car. “Uh, I think you must have the wrong Nicholas Bailey, ma’am.”
“No, I don’t think so. You have the look of your father.” Okay, that got my attention.
“My father?” I replied, choking on a bitter little laugh. “Now I know you have the wrong person. My old man is dead and has been since right after I was born. And I have to tell you if this has anything to do with him, then I’m not interested.”
“Don’t be rude, child. If you’ll just invite me in for a minute, I can explain.” She gave me a look that told me, A—she didn’t like my attitude and B—she wasn’t used to people turning her down. What was I gonna do? Turn my back on her? To tell the truth, I would have been afraid to. The look in her bright blue eyes was fierce. I had to admit I was curious. I invited her to follow me inside.
We rode up in the elevator without saying another word and she came in my room looking around at the empty pizza boxes and books and trash on the floor and then gave me one raised eyebrow. I smiled a little sheepishly and shrugged. Hey, she was the one who wanted to come up to my room. She sat down on the edge of the one chair in the room that I got at the Goodwill, doing one of those one butt cheek hangs, like people do when they’re afraid they’ll get the cooties if they sit back too far, but they’re trying to be polite. I noticed she kept her expensive handbag in her lap. Good call—I hadn’t vacuumed the rug in…hell, who was I kidding? I never vacuumed.
I grabbed a Coke from the little fridge I had under my desk and offered her one, which she declined with another little sniff. I shrugged and sat down.
“Lady, if this really is about my father, I have to tell you I don’t really care. I’m not trying to be rude, but my parents—”
I broke off, a little choked up. I had no idea why it bothered me after all this time. Maybe it was the waste of it all. I’d always just assumed my mother and father must have been on some heavy-duty drugs. I didn’t know that for sure, but they had killed themselves five days after I was born, within five feet of my baby crib. With me in it. Selfish bastards.
“People like my parents are not people I want to know anything about.”
She leaned forward a little. “Young man, you have no idea what you’re talking about. My name is Hephzibah Banks. I was your mother’s aunt, and I know for a fact that both your parents loved you very much. They were so excited when you were born…” She opened her bag and took out a little hankie. No shit. Not some wadded up Kleenex, but an honest to God white hankie with embroidered initials on it. I just stared at her as she dabbed at her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I still get emotional even after all these years.”
“Yeah, um, I see that, but look, Mrs… Uh?”
“Banks. It’s your mother’s maiden name, you know.”
“Okay. And excuse me, but I’m having a problem believing that line of—excuse my language, ma’am—bullshit, since my parents killed themselves like I said and just left me there. I wasn’t found for three days, and not another living soul understood how I even survived. I’ve spent the majority of my life thinking that they hadn’t intended for me to survive. The way I figure it is that they just didn’t have the guts to kill me themselves. So they left me to die slowly, completely alone and surrounded by the decaying bodies of people who should have loved me. What kind of people do something like that?”
She leaned forward again and fixed me with a look. “Young man, I don’t know you. But I can tell you right now, without any fear of contradiction, that you are full of shit.”
That surprised a laugh out of me and she smiled. “Young people aren’t the only ones who can curse when they need to get someone’s attention. Your mother was my niece. I knew both your parents well. I visited her those last few months on several occasions, and I helped her decorate the nursery, laughed with her over baby name books and watched her cry real tears of joy when she talked about the baby growing in her womb. Your father was equally smitten with you, working two jobs so there’d be plenty of money to purchase all the things a new baby would need. Regardless of how many hours he worked, or how tired he had to be, he was always excited to come home and see the progress she’d made on the nursery. Because she worked on that room every chance she got. She was so proud of the baby boy coming to her.”
That all sounded really sweet and all, but I still wasn’t picking up what she was putting down. Again, I was calling bullshit in my head, but I let her keep on with her fantasy story. I hated to be rude, but I was going to let her have her say and then politely walk her out to the curb.
Then, out of nowhere, her voice got low and conspiratorial. She leaned so far toward me I just knew she was about to fall off that chair. She acted like she had some kind of epic secret to share. “I have something to tell you, young man. Something shocking. One month before you were born, someone or something frightened your parents badly. Your mother had been expecting it in a way, but when it actually came, she was devastated. Shocked. And after that, everything changed. Your parents were no longer happy and excited about your birth. They became terrified and grief-stricken. They knew they were going to die.”
I swear to God a cold breeze wafted through the room out of nowhere and slipped down the neck of my shirt. I shuddered and opened my eyes wide to really look at this woman. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind my asking—and I really hate to be an asshole and all—but just who the fuck are you?”
She smiled. “I already told you. I’m your great-aunt Hephzibah. Don’t you believe me?”
“I’m not exactly sure what to believe right now.”
“What I’m telling you is the truth. I assure you your parents’ love for you never wavered or diminished in the least, but they both changed almost overnight from excited and happy parents-to-be to paranoid people who began to let fear rule their lives. Your mother’s health deteriorated. She was doing everything in her power to keep her little family safe. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.”
She reached down in that bag again and brought out an envelope. “I made a vow to your mother that if anything should happen to her and to your father, I’d find you when the time came and give you this letter. The fact that my family did nothing to stop this thing from happening to your parents still haunts me to this day, but our hands were tied. We were devastated, but were powerless to stop it. There was a curse, you see.”
I gave her a look of blatant disbelief. “A curse?”
“Yes, and don’t give me that look, young man. Curses, like witches, have existed throughout all time. This was a curse of black magic. An evil curse so powerful that none of us could break it. The spell was made with a blood sacrifice, you see. An unthinkably evil one.”
She held the yellowed envelope out to me, and for a minute I was actually afraid to even touch it. I felt another chill run down my back. Somebody just stepped on my grave. I looked up wordlessly at Mrs. Banks, the woman who called herself my great aunt Hephzibah, and she shook the envelope a little. “Well go ahead, boy. It’s not going to bite you.”
I jerked it out of her hand with maybe a little more force than I absolutely needed to and opened it up. The envelope contained some faded pink stationery, five pages of it stained with tears. It was written in a flowery longhand that I could barely even read. It took me a while to decipher it. It was from my mother.
Like my visitor had already told me, my mother declared in her letter how much she and my father loved me, how much they’d wanted to stay with me. There’d been sweet details about the first time my mother had felt me move inside her or how amazed my father was when she’d placed his hand on her belly and let him feel the butterfly flutters. There’d been plans for my future, all the things they wanted to see me do—like take my first steps, hear my first word, witness my first day of school, throw a football—the list had gone on and on. Then on page four, the letter had taken a decidedly malevolent turn.
“Darling, if you’re reading this, then my worst fears have come true and I wasn’t able to stop the curse from taking your father’s life. Without him, I simply can’t go on, but for you I would have tried. I would never have left you in the world alone and defenseless. So since you’re reading this now, my backup plan to save myself has failed too. I can only tell you that someone is coming for us and I’m afraid that no matter what we do to stop them, we won’t be able to survive. I’m enclosing a family tree with as much detail as I could in the short period of time we’ve had to prepare. Read the information carefully, darling. It describes an evil curse that originated in 1717, in Marblehead, Massachusetts—one that directly affects all the male descendants of your father’s line.”
That page ended, and curious, I turned it over to read what came next. I had to read it three times before the words began to make any sense—before they finally imprinted themselves on my brain.
All the males on your father’s side of the family commit suicide on the occasion of their twenty-fifth birthday.
I read that line again and really let it sink in. This was April, and my twenty-fifth birthday was only a few weeks away, on May fifteenth.
And despite how truly evil that is, once every one hundred years, another event coincides with that death. On that occasion, the man who commits suicide is the actual reincarnation of Nicodemus Bailey, a young man who lived and died in Salem in 1717. Nicodemus was the soul mate and true love of Corbin Hargreaves, a powerful witch who lived in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and who disappeared without a trace the same fateful night his true love died.
That terrible event—Nicodemus’s suicide—takes place again every one hundred years. Nicodemus is reincarnated into the body of on one of his descendants, and this is where the story gets even murkier. That descendant somehow finds his lost love not long before his birthday and is reunited with him. He and Corbin Hargreaves are deliriously happy once again—until the descendant has his twenty-fifth birthday. Then, even Corbin’s magic is unable to save him, and Corbin is forced again to watch him die. And again, Corbin disappears, not to resurface for another hundred years. The year of your twenty-fifth birthday, 2017, will be the third time this atrocity recurs. Unless you can find a way to stop it. I think you can.
I looked up from the letter and shook my head. Reincarnation? Curses? True love and mysterious disappearances? Complete bullshit, right? Had to be. I sure as hell didn’t believe in curses and I didn’t believe suicide was ever the answer either.
My great aunt, if that’s who she really was, hadn’t been there more than twenty minutes, but she’d managed to alter my entire life in that short amount of time. Not that I believed it, of course. It was crazy! Nuts! I looked up from the letter to tell old Great Aunt Hephzibah exactly what I thought of this bullshit letter, and she was looking at me so sadly I didn’t have the heart to tell her what I wanted to say.
“I’m sorry, dear,” she said. “But if it’s any consolation, your mother truly believed you would be the one to break the curse. She believed it with every fiber of her being.”
“I don’t understand. Who was my mother? How did she know all this about my father’s family?”
“Your mother was Rosalie Banks. And she volunteered to come and meet your father on the occasion of his twenty-fourth birthday to try to warn him. Unfortunately, she took one look at him and fell in love. I say unfortunately, because once she fell in love, she refused to leave him and it sealed her own fate. We knew that in that year, 1991, he would meet someone, fall in love, marry and begin his family. We didn’t know that it would be with our Rosalie. She was so in love with your father that she couldn’t leave him to his fate. She hoped up until the last that she could manage to save him. But she was also a realist—she knew that she might not be able to. And she had premonitions of the future.” She looked over at me long and hard. “Your mother was a talented witch who gave her life for you and your father. She told me not long before you were born, “I still have hope to save my sweet husband, but if I should fail, my son, Nicholas, will be the one to stop this from ever happening again. He will find his true love, Corbin Hargreaves, and they will end this curse together. They will live happily ever after—unlike my sweet husband and I. But if the worst happens, then we will go to our deaths knowing that our baby will be the one. He will break the curse forever and end this terrible cycle.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, wiping some traitorous tears from my eye. I didn’t believe this bullshit. Not for a second, but the love my mother felt for me shone through the words on the page. I felt it as if she’d been in the room there with me. For the first time in my life, I felt loved—both by her and my father. And I felt cheated. Something had happened to take them away from me, and if it was the last thing I ever did, I was going to find out what that was.
“If my mother’s family knew about this, like you say you did, why did you leave me in foster care?”
“To protect you. It was your mother’s wish to save your life at all costs. She cast spells to help you survive until you were found. She thought going to foster care might help stop the curse from finding you before you were ready. When you turned twenty-four, I started looking for you, and I’ve only just found you. I’m sorry you had to go through that, dear. But know that it was done out of love for you and fear for your safety.”
My great aunt left not long after, saying that she would be in touch. I didn’t ask her any questions—just let her go. That night, I got shitfaced drunk and had a pity party for one. I’m embarrassed to say I cried for a long time. I cried for my mother who had called me darling. I cried for the parents I’d never known but who were so obviously disturbed. How could they both have believed that foolishness my mother was spouting in the letter? How had she convinced my father of her craziness to the point that he killed himself right along with her and left me high and dry? I cried for all those dreams of theirs gone up in smoke. All the things they’d planned for me, all the things I missed because they were dead, by their own insane choice.
Eventually, I moved on from crying to cussing. I cussed them for leaving me behind, and for leaving me a fucking note that gave me only a cruel taste of what might have been. For putting all these ridiculous doubts inside my head. Suicide at the age of twenty-five? Fuck that shit.
When I’d sobered up, I put my brand-new history degree to the test and began researching the small amount of information I’d received from my so-called great aunt Hephzibah and the letter, feeling one hundred percent certain that I’d find that my parents were total nut jobs and the supposed family curse was nothing more than a figment of their very vivid imaginations.
But that’s not what I found at all. And that, unfortunately, was when shit got real.