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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Cindy Rosmus: "68"

93_ym_68_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2022

“68”

 

by

 

Cindy Rosmus

 

 

 

“It’s a family curse,” the client, Sandy, said. “They all died at 68.” She looked down at her hands. “Now it’s my turn.”

She didn’t look 68. Just crazy. With those wild eyes and dyed black hair pointing in all directions. Hat hair, but with no hat in sight. Just an ugly purple purse. Those hands she was staring at didn’t look old, only chapped.

“Please!” she said, when she’d walked in through the beaded curtains. “I need your help!”

“Who . . . died first?” I said now.

What else could I say? Madame Julia, I called myself, since that morning.

My grandma was the real psychic, but she went to Atlantic City with her “Golden Girl” pals. I was filling in. I wasn’t even a Madame: I’d just turned 18, but the purple satin robe and turban smelled as old as Grandma.

“My mom’s parents,” Sandy said, “went first. Nonna had breast cancer, so 68 was lucky for her. But Nonno was so distraught . . .” She fingered her spiky hair. “He got hit by a truck!”

I nodded. “Sixty-eight, too.”

“The next day, he would’ve turned 69.”

That robe was hot, even with the A/C blasting. The turban made my scalp sweat. “He almost broke the curse. Who else?”

“My dad’s parents died years back, before I was born.”

“In the old country?”

Her eyes narrowed. “No!” she snapped. “In Newark! Their bar was held up, and they were shot dead.”

Shit, I thought.

“Which ‘old country?’” She sneered, getting up. “Which did you see in the cards?”

I jumped, like I’d been burned. Grandma had left the Tarot cards spread out on the table.

I didn’t know much, but I felt it was the Death card that’d zinged me.

“The cards say nothing.”

She sat back down. “They were both 68, too. Twenty years ago, they found my Pop . . . he’d left us way back . . . dead at 68, in his house. Drowned, in his own . . .”

I waved that away. Now I felt nauseous.

“At 68, my mom died in jail.” When I didn’t react, she said, “For poisoning my stepfather.” She smiled. “I found out she was doing it. And you know what I did?”

Nothing, I thought.

“Watched her stir anti-freeze into his cocktails. Squeeze a little lime, add some sweet vermouth.”

I gathered up the cards.

“She’d taken a fat insurance policy out on him. Once he was dead, we could get away.”

I shuffled the cards, even though the Tarot wasn’t my thing.

But I could read palms.

“He wasn’t a bad guy,” she said. “We just had . . . to . . . get away.”

I reached for her hand.

“Hey!”

“You want my help,” I said, “or not?”

Last year, in senior bio class, I’d stroked a boa constrictor. Minutes later, when Mr. Landers fed it a live rat, I ran out, sobbing.

This old bitch’s hand felt snakelike as I turned it over, lightly touched her pinky. “So many lines,” I said, “in the middle joint.” I let that sink in.

“What does that mean?”

I didn’t answer. I enjoyed how sweaty her hand got as I turned it over, staring at her palm, poking the heart line. My smile might’ve looked like hers when she said she’d helped kill her stepfather.

“You’ll be fine,” I said, dropping her hand and getting up. “Actually, you will break the curse.”

“Really?” she said. “I won’t die this year?”

I shook my head.

“How long will I live?”

“If I knew numbers,” I said, “I’d be in Atlantic City right now.”

We both laughed.

She gave me more money than I bet she would’ve given Grandma. Maybe more than Grandma had won, or lost, at the casino today.

“Thank you!” Beaming, she left through the beaded curtains.

Maybe I was the real thing.

I couldn’t see the number, but someday, when she was older, and gray, walking down icy steps, some kid jonesing for crack would push her down most of them. When her skull cracked on the sidewalk, he’d snatch her purse.

That ugly purple one from today.

 

 

 

Cindy is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybodys from West Side Story. Her noir/horror/bizarro stories have been published in the coolest places, such as Shotgun Honey; Megazine; Dark Dossier; The Rye Whiskey Review, Under the Bleachers, Horror, Sleaze, Trash; and Rock and a Hard Place. She is the editor/art director of Yellow Mama and the art director of Black Petals. Her seventh collection of short stories, Backwards: Growing Up Catholic, and Weird, in the 60s (Hekate Publishing), will be out, soon! Cindy is a Gemini, a Christian, and an animal rights advocate.



Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022