I knew better than to answer ads on Craigslist.
And, yet, here I was. Standing in front of what could only be described as a witch’s cottage set smack in the middle of the city. Odd shaped dormers poked out from the second story and tattered looking lace curtains fluttered in the open windows.
Instead of grass, the yard was filled with neatly tended garden beds. I had no idea what was planted there, but, whatever the plants were, they didn’t look like they dared grow beyond their military-straight lines. In contrast, morning glories and ivy crawled aggressively over the front porch leaving only a small space to walk up the steps. Once I did, a chill skated over my skin. It had to be at least ten degrees cooler up here than it had been on the sun and humidity baked sidewalk.
I knocked on the heavy wooden door and glanced around. The explosion of vines cast the porch in heavy shadows, and I had to squint to make out the shapes of a table and high-backed chairs at the far end. God, you could probably hide a body on this porch, and no one would ever know. Well, the smell would eventually give it away, I supposed.
Movement in one of the chairs caught my eye. Christ. My heart leapt through my chest as a figure stood. I could just make out a vague person-type shape.
I took a few steps toward whoever it was but stopped just as quickly. I couldn’t even tell if the person was male or female. Not that it mattered if what the ad claimed was true.
“I was wondering if you’d show up.”
It was a woman’s voice. Definitely, a woman. The knowledge didn’t make me feel any more at ease.
“Did you change your mind, then?” she asked, returning to her seat.
“No.” I shook my head. “No, I haven’t.”
She lit a wide, stubby candle in the center of the table, and a warm glow crept across the porch. The vines that blocked out the sunlight suddenly looked far more sinister, like they might reach out and strangle me. But I drew closer to the woman–and the vines–anyway.
Sitting across from her on a seat cushion that smelled of mildew, I noticed that she wore a crushed velvet shawl draped over her head, a ridiculous amount of silver and turquoise jewelry, and some sort of ratty looking lace blouse. She looked like she’d dressed entirely in things she’d found at Stevie Nicks’ garage sale. Not that Stevie Nicks probably had garage sales, but if she did, I imagined she’d be getting rid of shit that looked like this as quickly as possible.
I stared at her trying to figure out how old she was. Maybe it was the flickering candlelight or the shifting sun beyond the wall of vines, but one moment she appeared ancient, and the next, her skin was smooth, unlined, and she didn’t look a day over twenty. Her bangles clinked together as she lifted a cloth wrapped object from the vicinity of her feet and set it on the tabletop.
“Did you bring them?” she asked.
“How…could I not? They’re kind of attached.”
She nodded as if she’d expected no other answer and unwrapped what looked like a large crystal ball. It was such a cliché that I snorted, and, at her glare, I shut up just as quickly.
Cradling the orb in her hands, she closed her eyes and spoke in some kind of guttural language. Colored lights began coalescing in the ball’s depth, then radiated outward. Part of me wanted to believe that it was a trick. That it was a battery-operated novelty toy. But a bigger part was so desperate to get what her ad had promised, that I was more than willing to believe.
The brighter the orb glowed, the easier that was. It seemed to be giving off waves of electricity…or something. I could feel the energy seeping toward me, a creeping warmth that prickled over my skin.
“Close your eyes and give them all over. Let the light absorb them.”
It was painful–not physically–but my emotions overwhelmed me. It was like cramming twenty years of psychotherapy into a couple minutes as I brought to mind every painful memory I had of the woman who’d betrayed me. I let them flow out of me like all the tears I’d shed for her over the years. Every shitty thing she’d ever done to me and everyone else I cared about, I let them all surface then allowed that strange electrical pulse pull it away.
Waves of hurtful words and behavior swelled and ebbed only to be replaced by another. Finally, there was nothing left of her in my head. No faux-concern. No backhanded compliments. No unrealistic demands. No nagging voice telling me I’d never be good enough. It was all gone, and I was blissfully empty of all the lies that I’d bought in to over the years. I felt several thousand pounds lighter, and a giddy laugh escaped as I opened my eyes.
“How do you feel?”
“Amazing. Like I can do anything.”
The woman smiled at me, looking quite pleased. “You can.”
“I’m still not quite clear on payment.”
She glanced down at the orb that now sat quiet and dim on the table–it was empty but for a silhouette I recognized. The woman from my memories…pounding on the inside of the crystal ball.
She patted the orb, her long nails clicking against the surface. “I’ve got all the payment I need.”
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