I came into the hall of a housing building. It was quite spacious with a kind of a reception straight to the right from the entrance and some food stalls across it: cool drinks, ice-cream, assortments of snacks. Further down the hall there were stairs for upper floors (up to 12th) and doors to two of the apartments (number 1 and 2, obviously) by the sides of those stairs. Behind the reception desk there was a young man staring somewhere down, probably reading a magazine or something.
- Excuse me. Which apartment should I check to find mistress Archacki?
- And you are?.. – asked the receptionist raising his eyes.
- I am her grandson, Damian. She is expecting me.
- Oh, she warned me about you. Moment. – The man vanished behind the desk. I heard some kind of a safe-box being opened and then closed. – Here. She asked me to give you the set of keys to the apartment. Use the stairs to get to the third floor.
One of the keys had number “9” on it. I thanked the receptionist and went to the stairs. A young woman walked them down heading to the exit. Blonde hair to the shoulders, oval glasses with thin rim. She smiled at me, when passing by and I politely nodded in acknowledgement.
On all the floors except for first and twelfth, there were 4 apartments. Doors to two of those were straight ahead from the stairs to the floor and the others were in the niches to the sides. Doors across the stairs on the 3rd floor did not have any numbers on them: from the looks of it they were quite new and it’s possible the numbers were not pinned yet. The door to the left had “6” and the door to the right… Well, also “6”, but it was lower. I assumed that it was a broken “9” hanging by its tail, so went up to that door.
Keyhole provided some resistance: guess the key was a bit thicker, which happens with new keys made by another master. But the door opened, so that was not a problem. I walked into a 3-room apartment. To the left of me – door to the restroom, and then a small hall leading to the kitchen. Across of me – door to one of the rooms, to the right of it – door to the second one, which was supposed to have an entrance into the 3rd. I walked into the 2nd room. It was really spacious, due to lack of furniture except for one showcase filled with plates and cups, most likely stuff passed on through generations and never actually used. Besides the case there was just a sofa and…
An ears-piercing alarm went off. On a wall a device resembling a dream-catcher hanged. But unlike a dream-catcher it was mounted on the wall (instead of a ceiling) and plugged into electric circuity. This was a “magic alarm” as some peddlers called them. Most people did not believe this stuff held any meaning or purpose besides stealing money from the poor, but some did believe in evil spirits and stuff and bought such alarms to notify them about spirits’ presence. I am not a spirit, of course, but these alarms do react to me. Those that actually work, that is.
I went out of the apartment, pressing my hands against the ears that were close to bleeding from the sound. The door behind number “6” opened with words:
- What is this commotion? Damian? What are doing there?
I saw my grandma. For fuck’s sake, that was actually number “6” on the key, not “9”. I’m too tired for this stuff…
- Come on in. Don’t stand there like a tree.
Grandma was a plump woman, quite stooped. When she met me she was wearing a robe and slippers.
- What happened back there?
- I accidentally broke into another apartment. Thought this number on the key was “9”.
- Honey, you never was such an air-head. Something wrong?
- No, just tired from the road, did not sleep much…
- Go take a shower then and I will prep you something to eat.
That “something” turned out to be pea soup, fries, pork cutlets and some pickled cucumbers. After I ate, I just sat there with closed eyes, listening to insect chirping in the burning up sun outside the window: alarm got silent in a few minutes after it was triggered, thank god.
- When will you stop chasing those… Those spirits?
I opened my eyes: grandma was sitting across the table, looking out the window. I sighed:
- You know I can’t stop. You know perfectly well, that it’s my curse to lift other curses out there.
- But it is so dangerous.
- Don’t I know it? It will kill me some day. One day I will be tired enough to read “6” as “9”, enter the wrong room and instead of a magic alarm stumble upon a demon. That’s kinda inevitable, baba. And you know I can’t do zit about it.
I heard the door to the apartment open (why did she not close it?) and footsteps coming closer:
- Baba Archacki? You home?
- In the kitchen, - responded my grandma.
A tall dark haired (slightly curled) man walked in, huge PDA in hand (I think it was too big to hold even with 2 hands). White shirt, skinny black-ish jeans.
- Good day, baba Archacki. Seems like there was a break-in to my apartment. Did you hear anything?
- Apparently, Damian here, – she pointed at me, – mistook yours for mine.
- Damian? – man looked at me and started glowing – Damian? Baba Archacki, you never said, that your Damian is THIS Damian.
- You know each other?
- Yeah, we do, - I responded. - Went to school together. Hi, Anatol.
- Hi, man! How long has it been? Ten years?
- Something like that, yeah. Sorry for the apartment: that was totally not intentional: was too tired from the road and mistook “6” for “9”.
- No problem, man, I understand. I once got drunk so much that I barged in on baba Archacki here. She could have called the police, but instead she let me sleep it off. Guess now we are even. If you did not steal anything, that is.
- I did not. Did not have a chance, since had to hold my hands against the ears because of that alarm.
- Guess it needs to be fixed. Not like it’s any use. – Anatol looked at his PDA. – You know, since there is no issue here and just a misunderstanding, I’ll have to return to work now, but come on over tonight, we’ll catch-up.
- Sure, I’d like that.
- See ya later then. – Anatol left.
- Baba, you won’t mind if I zone out for a few hours?
- Of course, not, honey. Sleep as long as you like.
After a shower, a home-cooked meal and a nap I felt refreshed. Grandma moved in here a few years back and she was pestering me to come visit her ever since. I would not mind a small vacation. I decided to start it with going out for some fresh air before reminiscing with Anatol. I went down to reception. Receptionist glared at me and asked cautiously:
- Did you, by any chance, have anything to do with that alarm earlier today?
- I… Yeah, kinda. We cleared that out with Anatol already. No issue here.
- Hm, so I heard.
- What is your name, by the by?
- What is it to you?
- Well, I hoped to stay here for some time and I’d prefer to address you by your name, if the need arises.
- Hm… Henryk. Try not to cause any trouble here.
- I’ll do my best.
I went to one of the fridges with drinks and got myself one bottle of mineral water. I went to Henryk to pay for it while a group of five young girls, all in shorts and tight shirts and sunglasses (as if clones), came down the stairs chirping as birds among each other. One of them with dark hair and red hair comb came up to me and laid her hand on my chest. A cold feeling spread out through my body as if I was thrown into an icy lake:
- Thank you for the warming me up on your chest, - the girl said and went on as if nothing happened.
I looked back at the girls coming out through front door: there were only four. Shit. Not here, please, not here. I rubbed my eyebrows, feeling a headache coming soon.
In the evening, I met up with Anatol. Turned up he was married for almost 3 years now and was working as assistant director in a delivery firm. As he said, it was not much, but kept them afloat and busy. His wife, Agnieszka, worked at a florist’s shop, helped with decorating it, mainly.
- And what about you? What are you up to these days?
- I… Travel a lot. Help people here and there. Solve their… Troubles.
- Troubles? What kind of troubles exactly?
- Well, not too fond of sharing this stuff, but I think I’m drunk enough to make an exception… I lift curses.
Something in Anatol’s eyes changed: as if he was in a deep pit and a spider thread was sent down to him to climb.
- You mean curses, like when someone says a word and the other suffers, right?
- Well, it’s not the only way to curse someone, but those types, too, I deal with.
Anatol seemed both stressed out and relieved after hearing this. We went silent for a while. The housekeeper was if gathering his courage to say the words, but I already knew what was words would be: a plea for help.
- You see, Damian, I was not entirely honest with you. Me and my Jagusia, we are happy, yes… But there was some trouble a few months back. You see, I… I fucked up. I fucked up gravely. At work, at one of the celebrations I… I slept with my boss’s secretary. I… I confessed it right away. Jagusia… She... I have no idea how she did it, but… She is strong, my Jagusia… She found strength to forgive me this transgression…
- Then it’s all good, isn’t it? She gave you another chance and you just need not screw it up again.
- Well, yeah, but… The thing is, that secretary thought it was more than just my drunk mistake. She thought, that I’d leave my wife for her. When she learnt otherwise, she started cursing me and Jagusia…
- And you think, that she actually did curse you?
- She was interested in occult an’ stuff. So… Maybe? Also there is this… Come with me for a moment.
Anatol went to the fridge and stretched his arm to reach something between the fridge and the kitchen wall. A wooden cutting desk:
- One day I saw this on a cutting desk and on the same day I bought the magic alarm. Hid the desk, did not say a word to Jagusia…
- She did not question the alarm?
- She… She knew about Klaudia’s reaction. Secretary’s name is Klaudia. So, what do you think? Is this a curse?
On one side of the desk a human silhouette was burned in, as if a portrait drawn by burning a cigarette’s butt against the wood. No specific features, that I could see, though:
- Sometimes worded curses fueled by strong emotions can manifest in burned in images at home of the one they are used against. This could be such a manifestation, but I can’t tell for sure before I investigate.
- Of course, of course.
- Oh, and… I know you are an old friend, but lifting curses is kinda my bread, so…
- Yeah, I… I understand. I read those Witcher books, so no argument from me there.
- By the by, why do you think, that the curse is actually activated?
- Jagusia seems unnaturally pale for the past few weeks. Frequent headaches… I know, it may be just some illness, maybe, but…
- To much of a coincidence, I agree. Let me start ‘morrow though, ‘kay? I prefer to work sober.
- Sure thing. Would not want it any other way.
The works started sooner than I thought. Grandma woke me up early in the morning, saying, that Anatol is calling me out:
- Damain, I’m worried like crazy…
- Wha-what is it, Anatol? I said, that I start work today, and I will.
- Jagusia, she did not turn up last night. She did work late at the shop sometimes, but she always came back by morning. Not this time, though.
- Ok. Ok. Give me a moment to dress up and I’ll help you search for her.
I did dress up, but it’s not only the clothes I wanted. Since there was a high possibility of a curse, I’d better take a proper weapon. I carried around a small knife of Del Tin steel with its fuller plated with silver. It’s not exactly true, that silver harms monsters in general, but there are species that may react to it, so a small amount of it is always good, even though quite expensive.
We went to the florist first, the place being the obvious choice, but Agnieszka was not there. Anatol concluded from the get-go, that Klaudia is involved in this. I agreed to follow him to her place. She was closing the door to her apartment behind her, when we found her. High heels, black pantyhose, skirt and jacket with white blouse under it. Dyed red hair in ponytail, tribal sun tattoo visible on the back of her neck.
- Where is my wife, bitch? – Anatol started yelling. I laid my arm on his chest stopping his approach:
- Let me handle it. Hi, Klaudia. My name is Damian. I am helping Anatol find his wife, since she did not return yesterday. He shared some info with me, like, the fact that you thought your one-time fling was serious and you started cursing Agnieszka… Is there any truth to that?
- One-time thing? You call a whole fucking year a one-time thing? Of course, I’d be cursing them! I let him bang me to his dick’s content and feed him info to use for blackmailing our boss, so that he would take his place and make me assistant director. And then suddenly he backed off. Would not you be pissed if you learnt that you sold yourself for thin air?
- Anatol? Is this true? – the man averted his eyes. – Did Agnieszka know?
- No. I told her only about the last time.
- Klaudia, I hear you are interested in occult stuff. Did you actually try to curse Agnieszka or Anatol?
- Of course not. I am scorned, but I am not sick in the head. Yeah, I’m interested in that stuff, since my grandma was a gipsy. But I am interested enough to know the repercussions of actually cursing someone. I’m not crazy to do that. Besides, this dickhead is going to lose his job anyway: I sold him off to the boss.
- Anatol, later. We have other priorities. Klaudia, thank you for clarifications, but, please, leave now.
- Need to go to work either way. – the girl left showing the finger to Anatol’s back.
- Anatol, where else can Agnieszka can be?
- I… I do not know…
- Think. Any place of significance may be a worthwhile destination.
- There… There is a field a few miles west from the house. A wheat field. It’s a… It’s a first place where… Where we were… Em… Intimate…
- Well, good place as any other to check out. Any specific place in that field, that can narrow the search?
- Near the field there is a big old oak. We had picnic under it before… Before going into the field.
- Ok. I do not want to get into your dirty laundry, so I won’t ask about what Klaudia said just now. But I want you to calm down a little, if possible, so while we walk – tell me about that picnic, ok?
Talking did help him a bit. Remembering happy times, times that were filled with love and not betrayal calmed him down. When we reached the oak – there she was, Agnieszka and… That girl with the cold touch. I recognized her immediately and it suddenly clicked in my head. When I saw her in that vision she was not addressing me, but someone else. And… She was not smiling. It was if she was burying the pain. Seems like it did not work in the end: she was pale, seemed like she lost quite a few kilos recently. For some it could look like a severe depression, but…
- What are those things? – asked Anatol in disgust.
Around and near Agnieszka there were a dozen of small humanoid creatures with burned-like skin. Kłakokrady. Harmless for most people, they, as the name suggests, steal hairs and consume those. Usually just a few will do for them, but give them someone in depression… When we are suffering mentally our body suffers too starting with skin and, by association, hair, nails. Everyone knows that we look less appealing when in pain. Not for kłakokrady: for them we become like a drug, like a dessert they can’t get enough of. And they found their meal, which did not see them, staring into the sky.
I formed a cross with my index fingers and, crouching, got close to Agnieszka. Kłakokrady did not run away, obviously, they do not care about gods imagined by men, but they did step away looking at me in curiosity:
- Stay back little guys, I have a few questions for the girl, okay?
- D-Damian, what’s wrong with her?
- Well… It’s not exactly a curse… Not yet, at least. But maybe she’ll tell us? Agnieszka? – I snapped my fingers near her face to draw attention. Lazily she focused her gaze on me. – Hi, my name is Damian. I want to help you. Can you tell me, what you did?
- I… - her voice was hoarse, shaky, - I was so sad when I learnt… When I learnt my Anatol was screwing that girl… She is pretty, I get it… Am I not pretty, too? Why is he cheating on me for months now?
- How did she…
- Hush. Let her speak.
- And then he even confessed. Did not care to mention, that it was not a one-time thing. Did he think I will never leave? Guess he is right… I tried, I tried so hard to forgive, to forget… But I only thought of revenge, get some cute guy and screw him till his dick falls off, but that did not help…
Tears started pouring down her face. Kłakokrady became more active and tried to get closer, but shushed them again and they jumped back as if scared cats. Anatol was losing color in his face, too, so a few of the creatures were gazing upon him as well.
- The guilt was too much for me… I can understand him, he is a guy, a young one, a strong one, I guess I could not satisfy all his needs… But I… I was content, why did I have to go and betray him?
- Agnieszka… Wha… Damian, can you… Can you do something.
Yeah. I can. The only thing that works for majority of the curses… I took the knife out of the boot and thrust it right in her chest. The girl gasped and I saw the light die out in her eyes, felt her spirit leaving. Kłakokrady shrieked as if in disappointment – their dessert gone sour. I felt anger in their eyes, but they were too smart to attack nonchalantly.
- What… Have you done?
I got the knife out of the girl and wiped the blood off the grass.
- What in hell have you done?
- I lifted the curse.
- You said it’s not a curse! And… And… Aren’t you lot supposed to save from curses? Why did you kill her?! – he grabbed me by the shirt. Strange how he was not hitting me yet.
- I’m not your fucking Geralt and this is not a book about Witchers, who save people for money. It was not a curse YET. She needed maybe a few hours more to finish casting it. One of the most disgusting curses there is: guilt and self-pity in one bottle.
He finally hit me. Hard enough for me to step back.
- You will not get away with this!
- I should not, yes. But you see… It’s part of my power. Inscribed on this knife is “zapomniec”, forget. If I use the knife to kill source of the curse or someone cursed, that person will vanish from everyone’s memories. Soon you and everyone else will continue your lives, as if nothing happened.
- You… - Anatol dropped on his knees, kłakokrady felt a new meal brewing in him. – She was pregnant… - his eyes emptied for a moment and then became alive again – Wha… What are we doing here?
- We were just walking. Let’s get back. You do have work today, don’t you?
Another episode… He will be seeing stuff related to Agnieszka, wonder where it came from, why is this way and not another, but in the end, simply ignore and accept. Even the unexplained need to pay me for lifting the curse. Because she never existed in his current life and this never happened.
I lied, though. It’s not “everyone” who will forget. I will remember. I will always remember. I will remember a husband, who cheated on his wife, but decided to turn a new leaf as soon as a baby came into picture. I will remember a wife who avenged herself by cheating back and then felt overwhelming guilt. So overwhelming, that she cursed herself. Or rather a child, that was result of her vengeance. I will remember the unborn child, that struggled for its life sucking out lifeforce of its mother. I will be the one to bury both wife and child, who became invisible for their family. I will do it to pertain at least some of their dignity, even though kłakokrady eat all of Agnieszka’s hair.
And even if I will start forgetting… Well, I am writing this down so that I could remember. So that I could remember the life I’ve taken to prolong mine own. This is my own curse.