Ed’s keys clattered in the lock as he let himself back in. The apartment was dark, lit by streetlights outside. He dropped his keys in the basket on the shelf beside the door. Smiling, he took a deep breath, still unable to believe that it was over. He touched his fingers to his scalp, newly shaved. The sweat cooled there after his exertions and the excitement of the evening.
He’d almost expected to feel a weight lifted, but he didn’t feel any different at all. After laboring so long under his curse, he’d forgotten what it felt like to be free of it.
He didn’t even know anymore when his luck had started to sour. A few unfortunate turns here and there, until a whole string had run together. The first hint he could recall was getting laid off twice. And then the transmission went. Now, he could barely remember when he’d last won a hand of cards. He didn’t want to believe in hexes, but he’d gotten close to despair. When he finally mentioned it to Charlie, he half expected him to laugh, but Charlie just nodded gravely.
“I know someone,” said Charlie.
It was a steel door with a heavy screen. Ed could see part of the kitchen inside, the wash sink and a shelf full of large cans. He pressed the buzzer. Soon a woman in a white ball cap and dark blue apron came to the door. She didn’t open it.
“Charlie sent me.”
She eyed him. “Did he?”
Ed explained his problem, and she listened without speaking. “I have money,” he said at last.
She vanished for long minutes, finally reappearing with a scrap of paper. She opened the door and handed the paper to him. It was a list. “Any questions?”
“What do I do with this stuff?”
“Put it in a pillowcase, and bury it on the last night of a new moon.”
“Will it work?”
“If you do it right.”
Over the next few months he went from thinking that it was crazy to thinking that it just might work. And, anyway, he was desperate. Most of the items on the list were easy enough to obtain, even if they were a little uncommon. An old-style pull tab from a beer can. Five quarters from before 1958. The list had some oddities, too: three horseshoe nails; the tooth of a deer; an acorn found in the snow. After a while it turned into a scavenger hunt, and he stored the assembled items in a box in the hall closet. But the last item had been the hardest, and the most specific: a sixteen inch lock of his own hair.
He’d worn his hair short since college. It took close to three years before it reached the required length, and in all that time he’d never gotten used to it. He was glad to cut it all off again once it was long enough.
One final step before ridding himself of his bad luck once and for all. He spread the inventory on his kitchen table and went down the list, marking each item with a pen. She’d made it clear that even one missed item would ruin his chances, and he’d have to go through it all over again. He checked the list once more, swept the items into the pillowcase, and set out.
He kept the pillowcase on the passenger seat, next to the shovel bought just for tonight’s purpose. Mindful of his luck, he drove carefully, making sure to stop at every red light and always keeping to the speed limit. The burial was a simple matter, and when he’d finished, the ground hardly looked to have been disturbed. The stars glinted brightly in the moonless sky.
Now it was over, and he slipped out of his shoes and set them on the mat. After checking that the door was secure, he went to the refrigerator for a drink. He switched on the light and took out the pitcher of water, then poured himself a tall glass to toast his new good luck. He downed half of it before he glanced at the table.
Near the center, directly beneath the overhead lamp, he saw the quarter.