AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT
By Sharon Angleman
thousands of years most every society has observed, and practiced, some
sort of superstitious ritual. The new, western world is no exception.
Broken mirrors, ladders, umbrellas, black cats, numbers and sidewalk cracks
have, at some time, dictated oneís behavior. Silly? I suppose.
Hogwash? Maybe. Necessary? I think so.
But because of the rational,
if not the somewhat mixed emotions associated with traditional, and often
proven, superstitious consequences, the modern world has allowed us to
pick and chose our deviltries. I, for example, have never been intimidated
by an open umbrella in the house. I have never thought twice before
entering an address of thirteen, and I will readily walk under a ladder
if it shows to be the shortest route. Black cats, however, had at
one time posed a bit of a problem.
It was not at all uncommon
for me to be seen performing automobile acrobats in attempts to avoid
a black catís path, even if it meant driving miles out of my way.
This tactic once made me late for an important job interview. I
did not get the job, most certainly due to the close proximity of the
evil catís psyche, reaching past the allotted domain of her path and invading
the sacred girth of my car with her impressionable powers.
Experience had taught me
the consequences of violating her inoculated crossways. Lessons
began as early as age 13 (just a coincidence, Iím sure). My pride
went well before a fall from my 125 cc Suzuki dirt bike. Crouching
just below the shadows, behind scrubs of small mesquite trees, she waited
for me. As I rounded a corner, preparing for a small jump, I glanced
behind me to see if the young boys I was in lead of were watching.
As I turned back around, I saw the fading blur of her tail as she darted
across the gravel. Though her path did not directly cross mine,
her presence was still there.
As I took the jump, my
bike soured up in the air, shaking as if from extreme fear of the beast,
and the front wheel began to swing wildly back and forth. In a desperate
attempt to gain control, I opened the throttle wide. The power seemed
to force my front wheel up higher than the back. Iím okay, I thought.
The back wheel will hit the ground first, and my posture will do the rest.
But the shadow in the bushes forbid it. My front wheel hit the loose
gravel first. My timing must have been off, as RPMs forced the bike
back up in the air for a short distance, and then it hit ground again.
My helmeted head slammed
against the ground before the rest of my rag doll body followed.
Fibers from my cotton shirt and layered shreds of my tender skin were
rendered from my body as it slid 12 feet for were it left the bike.
I suppose because the beast did not directly cross my path, I was lucky.
My bike had flown the other direction, turning several flips as it did.
Colliding on the gravel 25 feet away from me, it landed upside down on
the handlebars, wheels orbiting in the air as if a six-year-old child
had just spun a newly repaired tire.
During the next 10 days
I had plenty of time to think about the incident, returning each event
in my mind as my bruised and grated body lay healing. Yes, I had
seen it. An obscure shadow, waiting. A tailÖyes it had been
there, Iím sure of it. And orange luminous pools, as well.
Yes, now that I though about it clearly, I had seen eyes. With the
somber belief that my life had been effected by this diabolical black
being, I knew for certain there was a force, and I could not escape it.
Eight months later the
wicked trickery was still being decreed. It followed my mother and
I across the country as we escaped her deranged boyfriend, who had two
days before pulled a 357 magnum on the both of us. The presence
rained unforeseen hail storms on our small traveling VW Rabbit, punched
holes in its engine block, spent all our money on U-Hauls so the poor
rabbit could finish its journey, forced us to sleep at truck stops and
beg work for food. Finally, residing 700 miles from where I was first
introduced to the satanic forces of superstition, I naively thought I
was safe. We could begin our lives again, leaving the heinous ghouls
of the past behind.
quickly hit his brakes we pulled up to his house, in efforts to avoid
a cat darting across the alley. He cursed and said something about
a cat moving into the neighborhood, but I knew better. This was
December 27, 1975.
That night I received a
distressing call from my boyfriend, Mike, telling me his mother was in
the hospital. She had attempted to take her life with prescription
medication and was labeled in serious condition in the intensive care
unit. Mike was only 16, and his older married sister was overdue
with child. With three younger siblings, and no father in the home,
my mother suggested we go stay over there to help out, so we packed a
few things and went over. Thus, our first visit the Belview County
Hospital was to visit Mikeís unconscious mother and discuss her recovery
with the doctors.
The following evening,
amidst the confusion of three teen-agers, a young expecting mother and
her worthless husband, and three adolescents, my mother washed dishes
in the large white cast iron sink. One of the younger kids mindlessly
tossed a glass in the soapy dishwater. My mother shot him an annoyed
glance then returned to her chore. A few minutes later we hear a
scream from the tiny kitchen, and all eight of us rushed in to find the
cause. Crouched over, holding her wrist was my mother, rocking back
"My hand! My hand!"
she sobbed. "I think my thumb is gone!"
When Mother had started
to wash Rickyís glass, she stuck her hand into it and twisted at the same
time with the sponge she held. But the glass had broken in half
when it hit the sink, leaving a gapping, ragged mouth of razor-sharp glass.
We all stood there, gapping ourselves before finally Mike grabbed a dishcloth
and wrapped it around her hand. The speared edges had pierced the
forepart of her thumb, and in the same action had twisted through the
tendons. Inches of her flesh had been sliced away from the bone.
Blackish -crimson blood was beginning to pool on the speckled, sickly
green ceramic tile of the kitchen, searching lower ground through the
spaces between the tile were adhesive had once been.
On our way to the hospital
I recalled how earlier in the day Mike had laughed at me when I pleaded
with him to turn the van around, or back it up. He said that
crossing a catís path didnít do anything but piss off the cat. He
Three days went by with
little more in the way of mishaps. The mood in the house was as
festive as a New Yearís Eve should be. Mike and I had tickets to
what was supposed to be one of the best rock-and-roll partyís of the year.
Black Oak Arkansas and Foghat were performing at the LA Forum for a big
New Yearís Eve bash, and we were going to be there.
As we were leaving the
house to pick up a friend of ours, Mike said, "Donít look now, but our
buddy just run across the alley."
"Well, back up, Mike,"
I begged. "Come on, Iím serious, please?"
"Oh, Babe," he responded,
"youíre so cute. Here, have a shoot of this blackberry brandy.
It cost half my paycheck."
Dismissing my pleas, Mike
continued on through the alley out onto the main road. An hour and
a half later we were traveling up the LA Express in the farthest left
of its five lanes. I sat facing backwards on the engine shrouding
of the í65 Chevy van. Our friend occupied the passenger seat.
As I cracked the seal on
our third pint of flavored brandy, I heard Mike yell, then I felt a blow
to the back of my head, knocking me clear off the shrouding and into the
back of the van. At the same time I was flying through the air,
I heard a loud explosion. The van was rocking back and force as
if a huge hand had picked it up and was shaking it. My shoulder
blades struck the right wheel housing, temporarily knocking my breath
away. I felt the van was spinning, and had the sensation that all
gravity had simply disappeared from underneath me. I heard other
crashing sounds that seemed to come from far away. Grinding and
spinning, the van fought with the divider railing and lost. We came
to a stop facing south on a north bound freeway.
Very badly shaken, but
relatively unharmed, Mike checked on me, got out of the crumpled van and
began to survey the scene. A small red car sat about thirty feet
to the north of us, also facing south. What looked like a woman
lay slumped over the steering wheel. Mike said she had come over
from the far right lane and started spinning, as if her brakes had locked.
She had hit us head on in the fast lane.
As Mike used his best baseball
throw to rid the scene of three liquor bottles and a bag of weed before
the cops arrived, I reminded him about the fucking cat. He simply said
we would come back tomorrow to find the weed. It was Panama Red,
he said, hard to get in LA.
Four days later it was
Mikeís birthday. Being the good girlfriend that I was, and knowing
that Mike had a bit of whiplash (we had visited Belview two days earlier),
I wanted to bake him a scratch cake, chocolate, his favorite. The
first thing I did, of course, was turn on the oven. It was old and
tired, but Mikeís mother had produced some wonderful meals from it.
It was different than any stove I had ever cook on, but I was certain
I would manage just fine. As I went about mixing my ingredients,
I began to notice a smell, a gas smell. I realized then that to
have heat, I needed to light the oven. I had never cooked on a gas
stove before, but that excuse made me feel no less stupid.
I knew somewhere inside
the oven there would be a hole through which the match would light the
oven. I had seen my grandmother do it many times when I was a child.
I opened the oven door and looked around. The black grease-caked
enamel walls of the oven absorbed any light that came from the small
kitchen window. The smell was so strong inside. I took one
of the wooden kitchen matches from the top of the stove and struck it
against the flint plate on the side of the oven. The loud scratch
of the match was immediately met by the strong smell of sulfur, a smell
I had always liked. I returned to the investigation of the oven,
and with the added light from the match, I spotted the hole for the pilot.
With my head partially in the oven, I brought the match to the pilot hole.
The next thing I felt was
a huge sludge hammer slamming my face. For a moment sound was everywhere,
and it was nowhere. I stumbled back against the sink pulling my
hands up over my ears and then became aware of the putrid stench of burning
hair. Realizing it was my own, I began beating my head, and in a
panic I ran outside.
A neighbor was working
on his car and saw me beating myself. I donít know if I was still
on fire then or not, but I continued to spin around in circles like a
kitten chasing its tail. He came over and immediately took me back
inside. As he sat me down on the couch, he was gently telling me
to calm down, which wasnít too very difficult, as I realized my injuries
werenít much more than singed eyebrows. I didnít feel any pain,
although my face had an odd tight sensation to it.
The neighbor went to his
house to get some medical supplies, and by this time Mike, his brother
and my mom had come into the living room. All three of them just
stood there staring at me. Stupid expression dripped off their faces,
and their mouths fell agape as if they wanted to speak but had forgotten
their native tongue.
Finally, my mother began
to act like a mother, and began to hover over me, asking me what happened.
Mikeís brother just kept pointing and saying "Ewe! Ewe! Ewe!" Mike
stood by the couch, not knowing what to do, but knowing he should do something.
The neighbor came back in and began wiping my face with a cold rag.
The cold felt wonderful, but the rag felt like a metal rake across my
face. I pushed back from him, and when I did, I noticed my left
arm. Hundreds of bits of charred, broken hair were stuck to bright
pink flesh. Pieces of black, curled skin hung off the bright colored
flesh. Some of the hanging flesh just had burnt edges, bordering
bright white fragments tinged with a mucus looking blood. Tiny glistening
droplets of blood had begun to rise to the surface of the pink skin, and
further up my arm, little white bubbles were beginning to show.
When I reached to touch
my face, I could feel the heat from my skin before my fingers actually
reached my cheek. When I touched it, I jerked away with pain.
The skin had stuck to my fingers like superglue, so when I pulled my hand
away, skin from my face went with it, like the rubber makeup used in horror
When we returned from Belveiw
County Hospital, with my face and arm wrapped up like a mummyís,
I saw the cat sitting on the fence ledge, staring at me, with a distinct
Cheshire grin on her hollow, ebony face. When I told the others
in the car where she had been when I had returned to the house with cake
supplies, no one laughed this time. They only stared grimly ahead
into the alley.
One week later we found
ourselves at Belview once again. Matt, Mikeís youngest brother,
had fallen from the roof will taking down Christmas lights. Because
of his youth, what could have been a broken back for a man, turned out
to be just serious strain and bruising. At the hospital, Mike vowed
to get the cat, which had run in front of him and Matt earlier that day.
I took solace in this, but at the same time, I feared that revenge on
the animal would cause far worse luck. After all, the forces reside
in the beastís soul, not just the body.
The following day, we saw
this cat for the last time. As Mikeís sister (who was already three
weeks overdue with the baby) and her husband were leaving the house, the
monster darted in front of them and leaped over the fence in fluid agility.
You could see Mikeís brother-in-law cursing the animal as he pulled out
of the alley drive. The couple was headed to Monroe, a small desert
town about three hours south of Los Angles. Not wanting her husband
to travel alone, the jealous young wife had insisted on riding with him.
Two hours later we get
a phone call from a stranger. The coupleís car had overheated, the
young mother had gone into labor, and they were 75 miles from a hospital.
An ambulance was in route, the stranger told us. He was calling
from a store about eight miles from were the car stalled. It was
the following day before we heard anymore news. Everyone was okay,
she had a baby girl, but the car had a busted block.
The following years would
bring more of the same bad luck to me; two more automobile accidents (one
including four cars), a sliced thumb (same hand, same place, same cause),
emergency surgery when birthing my first son, and a stitched head from
a large lead glass bowl falling on it. Flat tires. Failed
brakes. Two burglaries. An assault. An abduction.
Another auto accident. A dislocated knee that would promise six months
on crutches. My first husbandís proposal, my acceptance. Failed
air conditioning in August when out-of-town guests are due to arrive the
same day. An impaled left foot. A failed ceiling when exploring
the attic. A chat with an officer in on the dusty streets of
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. A night in the woods because I was lostÖI
could go on, but to immortalizing too much of the cursed plague might
well be pressing my luck. The point is, however, that the binding
ingredient in these events was always the presence of a sinister creature,
somewhere near, watching.
When I first meet my now-husband,
Lorne, I once again encountered a devil-beast on the way to the airport
to meet him. This time, however, I would fight back. I would
not let this be destroyed. I would do whatever it took to make sure
the malicious heart of the incarnate witch would not harm us. When
nothing happened, and I had not yet taken action, I began to wonder just
how much there was to this. Maybe these years of odious luck
were more a result of cause and effect, or were brought upon somehow by
the willing of our own tormented souls. Or maybe - that was it!
The events had been parts of a bigger whole, a whole that was broken into
slivers, tiny pieces bringing forth blood when attempting to collect them.
Shattered so that one could hear the pleasant twinkling of glass as it
fell, knowing better that with the final mighty crash, all would be undone.
So now I knew. My
misfortunes had nothing to do with some silly cats with glowing eyes and
limbs that melted into the darkness. Forbidden and bestial as they
may have seemed, they were just cats, watching me from the shadows as
I played out my own fate. They had already known what I had yet
to figure out - breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck.
As luck would have it, I had broken five.
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