“What I’m about to tell ye will be troubling,” said Balaam, her accent thick as ever, sitting him down on her comfortable old couch with a tray of honey tea in hand. “But listen before speaking.”
    Clearing her throat, she began.
    “Nineteen years ago, yer father was 30 years of age. He was young in heart as ever, oh yes, I know. But he was foolish in his youth, and did as many with his... talents... are prone to do: that is, kill needlessly. He decided to rid his much younger girlfriend’s -- yer mother’s -- house of a girl's spirit that had bin knocking things over and slamming doors.
   "Of course, when he had done it, her parents were elated, an' completely forgot why they hadn’t wanted them to marry in the first place: this was exactly what he was hopin' fer. But that spirit hadn’t been an evil spirit, no... she had only been dead for a couple o' weeks, and didn’t know she was dead yet. When she was slain, well... she realized what she was, and in her final moment placed a curse on his first child, then unborn.
    "It was a curse done by a novice spirit, but it had been escalated by her blind rush of hatred, so it took effect with the rules not of a spirit, but of a demon. In her moment of eradication, she had indeed become something far more sinister.”
    Grady stared blindly at the sudden rush of inconceivable information.
    “Now,” she said, finally giving him a glass. “Today is yer eighteenth year and one month year of life, no?”
    Grady considered this and agreed.
    “A demon’s favorite number is 6,605. Ye were supposed to die this very day, the 6,605th of your life.”
    They sat in silence for a while, sipping the sweet, delicious tea. The smell of spices was wafting through the air, mixing interestingly with the smell of old books and dust.
    “If I’m the one who’s cursed... why has the rest of my family had so much trouble?” He shifted uneasily.
    The old woman took another long, slow sip of tea. She gazed at him intensely, as if reading him.
    “Do not blame yerself. Being with a cursed person has some... costs associated with it. It’s not yer fault if you didn’t know.”
    Grady’s heart sank. He wanted to cry and hide; or run to them and apologize.  He couldn’t believe it.
    “Me? I did this to them?” the words rushed out in a voice barely his. He slumped over, knowing the answer. He no longer wanted to cry: he didn’t deserve that vice.
    “It is not yer fault,” she said strongly, eyes fixed. She suddenly looked up at the wall clock. “It is late. I will tell ye what to do tomorrow.”
    “You mean... you didn’t cure me?”
    “I am afraid not. I only counteracted the numbing acid in yer arm. The acid will likely seep through in another 605 days -- a little over a year and a half. That is how much time ye have to right your father’s wrong, but I will tell ye 'xactly what to do” -- she gave a horse cough -- “tomorrow. Do sleep well.”
    And suddenly Grady was out on the sidewalk, so distracted he almost forgot to dodge a swerving Willow branch. As if blindly obeying orders, he rambled home, barely aware of what he was doing. He hoped that in coming back he was doing the right thing.

The End

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