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       Curses, Inc. And Other Stories, p.1

           Vivian Vande Velde
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Curses, Inc. And Other Stories

  Curses, Inc. and Other Stories

  Vivian Vande Velde

  * * *

  * * *



  Orlando Austin New York San Diego Toronto London

  * * *

  Copyright © 1997 by Vivian Vande Velde

  All rights reserved. No put of tills publication may be reproduced

  or transmitted In any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

  Including photocopy, recording, or any Information storage and retrieval

  system, without permission In writing from the publisher.

  Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work

  should be submitted online at

  or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,

  Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

  "Past Sunset" copyright © 1996 by Vivian Vande Velde; originally

  published in Bruce Coville's Book of Spine Tinglers (Scholastic Inc.) edited by

  Bruce Coville. "Lost Soul" copyright © 1993 by Vivian Vande Velde;

  originally published in A Wizard's Dozen (Jane Yolen Books/

  Harcourt, Inc.) edited by Michael Stearns. "Cypress Swamp Granny"

  copyright © 1996 by Vivian Vande Velde; originally published in

  A Nightmare's Dozen (Jane Yolen Books/Harcourt, Inc.) edited by

  Michael Steams.

  First Magic Carpet Books edition 2007

  Magic Carpet Books is a trademark of Harcourt, Inc., registered

  in the United States of America and/or other Jurisdictions.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

  Vande Velde, Vivian.

  Curses, Inc. and other stories/Vivian Vande Velde.

  p. cm.

  Contents: Curses, Inc.—Skin deep—Past sunset—To converse with the

  dumb beasts—Boy witch—Lost soul—Remember me—Witch-hunt—

  Cypress swamp granny—The witch's son.

  1. Magic—Juvenile fiction. 2. Children's stories, American. [1. Magic—

  Fiction. 2. Short stories.] I. Title

  PZ7.V2773Cu 1997

  [Fic]—dc20 96-24856

  ISBN 978-0-15-201452-0

  ISBN 978-0-15-206107-4 pb

  Text set in Stone Serif

  Designed by Judythe Sieck

  A C E G H F D B

  Printed in the United States of America

  * * *

  To Karen, in appreciation of all her help and patience.

  (Besides, to whom else could I dedicate a collection

  of witch stories and be sure she'd

  take it the right way?)

  * * *



  About That Title... ix

  Curses, Inc. 1

  Skin Deep 45

  Past Sunset 63

  To Converse with the Dumb Beasts 82

  Boy Witch 91

  Lost Soul 105

  Remember Me 126

  Witch-Hunt 144

  Cypress Swamp Granny 154

  The Witch's Son 180


  Where Do Ideas Come From? 219

  * * *

  Introduction: About That Title...

  I'VE ALWAYS HAD A HARD TIME thinking up names for my books.

  When I wrote my first novel, A Hidden Magic, I found a publishing company that liked the story but not the title. The editor asked for a new one. I sent her a whole list. She didn't like those, either; she asked me to send more. Every time I wrote to her, I sent suggestions. Every time she wrote to me, she asked for more. But in the meanwhile nobody told the illustrator—Trina Schart Hyman—that the book's name was to be changed. She went ahead and did the cover, title and all. Once the editor saw it, she decided the title fit.

  The second book I wrote was Once upon a Test: Three Light Tales of Love. It was the editor (a different one) who came up with the name.

  Third came A Well-Timed Enchantment, a title my husband suggested.

  I made up the name User Unfriendly for my next book. I thought It made sense. My mother—who doesn't use computers, and therefore has no idea just how unfriendly a computer can be—says it's confusing. Perhaps she's right: People are constantly miscalling it User Friendly.

  When I had no title for book number five, another editor—Jane Yolen—named it Dragon's Bait for me.

  Companions of the Night was my next book, and I thought the title—my own—was a good one, until somebody pointed out that it sounds as though the story is about a sleazy escort service—which, by the way, it is not.

  So I was delighted to have somebody present me with a title for my next book before I even wrote it. I was talking at a school when one of the students suggested I should gather together all the short stories I'd had published in various magazines and publish them in one book. "You could call it," she said, "A Witch's Stew."

  While I didn't think a collection of old stories would work, I liked the title so much I decided to write some new stories. I took a bunch of familiar fairy tales, turned them upside down, inside out, made the villains be the heroes, the heroes be the villains, created new endings, and sent the collection to Jane Yolen.

  Jane said yes to the stories, no to the title. "It doesn't work," she said. "There aren't any witches in this witch's stew."

  "But it's more the idea of a stew," I explained. "You know: a bunch of things thrown together."

  "It doesn't work," she said.

  "But did you see how I set up the table of contents like a recipe," I asked, "with the titles of the stories being the ingredients, and instead of saying pages I said tablespoons?"

  "Yes," Jane said. "It doesn't work." She suggested Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird.

  Even my mother liked Jane's title better than mine.

  I sulked. "OK," I told myself. "Jane wants witches; I'll give her witches."

  And so I wrote this collection: evil witches, not-so-bad witches, witches from times past, witches on the Internet—a stew of witches.

  If you have a good memory, or if you checked back to the cover, you will have noticed that the name of this book is not A Witch's Stew. Jane's work again.

  Who knows? Maybe I'll write another book called A Witch's Stew, and maybe Jane will accept the book but change the title of that one, too. Maybe we'll keep on doing it. Writers use all kinds of tricks to get or keep themselves writing; maybe writing books not called A Witch's Stew will be mine.

  Curses, Inc.

  BILL ESSLER CAME HOME stamping his feet and slamming doors after Denise Bainbridge humiliated him in front of about half the student population of Thomas Jefferson Junior High.

  He had not asked her to go to the eighth-grade graduation dance with him—he knew that for a fact. "Would you like to go to the dance with me?"—that was what he'd asked back in May when the dance had first been announced. And she'd said, "Yes," and he'd said, "Great," which was close to, but not exactly, the same as saying he actually would take her.

  Of course, at the time he, too, had assumed that was what he meant; but since then his mother had said that she and Dad couldn't afford the perfect shirt, pants, and shoes he'd picked out at the mall. And when he pointed out that the family could afford more if Mom would go out and get a job like most of his friends' mothers, she'd gotten all huffy and said he was on his own—not only for the outfit, but for the tickets that she'd originally agreed to pay for, plus the flowers she insisted he needed to buy for Denise.

  Bill had the money. Three hundred ninety-fiv
e dollars he had—received as Christmas and birthday presents from out-of-town aunts and uncles and saved from working his paper route. With that money he planned to buy the latest computer games to play over the summer. He had no intention of spending a sizable chunk just to take Denise Bainbridge to the eighth-grade dance.

  "Would you like to go to the dance with me?" He'd thought about it long and hard and realized it wasn't an invitation but an inquiry into her state of mind. There wasn't a lawyer in the world who could prove that was a binding agreement to take her.

  So today he had tried to break it off gently—a week and a half before the dance—as they were leaving for their separate buses. "I'm allergic to your dog," he lied. "You always have dog hair all over you, and I'd be sneezing all night."

  The creature's name was Muffin, or Cupcake, or Sweet Buns, or something like that, one of those yippy little hairball types. Denise was worse about that dog than the average mother was with her newborn, so she didn't take the news well at all. Worse yet, she didn't believe him.

  Standing right out there on the steps of the school with all the buses filled or filling and the rest of the school pouring out around them, Denise had pointed at him and shrieked—shrieked!—to the world: "Four weeks ago Billy Essler promised to take me to the graduation dance, and now, after I've bought my dress and it's too late to go with anybody else, he's backing out because he's too cheap!"

  Bill expected people to laugh at Denise for making a fool of herself, but, instead, they started booing at him—boys and girls alike. Seventh graders shot spitballs at him as their buses pulled out. Alex Morreale, star of the soccer team and named in the yearbook as Student Most People Would Like to Be, intentionally bumped him, practically knocking him over. Alex muttered, "Shabby, Essler," and the other kids took it up. "Shabby," they told him, one by one, as they passed, bumping.

  "It's not my fault," he protested. "My family's too poor."

  But he'd spent the last month bragging about the almost-four-hundred dollars he had in his own bank account, and every day at lunch he and the other guys had looked through computer catalogs, discussing which were the best games for him to buy. So for the whole bus ride home, people had stepped on his toes and "accidentally" smacked the back of his head with their backpacks.

  Now, safely at home, Bill tried to forget his problems by turning on his computer. He switched on the modem, accessed his service, then called up the Internet, trying to find something interesting enough to take his mind off the fact that he'd just become the most unpopular kid in school.

  There was nothing going on at the usual places Bill went. Monday nights there was a computer games forum, where people discussed what was new or how to handle specific puzzles or challenges in the latest games, but that wouldn't start for hours.

  Bill spent about twenty minutes just surfing or lurking—visiting teleconferences without saying anything—and was about to turn off the modem and switch to one of his games when—under the SERVICES menu—he scrolled past a listing that made him stop, think to himself, Naw, I didn't really see that, then back up a page.


  Bill was bored enough to be intrigued. He clicked on it.

  The screen dissolved to midnight blue with sparkly stars. There was a faint sound effect—tiny crystal bells, Bill was sure, not that he'd ever heard tiny crystal bells. Then a message appeared:


  The stars faded away. A new message appeared:

  Weird, Bill thought. Not being sure what some of the words meant, and uncertain what the difference was between others, Bill clicked on the little box marked ? on the menu bar at the top of the screen.

  The screen showed:


  An ongoing spell of either limited or unlimited duration.

  Examples of JINX spells:

  causing the subject to fall down the next five sets of stairs encountered;

  causing the subject to fall down all sets of stairs encountered for one week's time;

  causing the subject to fall down all sets of stairs encountered for the rest of the subject's life.



  A onetime spell that either may or may not be repeatable.

  Examples of HEX spells:

  causing the subject to fall down the stairs one time;

  causing the subject to die.



  A compulsion laid on someone.

  Example of a GEAS spell:

  causing the subject to go up or down every set of stairs encountered.



  A changing of someone's nature.

  Example of a BANE spell:

  causing the subject to believe he or she IS a set of stairs.



  A general type of ill-wishing.

  Example of a MALEDICTION spell:

  causing bad things to happen to the subject while on stairs, such as trips, splinters, or arguments.


  Generally speaking, JINX spells are the most expensive curses, MALEDICTION spells the least.


  Bill paused to consider. Expensive? He'd thought this would just be something to print out, some sort of official-looking certificate: This is to inform you that you have been officially cursed.... That sort of thing. It was a wonderful idea. Maybe, he decided, these Curses, Inc. people were just trying to be cute. Or maybe they printed the certificates themselves, on fancy parchment, and the more printing that was required, the more they'd charge. It didn't make any difference; he could always cancel if it turned out there was an actual payment required. Meanwhile, he was having fun.

  Bill clicked on RETURN TO PREVIOUS MENU.

  Bill clicked JINX.

  After Denise had made such a fool of him? He clicked on PLACING.




  Bill clicked on LENGTH OF TIME.

  Bill figured FOREVER probably concerned haunting. The last thing he wanted was Denise hanging around forever. He clicked on TILL DEATH DO US PART.









  How could anybody resist BODY FUNCTIONS?









  Bill chose ERUPTIONS.

  WARTS, Bill decided, going for the traditional. Definitely warts.

  Bill clicked on CHRONIC.

  Bill moved the little arrow to 100%.




  IMMEDIATELY, Bill clicked.



  Bill typed in DENISE BAINBRIDGE. He checked the phone book for her address and typed that in at the appropriate space.



  Bill clicked.

  CORRECT AS IS, Bill clicked.

  Payment required before delivery of services

  Amount due: $575




  Bill nearly choked, even considering that he assumed he'd missed a decimal point. He looked again and saw he hadn't.

  He clicked on QUIT.

  These people were definitely weird. Bill clicked YES, half expecting ... He shivered, not knowing what he expected.
br />   Perhaps some other time...

  The words faded to the dark, starry sky, there was that faint tinkling that might be tiny crystal bells, then the screen returned to the Curses, Inc. icon in amongst all the other companies' icons.

  Bill shook his head and shivered again. Some people had the weirdest sense of humor.

  Bill had absolutely no intention of ever going back to Curses, Inc.

  But the following day at school he got alternately ignored, razzed, and physically intimidated by what had to be at least three-quarters of the student population. And it was all Denise's fault. By the time he got home, he figured Curses, Inc. had to have something in his price range.

  He turned on the modem, easily found Curses, Inc. once again, but this time, after the stars disappeared, the screen printed out:

  They remembered him. And knew why he had quit yesterday. Spooky. Still, YES, Bill clicked.

  Wow! Bill thought, never having realized how expensive curses could be. But he didn't like being called a child, and maledictions sounded too wimpy. He clicked on HEX SPELLS/BELOW $50.






  Happily, Bill paused to consider. Surely, he reasoned, a curse against a miserable mutt like Muffin had to be cheaper than a curse against a person. He clicked on SPELLS AGAINST SUBJECT'S PETS/LIVESTOCK.

  Bill clicked on PET.

  Bill clicked DOG, since Yappy Varmints Named after Small, Undigestible Pastries wasn't one of the options.

  Much as Bill dearly loved the idea of changing Denise's dog so that either she or it thought it was something else, he decided that BELOW $50 was as high as he was going to go for this. In fact, he wanted to go as far BELOW $50 as possible. He clicked on CAUSE DEATH.

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