The flyer was stuck in my mailbox. Red paper with big black letters.
ARE YOU UNLUCKY IN LOVE?
ARE YOU READY FOR A NEW, EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH TO LOVE?
FIND YOUR SOULMATE AT XX MAIN STREET…
That’s all I needed to hear. I’m 36. I have 14 ex-boyfriends, 5 ex-girlfriends, and 0 current love interests. I’m sick of ramen dinners for one and the judgmental stare of my cat.
But when I got to the address, I was sorely disappointed.
It was a psychic. The large, purple sign read: FORTUNES & READINGS!!!. And the building was in disrepair. Chipped paint. Splintered siding. A few windows covered with large trash bags.
Ah, what the hell. If anything, it’ll give me a good laugh.
I parked on the street and made my way to the shop.
As I opened the door, I shuddered. It looked halfway abandoned — paint flaking off the walls, a couch bleeding stuffing. A large painting with a crudely-drawn eye hung askew on the wall. Bookcases lined the back, filled with “spell” books. And the smell — a terrible mix of chemicals and rot, like someone tried to scrub the rotten beef smell out of their refrigerator with Windex.
“Hello?” I called.
The hanging tassels at the back parted. Out came a silver-haired woman, peeling latex gloves off her hands. Tattoos of eyes — matching the eye in the painting — covered her arms. “Yes?
“I’m Amy. I, uh, saw your flyer. For the soulmate?”
She looked me up and down. “Sure. You look like you could use my help.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She gestured over my figure. “You think you’re going to get boyfriends wearing stained overalls like that? And Crocs?” She waved her hand dismissively. Then she sat down at the crystal ball — which looked suspiciously like a snow globe — and set her hands on it. “Sit.”
I did. The chair creaked dangerously underneath me.
“I’m Avelyn. And you and I, together, are going to find your soulmate. Did you bring the items I asked?”
“It says right on the flyer. I need mementos from two of your exes. To connect properly with them, and sense what you’re looking for in a soulmate.”
“No, I didn’t… I’m sorry.”
She heaved an exasperated sigh.
“What do you mean by mementos, exactly?”
“Something of theirs. An old shirt they never took back from you, a keychain, a lock of hair…”
I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t keep those kinds of things.” Nor does anybody. A lock of hair? Really?
“I’m sure you’ll find something, hun. Come back and we can start.”
“Okay.” I started for the door, with no intention of coming back. But she called out to me.
“Look in your bathroom. Your girlfriend left a hairtie there.”
And when I got home, and looked in my bathroom, sure enough — there was one of Julie Wysocki’s purple elastics. I hadn’t even noticed it before. A few of her dark, long hairs still stuck to it. I smiled sadly.
I almost miss you, Julie.
It didn’t take me long to find an old T-shirt Matt Goldstein left either, hanging in the back of my closet. It still smelled like his aftershave and BO. I recoiled in horror and dropped it in a plastic bag.
In an hour’s time, I was back at Avelyn’s run-down psychic shop, handing over the items.
“Very good, very good,” she said, her nose trailing the surface of the shirt. Ew. “What was his name?”
“And hers?” she asked, gesturing to the hairtie.
“Let me ask — to better understand you. What were your favorite things about Matt and Julie?” A sly smile crossed her lips. “Your favorite physical attributes?”
I pictured Julie and Matt in my head. It was hard for me to admit that I liked anything about them; both had dumped me, one over text. Even just picturing them made me viscerally recoil. “I guess I liked Julie’s long, dark hair.”
Avelyn scrawled notes in a book. “And Matt?”
“His lips.” He was an amazing kisser.
“Excellent. I promise you — we will get you that soulmate you’re looking for.” She sniffed deeply into Matt’s shirt, then set the two items inside. “I will do some work tonight, and contact you tomorrow morning. But first… we must discuss payment.”
“All magic comes with a price, hun,” she said, her eyes twinkling in the darkness.
A chill ran down my spine. “A price?”
“Yes. And the price for this magic,” she said, her eyes glittering in the shadows, “is two-hundred-fifty dollars. Cash or credit?”
As I drove away from the shop, I instantly regretted my decision. Two-hundred-fifty dollars? For some psychic nonsense? I shook my head.
I really am getting desperate.
* * * * * *
I woke up the next morning to a box on my porch.
It didn’t have a return address. Or my address, either — it must have been dropped off in person. Only two words were scribbled in the upper corner: From Avelyn. Open Immediately!
I picked up the box and carried it inside. It was light, and something rattled softly inside as I brought it over to the table. Honestly, in this age of anthrax and bombs, I probably shouldn’t have opened it. But the curiosity nagged at me, until I was standing over it, butterknife in hand. I slid it under the tape.
I pulled out the flaps and peered inside. Dark hair glistened inside. A wig? I reached in and pulled it out.
My heart stopped.
Underneath the hair was an ear.
It fell from my hands, onto the floor with a wet splat. “What the fuck?!” I screamed, scrambling back from the counter. No, it’s got to be fake. It’s got to be.
I bent over and, gingerly, picked it back up.
The hair was attached to a thin, soft, tan-colored surface. But there was nothing on the other side — no blood, no stains. It’s fake. See? It’s got to be fake.
I slowly reapproached the box.
There was something else inside.
I reached in and pulled it out. It was tan-colored, squarish. Something hard was underneath it, pulling the material taut. And there — right in the middle — was a set of pink, plump lips.
Lips that looked exactly like Matt’s.
I dropped it on the counter, my heart racing.
There was one more item in the box. A sheet of paper, folded neatly and tucked away. I plucked it out and began to read.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR ASSEMBLY
1. Set the scalp (piece A) and jaw/cheeks (piece B) on a clean workspace. Line up the cheeks with the scalp edge.
2. Thread a sewing needle with the included thread.
3. Sew A and B together by hand. Do NOT use a sewing machine.
4. Store in a cool, dry place.
A note was scrawled in messy script underneath:
Here you go, hun. – Avelyn
P.S. Don’t call the police — or you’ll be sorry.
I pulled out my phone and called the police. Sorry be damned. Riiiiiing. Riiiiiiiing. “911, what’s your emergency?”
“Someone sent me a box. A woman named Avelyn Mcallister, XX Main Street. It’s got… some awful stuff in it. Please, send someone over. XXX Maple Ave.” My voice cracked with panic.
“Okay, stay calm. What are the contents of the box?”
“Body parts. They look real. Like, real, actual body parts –”
“Okay. Here’s what I need you to do.”
“You need to take the parts to the counter. Okay?”
“Uh… that’s where they are now,” I said, confused.
“Now, you need to pull the scalp over — so it’s lined up the jaw. Then you need to take the thread included in the box –”
The phone clattered to the floor.
After a few seconds of shock, I re-dialed 911. The man on the other end did the same thing — launched into an explanation of how to sew the pieces together. I dialed my local police station next — again, same thing.
I grabbed my jacket and keys. Then I sped over to her little fortune-teller shop.
I found her in the back — feet resting on the coffee table, cigarette in hand. Plumes of smoke curled towards the ceiling. “Avelyn. What did you do?” Tears burned my eyes. I shakily set the box down on the table.
“I do a lot of things. Be more specific.”
“You killed Julie and Matt.”
“No. Of course not. I’m not a murderer, Amy.”
“Then where did you get… those? Because those lips look exactly like Matt’s. And the hair’s just like Julie’s.”
“Relax.” Avelyn took her feet off the coffee table and took a long drag. “I took those parts from people who were already dead. The local morgue. I have a deal with the mortician.”
Ignoring the disturbing consequences of that alone, I shot back, “Why do they look just like my exes, then?!”
“Because I stalked Facebook. I looked up Matt Goldstein, Julie Wysocki. Chose similar features. Simple as that.”
“Okay. Well, whatever you’re doing… I don’t want any part in it. This is absolutely disgusting and evil. You should be arrested.”
“Oh, going to try and call 911 again, are you?”
I paled. “How did you know about that?”
“Simple hex.” Avelyn waved her hand around at the bookcases with the bogus spellbooks. “Any police officer, first responder, or family member you talk to about this will give you the same answer. So don’t bother trying.” She leaned over and patted the seat next to her. “Come, sit. I’ll show you how to sew them in person.”
“I said I don’t want any part of this!”
“Don’t you want to find true love? Because, let me tell you, you’re not going to find it the way you’re going. I can see into the future, too. It’s all breakups and lonely nights with your cat, hun.”
Those words stung.
But I turned my heel, walked out the door, and drove away. Hoping she wouldn’t send any hex upon me.
At least, she didn’t follow me out.
* * * * * *
The next morning, I woke up thinking I was rid of Avelyn and her antics.
How wrong I was.
At about 2 PM, I went to the basement for a load of laundry. Juggling the huge basket of dirty clothes, I awkwardly descended the wooden stairs.
What’s that smell?
It was an odd combination of chemicals and stink. Similar to the smell in Avelyn’s shop. I’d never noticed that smell in my basement before. Sniff. Sniff. I smelled the pile of laundry, just to be sure.
Then I turned around.
A shadow. Laid out on the old ping-pong table in the corner.
What the hell? I walked through the darkness. My heart pounded in my chest, thudded in my ears. I don’t remember leaving anything there…
I stood over the ping-pong table.
My blood ran cold.
Staring back at me was a jigsaw puzzle of a person. Raw, purple, stitched lines ran across its face and body. I recognized the pieces — the dark brown eyes, the dainty hands with the crescent thumb ring. The legs were still missing.
A piece of paper lay next to it.
If you don’t do it — I will. -A
The nausea swelled in my throat.
I ran up the stairs. Two at a time. I slammed the basement door shut, drew the chain over it. Then I collapsed against the door. I halfway expected to hear footsteps. Or it pounding the door down, screaming threats at me. Something — anything — other than the dead silence that followed.
No. It’s not alive. It’s just an amalgam of dead parts… taken from the morgue. Not from my exes. Calm down.
But I didn’t calm down.
* * * * * *
The next morning, another package arrived.
This one was long, stretching across my entire porch. No addresses. Cardboard that was slightly wet at the bottom. When I bent over to pick it up, a sickly stench rushed over me.
With a grunt, I dragged it into the house. Heart pounding, I slit the tape and pulled it open.
Two legs. Sliced cleanly at the upper thigh. Instructions were tucked in on the side, as usual. And handwriting scribbled on top:
If you don’t do it, I will.
I’m ashamed to say that I did it. I vomited three times before I finished, but I did it. They were already dead, I kept telling myself. Already dead…
I washed my hands, made some coffee, and sat down at my computer.
They were already dead. They were already dead. Tingling numbness spread over my body like electricity. Then a different thought pounded in my head, with every heartbeat:
What if she lied?
I’d blocked all my exes on social media. It’s a policy of mine — one of the worst feelings in the world is seeing your ex with their new partner. And, believe me, they always got a new one before I did.
So, with a shaking hand, I opened up Google. Typed in Julie Wysocki.
The third result made my heart stop.
Springfield resident, Julie Wysocki, severely injured in freak accident
My eyes scanned the article.
On Sunday afternoon, Wysocki decided to go biking around her neighborhood. She couldn’t find her own helmet, so she decided to use her daughter’s, which was too tight. … As a car came upon her, she collided with it. In the heat and force of the collision, the tight helmet stuck fast to her scalp and ripped it off.
By the time paramedics were on the scene, the helmet — and the scalp — were nowhere to be found.
I pushed the computer away from me, nausea rising in my throat. Black dots swam in my vision. Fuck, Julie… you didn’t deserve that. I don’t care if you dumped me — that’s awful.
The sound came muffled through the front door.
Avelyn. Dropping off her package of the morning, I bet. I bolted up and ran to the door. Anger supplanted the terror, the dread, the sadness.
I swung the door open.
Avelyn was gone. But there was a box — a small one. I bent over and picked it up. Instructions were taped to the top of the box.
This is the last piece. The heart.
If you want to find your soulmate, install the heart, and then recite the incantation on the other side of this page. If you want to be done with me and all of this, don’t. Bury the body when you’ve placed the heart inside.
It’s up to you.
Either way, you’re free of me now.
I took the box down to the basement. The figure lay still and stiff across the ping-pong table, eyes shut tight. I plunged a kitchen knife into the chest, slowly pulled it down to create a slit.
I reached into the box. Wet. Squishy. The nausea rose; I swallowed the urge to vomit. Shutting my eyes, I slipped it into the slit.
Now bury the body.
My life flashed before my eyes — my future life. Home alone. The cat. The ramen. Aging alone… dying alone. No one caring about me. Ever.
My hands, stained with blood, grabbed its shoulders and started to shift the body. As I did, I looked down at it. It was beautiful, in a way; Julie’s long hair, Matt’s plump lips, Madison’s dainty hands with the crescent rings and Jack’s strong legs.
Could be mine.
My soulmate. Forever.
My eyes flicked over to the incantation sheet.
I began to read.
“Ignite this one with the spark of life. Make them my own, forever, to –”
Thump, thump, thump.
Someone was in the house.
I froze. “Avelyn?” I called. I left the body and ascended the steps, slowly, my heart pounding in my chest. “Avelyn! Is that you?”
I swung the basement door open, clicked it shut. I walked across the foyer, into the kitchen. “Avelyn, is that –”
Four men in dark suits faced me, expressions grim, guns drawn.
* * * * * *
“We can’t detain her. We didn’t find anything.”
“What do you mean, you didn’t find anything?! How stupid are you?”
The voices came through the walls of the interrogation room, loud and clear.
“We searched everywhere.”
“Everywhere? Even the basement, the closets?”
“Yes, sir. I think we looked everywhere.”
The door burst open.
“Amy Greene? You’re free to go.”
I stood up, shakily, and walked out of the police station. My mind was abuzz, as if I were drunk or intoxicated. Too many thoughts competing for my attention. Too much shock.
“We can give you a ride home,” one of the officers said.
“No, thanks. I’ll walk.”
It was a two mile walk — but my head still wasn’t clear by the end of it. I can’t believe I did all of that. I can’t believe… how awful desperation made me become.
Guilt flooded me, burning like fire in my veins. It was as if I’d spent the past few days in some sort of obsessive trance, and cold reality was finally crashing down on me.
I’m a murderer.
Worse than a murderer. I ruined their lives, forever.
I thought of my poor mother. What would she think if she knew what I did? My poor, old mother, who always believed in me…
I stopped in front of my house.
The light in my bedroom was on.
Did I leave the light on?
My heart sank with each step, as the guilt turned to imaginary shackles locked to my ankles. I fit the key in the lock, turned the doorknob.
My footsteps clicked across the linoleum.
An overpowering smell of chemicals and rot. A rustling sound. Something shifting, in the shadows of the kitchen.
And then a soft voice, from the darkness:
“I’ve been waiting for you.”