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My life hasn’t been what most would consider to be… great. As you will read, I have always had terrible luck. I was an infant when a drunk driver decided one night that he wanted to drive on the wrong side of the road at twenty-something miles over the speed limit and killed my parents. In his drunken stupor, the drunken man passed out in a stupor of too much cheap beer and veered straight into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the car. My aunt and uncle were babysitting that night so my parents could have a night out to themselves for the first time in a while. I don’t remember any of that, but it changed the course of my life, and the first instance of the terrible series of events known as my life.
Throughout my childhood, I bounced between various family members. My aunt and uncle took care of me for a while, until they said they couldn’t afford to take care of me, along with my cousins any longer. My father had no siblings, and both sets of my grandparents were too frail to look after me, and so, I was handed over to the state, where I was moved from one ‘shelter’ to another, shelter being the nice word they use for orphanages these days.
The rest of my life was spent going from one bad relationship to another, quitting or being fired from a series of bad jobs, and then I met Leigha. I had considered her to be my first real instance of ‘good luck’ and I’ve been thankful for her for everything she has given me in the eleven years we have been married. One of the saddest, and most stressful parts of our marriage, is that we were never able to have children. That was in one thing that I have considered the worst luck of all. The sadness that would envelope her when the pregnancy tests came back negative, and the resurgence of positivity each time we would again and again, with all that hope and aspiration, until we concluded that it was just wasn’t meant to be.
A few weeks ago, my job at a call center was cut when they decided that my skills were no longer needed (they explained so eloquently), so Leigha had been working herself to exhaustion at the hospital to make up for my lack of income. Her R.N. pay was great and all, but I felt guilty whenever she came home so exhausted that she just collapsed on the bed. Sometimes I’d put pajamas on her while she snoozed away in her deep, tired sleep, and tuck her in.
It was only a couple of months into my unemployment that I started feeling strange; I had no energy, lost my appetite, but then I started vomiting blood. I managed to hide it for a couple of weeks, but when Leigha found out, she made me see a doctor. A few trips to the hospital, and it was confirmed that I had developed stomach cancer. Chalk that up as another lucky strike for ol’ Frank Shaffer.
I thought all was hopeless and slipped into a deep depression. I purchased life insurance years ago, and I know that my wife made more than enough money to take care of herself once I was gone, but then a glimmer of hope showed itself several days ago.
It was a typical morning, consisting of me on my laptop, looking at the latest news sites, reading articles about more mass shootings and civil unrest across the world, when I heard someone knocking at the front door. I opened it, and there stood a strange man. He was wearing a neat, black suit and a leather chauffeur cap, like what you’d see. He bowed toward me, and when he rose, his face was stretched by a warm, friendly smile.
“Afternoon, sir! Are you…” he said, looking quickly at the envelope he held, “Mr. Shaffer?”
“Yes. What is this about? You’re dressed fancy for a process server.”
He laughed, “Oh no! I’m not a process server. I was sent to you with this letter from my employer. It is an offer letter for a brighter future,” he replied, his broad, white smile stretched across his young, clean shaven face, “Oh! This as well!”
The man turned and grabbed a briefcase that sat beside the bottom step of my porch. It was quite large and heavy. He grunted when he heaved it onto the porch.
“My boss wanted me to bring you a sample. Read the letter first, and then you can see what’s inside,” he said to me, still smiling as he patted the outside of the case.
What he handed me was a letter, neatly typed in a curvy font, on thick, cream-colored parchment, and sealed with a strange symbol on red wax, like something from a movie based in a time long, long ago. I flipped it around in my hands a few times, examining it for anything suspicious before I opened it. The letter read as follows:
Hello, dear friend,
This is an offer letter, one that you have probably never received, nor will you again. After much deliberation, you have been chosen. If you choose to do so, your family will be rewarded with a very large sum of money for your contribution.
Let me explain first.
Have you ever wished for something? I’m know you have; everyone has. As a little kid, we have all wished upon a star, wishing for something selfish, like a toy. Some of us had the maturity to wish for something other than childish possessions, like for daddy to stop hitting mommy or for your pet dog to come back from the grave. I am here to tell you about my wish, a wish that I would give anything to take back.
It was the year 1847 and I was ten-years-old. Much of Ireland was starving to death and were fleeing for American in great droves. I was part of the mass immigration to the promising lands of America. We had been told tales of great flatlands, with farms bigger than the eye could see. We also heard of buildings as tall as the sky, filled with jobs and homes, where great wealth was just waiting for you to take it. It sounded too grand to be true, but some recruiters from America told us they were true. Some came offering jobs in the coal mines or in factories, others offered only tales and false promises.
My father took an offer to work in a steel mill in New York City. The poor fellow couldn’t contain his excitement when he came home to tell us about it. Within a week, we packed up what we could bring along, sold the farm, and made our way to America. The ship was packed with people. By packed, I mean packed. People were shoved from wall to wall with barely room to move your elbows. They told us the ship used to be a slaver before being refitted to haul starving Irish families to become something not much different than slaves. The floors were covered in filth from the sick, and some had died and were tossed overboard. We only heard coughing of tuberculosis and the dry heaving of those suffering from cholera. My sister, Winnie, was part of those who died on the way. I tried not to cry, to be strong for mother, but even the toughest boys cry when their sister dies.
When we arrived, we were greeted with horrific racism. It was common for us to be spat on while walking down the streets, to have names yelled at you for just being on the same street as someone, and to have your father come home from work with cuts and bruises from fighting those who thought of the Irish as invaders, who thought of us as being dogs rather than men.
It came to me one day, in my childish ponderings, how I could relieve us of our woes; I could just wish it away. There were old tales, tales older than even the Romans, about leprechauns who grant wishes for those, usually in exchange for something. There are lots of stories about how one can summon a leprechaun. No, it is not by singing a stupid song, or finding one at the end of a rainbow. Leprechaun are always hungry, and the best way to summon one is to leave it some bread and cream as an offering, wait a while, and they will come. This is how I did it.
My father was gone to work and my mother was out to the market with my older brothers. Mother told me to stay at home and finish my chores. After waiting a brief time to make sure no one was coming back, I put the dish of cream and a small piece of bread by the kitchen windowsill and sat there. Children tend to have very little patience, so I got up and did as mother commanded not long after. As I was sweeping the floor, I heard a voice call out from behind me.
“Aye! That was a mighty fine offering, muh boy!”
I turned and saw a man only slightly taller than I was. I had always imagined leprechauns being barely taller than a cat but this man was not.
“America! I have never been here! You summoned me all the way from the ol’ Emerald Isle to here! What a trip!” he chuckled, “Now, to the business-at-hand. How can I assist ye?”
“I have a wish.”
“Of course, ye do, lad. Now, out with it.”
“I… I wish that we were rich. I’m so tired of being poor and seeing my father get beat up every day and come home so tired that he can barely stand. I want us to have a good life, a life without the mean people who hate us for being Irish.”
“Aye. I can understand that, lad. I can’t do anything about the other people but are ye sure that money would solve yer problems?” he sat down and scratched his head, “How old are ye? Nine? Ten? Are you sure you’re ready to make a wish at yer youthful age? Maybe I should just go.”
“No! I’m ready! Don’t leave! Please!”
He paused, staring out the window down into the streets. “I know what it’s like over there. I see it all. People are dying. They try to summon me but I don’t go. I let them keep their food. But you. I could sense your sadness. You’re too young to be this sad,” he paused again, taking in a deep breath, “I’ll tell ye what I’ll do. I never do this but I will for you. I’ll grant ye two wishes, but the trade will be much more severe.”
“Two wishes? Oh my. What would I have to do?”
“Well, I would normally ask for your most treasured possession, but to grant two wishes, I would need something more than a mere possession.”
“What would that be?”
“Depends on what your second wish is.”
“I wish… that… we could live forever. That none of us would die. That we would all stay young and healthy forever.”
“Aye, riches and immorality. Should’ve guessed,” he laughed, “well lad, you’re not going to like this, but there is only one way that I can grant immortality. You must appease Death to keep your life. Once a year, each of you will have to kill another person to replace your own. If you fail to do so, Death will come for what it is owed.”
“I don’t know…”
“It is too late, lad. Your wishes are granted. In one year the ritual will begin. Your riches will fall into your laps soon enough. I.”
The leprechaun stood up, stretched his back. “If you know anyone who needs a wish, send ‘em my way.” He winked, and then he was gone. I never saw the leprechaun again.
A few weeks later, the owner of the steel mill died. My father was summoned into the manager’s office, who handed by father a document.
“Mr. Storey, the owner of this mill, died yesterday. His lawyer wanted me to deliver this to you.”
“What is it?”
“It’s his last will, and a letter from the bank. For some reason, I didn’t know you two knew each other, but he left his entire fortune to you. He had no surviving children, and none had produced heirs either, so I suppose you need not worry about court battles. The letter from the bank is for transitioning the account from his name to yours. I’m sorry for your loss, but congratulations, Michael.”
With the money, we bought a massive farm in Iowa, hired workers, all of which were former slaves. It wasn’t common to pay Africans back then but we did because we knew how it felt to be considered less than human. Also, because it was easy to kill them without anyone noticing. Later, it became any passerby looking for a job, usually bums or vagabonds with no ties to anybody or any place. When fingerprints and DNA became very easy to tie you to a crime, we realized it was only a matter of time before we were fingered for a murder. It was my brother, Shane, who came up with the idea to find those who were doomed to die anyway and offer them a large sum of money in exchange for their shortened lives.
It has been a bloody life. At this point, each of us has killed 169 people to keep our immortality going. After I made the wish, my father’s health improved to that of his twenties, as with my mother. My brothers and I reached maturity and never aged past that. We now currently are co-owners of one of the biggest retailers in the United States and are richer than we could’ve ever dreamed possible.
The downside? Well, not for us, but for you. You have been specially selected to be sacrificed for our immorality. As for if you believe any of this, I don’t care because it doesn’t matter. Your family will be paid handsomely and will live the rest of their days with more than you could’ve made in your entire life.
How much? Does three million US dollars sound fair?
Now, just sign and hand it to the messenger. We will deliver the money as soon as the deed is done. I sent a small sample with him. I’m sure you’ve seen that briefcase he has with him. Does this sound good to you? If so, just sign on the dotted line. The driver will arrange for a chauffeur to pick you up on a later date, and they will bring the rest of the money with them. Your family will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, of course, and then all will be taken care of.
In my most sincere regards and condolences,
A wealthy friend
* * * * * *
“This has to be fake,” I thought to myself. I nearly wadded the letter and threw it it back at the man. There were dozens of TV shows over the years of camera pranks, and I began to assume this was another one. Someone had gone through a lot of effort, and spent a good amount of craftsmanship, making this silly note with the detailed story to go with it.
The man in the suit saw the look on my face and he spoke up.
“Would you like to see what’s in the suitcase now?”
He didn’t wait for me to answer before he popped open the latches. Inside, it was packed with more green than I had ever seen in my life. He took out a wad of hundred-dollar-bills and reached it toward me.
“They’re real, I assure you. I withdrew them myself this morning. See for yourself.”
Sure enough, they were; I checked the serial numbers, they were all different, and I even held one up to a light to check for the little strip of metal inside and the watermarks. All of this made me even more baffled that I was before. I stood there for a few moments, staring at the bills like a monkey examining a smart phone.
“This is yours. My boss said even if you said no, to let you have it anyway. He’s very generous and the most selfless person I have ever worked for. To him, even being considered for this offer is lucky, and the money is just part of the luck. Now, before I leave, I need to get your answer.”
I thought about it for a while. I knew that I couldn’t possibly decide on something like this without discussing it with my wife first.
“Can you come back tomorrow? I want to talk it over with the wife. I don’t want to agree to dying without her consent.”
“Not a problem! I will find a hotel and stay there. I like this part of the country. It’s quite beautiful in the fall. Let me get your phone number and we can arrange a time for me to come back.”
Leigha came home around nine that night, after working a fourteen-hour shift at the hospital. I was sitting on the couch in the living room, the suitcase lying on top of the ottoman.
“Frank, what is that?” she said, pointing at the case, curious but alarmed.
“Well, it has something to do with an offer I received today,” I said to her as I popped open the latches.
“Is that… is that money?” she said, almost screaming. It was too much for her to process at once, and her brain began to go into chaos mode. “This can’t be real. Is it? Is this real? Is this a joke?”
I handed a wad of money, so she could examine it and re-examine it just like I did, and she also concluded they were real.
“What was the offer? Did someone offer to buy the house?”
“Oh, baby, there’s more money than that. Here,” I said as I handed her the letter. She read it, pausing sometimes to guffaw and gasp, and “oh my god” under her breath. After she finished reading it, she stared at me blankly, her mouth agape.
“Did you agree to it yet?”
“Not yet. I wanted to talk it over with you first. We agreed a long time ago; no major decisions without the other spouse’s consent.”
“I appreciate you upholding this, Frank, but really. The doctor said there’s no hope. I also don’t find this story plausible but that is a large sum of money they gave you as a ‘sample’. That suitcase probably has more money in it than our house is worth. How did they find out about you anyway?”
“Well, I thought about it, and if they really do own a huge retail business, I’m sure they have ties that give them access to medical records, or they pay doctors commission for referrals.”
She looked at me for a few moments, her mind wandering deep in the chasms of thought. Her face seemed solemn, yet devoured with concern. “Frank. How are you feeling lately?”
“Terrible. I can’t sleep. I barely have an appetite. My hair has started to fall out. I haven’t told you yet because I didn’t want to make you worry. I don’t want to spend the remainder of my life feeling sick and going to the doctors constantly. I’d rather somebody offer me a cure than a case of money.”
“A cure isn’t likely, dear,” she stood up, placing her hands over her face and breathing out slowly in frustration. “I don’t want you to die, but you’re stage 3a and it won’t be long before the chemo becomes pointless. What will happen after you’re gone? I’m here alone, stuck with the bills, house payment, car payment, and clearing whatever debts you had?”
“I have life insurance, Leigha, but I see your point. The life insurance will only last so long, and they’ll probably do their best to lower that payout as much as possible.”
“I don’t want you to think that I’m exchanging your life for money, Frank, but I don’t want to see you suffer either.”
“I know, Leigha, I know,” I said, staring at the money, “I think I know what I’m going to do.”
The next day, the man showed up at 11 AM sharp, just as he promised. I signed the letter and handed it back to him. He pulled up the calendar app on his phone and scheduled an arrival date for me, and said they would send me plane tickets to take me to my destination. It will be one week from today that I will leave my wife for the last time, kiss her one last time, and hopefully, with the money I am giving her, she will be happy for the rest of her life. I suppose this is how the curse of luck goes; what comes easy, comes with a price.