Curses and Chaos
© Tod Tinker
“What right do you have to tell me that you can’t help me?”
I swallow the groan that vibrates in my throat as those words greet me the moment I step into the office. With the turning of the moon last night, I woke this morning with a headache, and I was hoping for a quiet day today.
Obviously, that’s not to be.
“Can I help you?” I ask, stepping up behind the man who is harassing my front-desk staff. A collective flinch circles the waiting room, but I ignore it. The groan I suppressed has added a slight growl to my voice, but I suspect the reaction comes more from a general recognition of who I am.
Recognition the man now turning to face me shows no sign of.
More’s the pity.
“I should hope so!” the man snaps, his own voice dropping into a growl.
I take a quick inventory of his amber eyes, bared teeth, and the curl of his fingers that does nothing to hide the length and filth of his nails and check a sigh.
“What seems to be the problem?” I ask, even though I’m pretty sure I already know.
“Your guard dog here,” he sneers, in a tone that makes it clear he’s thinking of a much worse word, “claims she can’t help me find a job. Even though your agency is supposed to help those of us with certain . . . conditions.”
Light coughs and shifting sound from around the waiting room. Movement catches at the corner of my eye, but I don’t take my eyes off the man. Last night was the full moon, and I’d be a fool to look away from him if what I suspect is true.
“And what condition do you have, Mr. . . . ?”
The man grunts. “Monal. Welof Monal.”
I nod. “Mr. Monal. Well?”
He grunts again but still doesn’t seem to notice the discomfort filling the waiting room. “Lycanthropy.”
A soft snicker drifts from one corner of the room that I didn’t notice anyone in earlier, and I just barely hold back from rolling my eyes. Thankfully, Mr. Monal doesn’t seem to have noticed the laughter at his expense, but a leprechaun turned invisible due to an accident is hardly going to help this conversation.
“And were you cursed with lycanthropy, Mr. Monal?”
That seems to confuse the werewolf. He blinks and steps back, breaking out of full-challenge mode.
“What? What do you mean?”
Again, I check a sigh. “I mean, Mr. Monal, were you cursed with lycanthropy, or were you, as your name suggests, born a werewolf?”
His sharp cheeks turn red. “What does that have to do with anything?”
This time, I roll my eyes without bothering to hold back. “Mr. Monal, this is the Hexes, Enchantments, and Curses Agency for Temporary Employment. Unless you have actually been cursed to change into a wolf once a month—a situation I have seen maybe once in the more than twenty years I have been running this agency—we cannot help you. There are plenty of agencies set up to help were-animals and other races who might face discrimination in the workplace, but this is not one of them. Do I make myself clear?”
By the time I’ve finished, my voice has fallen into a deep growl that could rival any werewolf’s, and Mr. Monal stares at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. I grimace as I realize I’m leaning over him, my shadow extending farther than it should and a wind howling in my ears and tugging at the bun that holds my hair back.
Huffing softly, I straighten and whisk one hand up toward my shoulder, banishing both the wind and the extended shadow like annoying flies. This is exactly what I was hoping to avoid, but some confrontations cannot be prevented.
“Well?” I ask again when the silence throughout the office has grown unbearable.
The werewolf swallows and lowers his head, lifting his shoulders around his ears as though that will help him hide. “I, uh, was born a werewolf, ma’am. I, um . . . I’m sorry for bothering you.”
He beats a hasty retreat after that. As the agency door swings closed, I release a long breath, and the silence breaks.
“Thank you, Director Triod,” says the nymph who is currently running the front desk. “I was beginning to worry that he would become violent. None of my soothing seemed to help.”
I shake my head. “That’s only to be expected, Tyra. Werewolves can’t be soothed this close to the full moon. Only challenged.”
I glance around the waiting room, nodding to the regulars I recognize and narrowing my eyes at the corner where I suspect Gogarty, the invisible leprechaun, still sits.
“I’ll let you get back to helping everyone,” I finally say, turning back to Tyra. We trade nods, and I open the door next to the front desk, stepping through into the office proper.
A low murmur fills the office proper. Desks are scattered throughout the open space—not symmetrically, of course, because a gnome and a centaur do not need the same layout—and a couple are occupied by employees and their clients, as they discuss options for their next job placements.
“Morning, Kate,” hums my secretary. The faerie zips through the air from the refreshment area and lands on my shoulder. Kayley may be small, but I decided years ago that I couldn’t run this agency without her. “Nice job handling the werewolf. Kind of ridiculous, though, how often we get them.”
I nod and rub my forehead. “And almost always the day after the full moon.” I groan and shake my head. “Call me Hector today, would you? I don’t much feel like Kate.”
“Will do, boss.” A light tapping fills my right ear as I open the door to my office. “You up for covering today’s agenda yet, or do you need a minute?”
I smile. Kayley knows me so well. “Give me five, will you?”
“Got it. Be back in a few, Hector.”
I feel the press of a tiny hand against my neck. Then Kayley’s small form zips out the door, which swings shut behind her with a soft click.
I settle into my chair with a sigh and slide open the top desk drawer. Staring at the drawer’s contents, I ponder for a moment which headache remedy would be best, before fishing out a small vial of pain potion. I’m pretty sure I used ibuprofen last time, and I learned a long time ago that I do best when I alternate magical and science-based remedies.
Change and transition—my constants.
I spend the next few minutes just sitting with my eyes closed. By the time Kayley’s tiny knock sounds on the office door, the pain in my temples is gone.
Kayley zips in, making sure to close the door lightly again, and settles gently in the middle of my yew desk. In her hands is a tiny tablet, a marvel of science and magic that is as powerful as any tablet I might use.
“What have we got today?”
She offers me a calm smile. “We had seven successful placements yesterday, and one termination.” I nod. That sounds about right. “We also got a phone call yesterday from one of our clients, who had a major complaint about the company he was placed with.”
I frown. “Which client?”
Kayley taps on her screen a couple of times. “Talman Sevetti. He’s the man who was cursed to change into a slime monster every night.”
“Sewage monster,” I correct, recognizing the name.
Kayley glances up at me, then frowns at her tablet. Her face turns bright red. “Oh, right. Sorry. Must have misread that.”
I wave a dismissive hand. “Honest mistake. What was his complaint?”
“That they’ve placed him in sewage disposal after he expressly requested not to work sewage. I believe his exact words were, ‘I spend all night in sewage. Why would I want to spend my days there too?’”
I chuckle for a second before the severity of the complaint makes me frown. “What company did we last place him with?”
Another couple of taps on the tablet. “Let’s see. Looks like Tiberian Electric.”
My mouth grows tight as I consider what I know of Tiberian Electric. Then I scowl. “What are they doing with a sewage disposal position?”
Kayley taps the tablet a few times before shaking her head and turning her face up to me. “I don’t see anything related to sewage in the information I have. Want me to have someone look into it?”
“Yes.” Considering a moment longer, I add, “And have everyone reach out to any other clients we’ve placed with Tiberian Electric. If we’ve had one complaint like that with the company, I want to make sure there aren’t any others.”
Kayley’s head bobs as she makes her notes. “Got it, boss.”
“Anything else?” I ask once she seems to have finished with her notes.
The faerie lifts her face to meet my gaze. “Only one.”
I blink. Kayley’s voice has become somber, something that happens very rarely. Clenching one hand into a fist, I prepare for bad news.
“We have a client who needs your personal touch, Hector.”
I blink again, and my whole body relaxes. “What do you mean?”
Kayley doesn’t break her gaze, not even to glance back down at the tablet for more information. “I mean, we have a client who has been placed twenty times without more than a couple weeks of success at each location, and I think it’s time you finally had a hand in the matter.”
I shake my head and lean back in my chair. I can feel the headache coming back, but I dig my fingers into the yew wood of my desk to keep from touching my face. “Twenty times? Why wasn’t I informed of this sooner?”
Kayley finally glances away, muttering too softly for me to hear.
I sigh. “Kayley?”
Her posture sags, her wings drooping to touch the surface of the desk. “Rosemary and Hadwyn thought they could take care of it.”
I reach out a finger and nudge her chin up. Once I catch her eye, I offer her a small smile. “What matters is that we’re taking care of it now.”
Kayley takes a deep breath, straightens her spine, and nods. “Right.” Lifting her tablet, she taps a few more times and then turns to the monitor that sits on my desk.
Lifting my gaze, I find a list of assignments spilling across the screen of my monitor. I raise an eyebrow as I read through them. Twenty assignments might be a lot, but the variety of them is even more startling. They range from florist to welding technician, bulldozer driver to waterways engineer, and seemingly everything in between.
I shake my head. “What’s his specialty?”
Another tap, and a resume appears on my monitor. “Anything natural, really. Flowers, animals, the elements, you name it. The limit of his skills hasn’t been his problem in finding or keeping a job.”
I scan through the resume, my brow tightening the further I get. “Veterinary license, floral design certificates, heavy equipment operator license, various technician licenses . . . ?” I shake my head. “I’ve never seen someone with so varied a background.”
“That’s one of the reasons Rosemary and Hadwyn thought they could place him themselves.”
I frown down at Kayley. “What exactly is the client’s condition?”
Here, Kayley falters. “Well, you see . . . we don’t know.”
I blink. “What do you mean, we don’t know?”
The faerie shrugs, her wings fluttering in agitation. “The client doesn’t actually think he’s been cursed, enchanted, or anything of the like. He’d been having trouble holding down a job for about a year before someone recommended he come to us.”
I cross my arms. “So why did we accept him as a client if he doesn’t meet the agency requirements?”
Kayley’s wings flutter harder. “I . . . wouldn’t say he doesn’t meet the requirements, exactly.” I stare at her, unimpressed, and she sighs. “It’s hard to explain, Hector. Tyra was going to turn him away, but Rosemary overheard some of what he’d been through and insisted on taking him on. And then after the tenth assignment fell through and Rosemary was reaching her breaking point, Hadwyn stepped in.”
I settle back in my chair and stare, unseeing, at my monitor. Most of the time, my employees are good about sticking to agency policy and only working with those who suffer from curses, enchantments, and the like. Troubles due simply to race or some inborn personality trait are beyond the agency’s purview. Yet for both Rosemary and Hadwyn to insist that this client needs the agency’s help, when both have been with the agency for over a decade and their instincts rarely steer anyone wrong. . .
“What’s the client’s name?” I ask.
Kayley’s smile is blinding despite her small size. “Balasi Mercantus. He’s a human with no magic, as far as we can tell. He just . . . has really bad luck sometimes.”
I sigh, shaking my head. “Very well. Have him come in to speak with me, and I’ll see what I can do.”
Kayley gets Mr. Mercantus set up for a three o’clock appointment, and I spend the afternoon leading up to it trying to review his file.
Trying, because the next few hours end up being filled with one fire after another.
Five phone calls to clients we’ve placed with Tiberian Electric reveal not only an uncomfortable number of position changes but an alarming amount of positions that don’t fit the company’s profile. Kayley and I end up spending two hours in phone conversations with the C-level management of Tiberian Electric before I finally order Kayley to start working on the paperwork to cancel our contract with them. While she attends to that, I reach out to several of my contacts to report my suspicions of Tiberian Electric’s fraudulent business activities.
No one treats my clients with such disrespect and gets away with it.
Almost as soon as I’m off the phone with my federal contacts, shouting breaks out in the office proper. Still furious with the Tiberian Electric mess, I shove my chair away from my yew desk and stomp to the door.
When I see the rivers of color that the open portion of the agency has begun to turn into, I almost turn around and barricade myself in my office. Pain throbs in my temples and behind my eyes; I don’t feel up to dealing with a Daliesque curse right now.
As it turns out, the melting effect is directly connected to the woman’s emotions and stops once we’ve gotten her calmed down. I make a comment to her new caseworker not to even consider a retail position for her and head back to my office.
I’ve been sitting in my chair for maybe fifteen minutes, wondering if it’s been long enough since I took the pain potion for me to pop a couple of ibuprofen, when the door to my office creaks open. I sigh and open my eyes, curious what Kayley could have to report now.
Except Kayley’s nowhere to be seen. In fact, no one seems to have come through the office door.
I narrow my eyes, remembering my impression that someone invisible had been in the waiting room this morning. “Gogarty,” I growl, “if that’s you, I swear—”
“I swear . . .”
I jerk upright in my chair. The responding voice sounds just like mine but fainter, the phrase seeming to fade throughout the room even as it repeats. I might have mistaken it for an actual echo if I hadn’t made sure my office was echo-proof years ago. I lock my jaw against the urge to curse and rub my forehead.
Like we don’t have enough problems right now.
“Let me guess,” I mutter. “Zeus and Hera are in town.”
“In town . . .” the echo repeats mournfully.
I nod and climb to my feet. “Very well. Let’s get you to someone who can help.”
I lead the most recent victim of Hera’s echo curse out of my office. Thankfully, it’s one we’ve dealt with before—Zeus and Hera tend to roam between major cities fairly regularly, and Hera has become a bit predictable with her choice of punishments for her husband’s conquests. Though Hera has added invisibility to this particular one since she cast it on the original Echo, she still hasn’t bothered to make the curse affect forms of communication other than speech.
It’s quarter to three when I finally settle in my office again. My head is pounding so hard, I’m tempted to cancel any other plans I have for the day and just go home.
No one would blame me, right? It’s the day after the full moon—my worst day of the month. Surely--
I open my eyes, and they settle on the folder lying in the middle of my desk. An orange note is plastered to the front, directly in the center, with two words scrawled in a familiar handwriting.
For a split second, the image of an intersection forms in my mind. Not the paved kind we’re used to today, with red, green, and yellow lights and more signs than one knows what to do with, but a dirt trail with multiple paths and an old rickety wooden signpost declaring the destination of each path in worn, too-old lettering.
Mist wreathes one of the paths, pulling back here and there to reveal prickly thorns and winding vines. When I glance at the destination sign for the hidden path, I find moss and leaves overgrowing it.
I curse as the image fades from my mind and my eyes once again focus on the folder sitting in the middle of my desk. Something, or someone, is interfering with my mind, trying to steal paths from me that I might normally travel. If I were anyone else, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
But you can’t obscure the crossroads from the one in charge of them.
Pulling open the top drawer of my desk, I grab the bottle of ibuprofen from within and pop a couple of the pills into my mouth, swallowing them dry. Putting the bottle away, I tap my throat with one hand, encouraging my body to process the medicine with a touch of magic, and flip open the folder with the other.
By the time the expected knock sounds on my door, I’ve read ten of the reasons for Mr. Mercantus being released from his assignments, and my fury has only grown.
“Come in,” I growl.
The door creaks open, and a wide-eyed, timid-looking man peers around it. The expression is nothing like what I might expect from a man with the experience listed in Mr. Mercantus’s resume. I grind my teeth as the fire within me flares.
“Miss—er, Director Triod?” The man glances around the office, and I wonder if he’s looking for what might go wrong. “I, uh, was told you wished to meet with me.”
I force my jaw to relax, nod, and motion him to the chair across the yew desk from me. This man—this Balasi Mercantus—is not the one who has angered me, and I know better than to risk scaring him off when he’s most likely the intended victim of the magic threatening my paths.
“Yes, Mr. Mercantus. Please, sit down.” He scurries in, shutting the door behind him, and settles into the chair. “And please, call me Hector. My title is a bit too formal for the discussion we’re about to have.”
If anything, the man’s eyes widen further. “I-it is?” When I only nod, he swallows and sits up a bit straighter. “Then, please, call me Balasi.”
Despite the fire raging within me, I find a sincere smile pulling at my lips. “Very good.” Glancing down at my desk in hopes of centering myself a bit more, I flip the folder back to the first page. “Do you understand what we do here, Balasi?”
The man hesitates long enough that I return my gaze to him. I’m not sure what he sees in my eyes, but it’s apparently enough to get him to talk.
“You help people who have been cursed or enchanted find jobs.”
I nod. “And as I understand it, you came to us even though you were certain you hadn’t been cursed.” When he nods in return, I add, “Why?”
Balasi blinks. “Well, I, uh . . .” He scratches his head. “A good friend of mine, Lin Garrin, recommended I come. The nursery he works for has had a couple of positions filled by your agency, and he thought you might be able to help me.” Balasi’s cheeks redden. “Lin was rather insistent, actually.”
“And do you understand why first Rosemary and then Hadwyn insisted on taking your case?”
Balasi shakes his head. “No, sir. I mean, Hector.” His flush deepens. “I only know that they overrode the lady at the front desk.”
I smile. “And for good reason, though I doubt they’d be able to explain why.”
Balasi’s head snaps back. “What do you mean?”
I lift a hand and flick my fingers at the wall behind the man. The lights click off, leaving only the light glowing through the closed blinds of the window behind me. “I understand you don’t have magic yourself, is that right?”
“Y-yes, that’s correct.”
I close my eyes. “And have you ever been able to see magic?”
The answer is slower in coming, but Balasi does answer before I feel the need to open my eyes again. “Only when the magic user made it visible.”
I nod. “Then I’ll just have to make the magic surrounding you visible.”
I make another gesture, this time lifting both hands. A howl starts up behind me, distant, like the cry of a hound on the hunt. Something small and long skitters across my feet, and a faint angry chitter joins the howl.
A gasp from across the desk completes the symphony, and I open my eyes.
Balasi is gaping at the dancing red that glitters in loose spirals around his body and trails toward me and back through the door of my office. I have no doubt that if I were to open the office door, I would find the trail of red glitter encircling several of my employees, including Kayley, Rosemary, and Hadwyn.
“What . . . what is this?”
I offer Balasi a sympathetic smile. “This is the visual representation of the curse that affects you.”
“Curse?” Balasi reaches toward the light with one hand, but he can’t physically touch it. “You mean, it wasn’t all just bad luck?”
I consider the words and what I’ve read of the circumstances of his release from each of his assignments. My lips spasm into a grimace.
“Actually, if I’m interpreting everything correctly, bad luck is exactly what it is.”
I blink and raise my eyebrows. Balasi is leaning forward in his chair, no longer cringing and wide-eyed. For the first time since he arrived, his eyes are alight with the curiosity and intelligence that I’m certain led to the experience listed on his resume.
“Have you ever met anyone claiming to be a god?”
Balasi’s brow wrinkles. After a moment, he shakes his head. “Not that I’m aware of. I know the old pantheons live among us, but don’t they generally hide themselves as mortals for day-to-day life? I can’t imagine I’d know if I met one, either way.”
My lips twitch, and I nod. “Too true. Even Zeus and Hera tend to hide themselves until Hera catches Zeus at cheating again.” I roll my eyes, thinking briefly of the wave of clients the agency is sure to get in the wake of Zeus and Hera’s latest visit.
“This curse isn’t from one of them, though, is it?” Balasi is frowning when I focus on him next. “Don’t the two them always make themselves known when they ‘punish’ mortals?”
I nod. “You are correct. They do, and your curse is not from them. The truth is, I recognized the flavor of your curse the moment I realized it was affecting my own magic.”
Balasi’s eyes widen, but this time, the expression isn’t driven by fear. “Does that mean you know how to work around the curse now?”
I purse my lips and consider the question. After a long moment of silence, I shake my head.
“Unfortunately, a curse of bad luck cannot be circumvented. Change is its nature; adaptation, its strength. As long as you’re cursed, you’ll continue to fall victim to circumstances you cannot control.”
Balasi’s shoulders slump, and his gaze drops to the floor. “Then your agency can’t help me.”
I harrumph. “I did not say that.”
He blinks up at me warily. “But if you can’t circumvent the curse . . .”
I bare my teeth. “I don’t plan to circumvent it. I plan to unravel it.”
He frowns, his head tilting to one side. “Isn’t that against your agency’s policy?”
I chuckle dryly. “You have been a client of ours for some time, haven’t you?”
Balasi flushes. “Nearly seven months.”
I nod. “Normally, you’d be right. It is agency policy to not interfere with curses, only to work around them. But there are rare circumstances, like yours, in which a curse or enchantment simply cannot be integrated into society. In those cases, it is my prerogative to possibly interfere.”
“You’d do that?” Balasi asks. “For me?”
I smirk and lean back in my chair. “Not just for you, though I don’t appreciate the strictness of such a curse in general. No, I would do it for both you and my agency.” I wave one hand to encompass the sprawling nature of the curse’s glittering red light. “As you can see, the curse is affecting me and my employees as well. That, I simply cannot accept.”
The smile Balasi hands me then is as blinding as the one Kayley offered me earlier.
“And they call me a thief.”
I firmly and steadily close the office door behind Balasi Mercantus. He’s only just finished spilling his profuse thanks for me unraveling the curse of bad luck. A curse I’m certain has been trailing him for most of his life, if its depth within his spirit was any indication.
“Well? Did you hear me?”
I glance over my shoulder, one eyebrow raised. Leaning against my desk is a young man in a loose button-down shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals, his long hair held back from his face by a wide-brimmed hat. The left breast pocket of his shirt is embroidered with a pair of wings.
My lips twitch upward. “Oh, I heard you. I simply saw no reason to reply.”
The young man scowls, but he doesn’t hold the expression long. He shrugs and surges to his feet.
“So the great Hecate has decided to interfere after all these years.”
It’s my turn to scowl, and I’m not as inclined to drop the expression. “It’s Hector right now. Better yet,” I add, feeling uncharitable, “Director Triod. You have no right to refer to me so familiarly right now.”
The young man flashes a mischievous smile. “Oh, really? Hector? And I thought I was the hermaphroditic one here.”
I roll my eyes and walk past him, dropping into my desk chair. “Seriously, Hermes, what do you want?”
Hermes pouts and crosses his arms. “You’re no fun, you know that?” When I only roll my eyes again, he huffs. “You stole my mortal.”
“You mean your plaything?” He scowls, and I shake my head. “You’re worse than Hera, you know? At least her victims can still live some kind of life under her curses.”
Hermes’s arms tighten across his chest. “He was doing just well for himself beneath my curse. You saw all the certificates and licenses he had.”
“Yes, successes he managed despite the suffering you put him through.” I sigh and shake my head. “Hermes, you had to know I’d interfere the moment the curse began affecting me. I don’t take kindly to my choices being threatened.”
Hermes huffs, glances away, and then nods. “Fine. I won’t complain. Chaos knows what you would do to me if I pushed the matter, anyway.” I snort, and he flashes me a grin. “Guess I should get going, then, before Balasi gets too far.”
I frown. “I thought you were going to give up on him.”
Hermes chuckles. “Give up on him? When he could do so much with a boost of good luck?” He flashes a feral grin. “I’ve only just started with Balasi Mercantus.”
With a tip of his hat, he spins in place and disappears in a puff of smoke that smells like incense. I sigh and shake my head, but I can’t help the smile that touches my lips.
Well, at least Balasi Mercantus should be easy to place now.
I spend the next two hours focusing on that and trying to forget the chaos that Hermes’s curse wreaked on the rest of my day.
Theodore Niretac Tinker is a spec-fic trans author, meticulous editor, and deep-diving worldbuilder. Words and worlds are his passion; quality and consistency, his goal. Specializing in the spiritual, he fights for justice and equality through his books, explores the weird and whimsical in his short stories, and helps other writers find the voice and power of their own stories through his editing services. All these infinite literary endeavors are supported by an endless supply of chocolate, which he hoards in his library alongside his books like any good dragon. You join his Magical Army and keep up with his writing and editing at
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”